Danforth: Infected with politics | Opinion



We are in Neverland, at a gorgeous salt-water lagoon. Aside from its azure beauty, its beaches are perpetually sunny. But the crowds usually stay away, because of their fear of the waters, known to be invested with sharks.

The population lives inland, but inland is a problem. It is usually covered by a dreadful cloud cover. It is miserable most the year. Everyone yearns for a trip to the beach, but their waiting for the magical water cure that will keep the sharks away.

This soon provokes the inevitable fight at the local assembly house. The Red Party agitates for the freedom to travel freely to the beaches, usually closed. The Blue Party fears a shark-feeding frenzy because someone will surely go for a swim but won’t return.

The Red Party decides to break the logjam with an “opening day.” On the day, the crowds flock to the waterline, and can’t wait to get wet.

But a strange thing happens. Nobody jumps in right away. Seems they are fearful of being the first to jump. No one wants to be the bloody example emerging from what they have been promising is a safe beach.

This yarn is a weird read. But the “fear to jump first” speaks to the current movement to shake off the lockdown caused by the coronavirus, and return to “normalcy.” The players are managing to boil down the whole public safety debate to politics. They might as well run straight to the oddsmakers to determine the chances of an outbreak.

An election year adds to the danger. President Trump has done everything to make this a campaign issue. It’s working — except that no one wants to be the first to jump.

Two coalitions of states — seven on the East Coast and three from the West — have formed to produce safety rules. Nine of the 10 are governed by Democrats.

We are now seeing how the politicization of a historically bad pandemic can get badly capsized. Nobody has dared simply put a price on “reopening the economy.” Let’s say, we’re willing to lose 10,000 lives to produce a GDP growth of 6%. This is a little like the rarely-discussed acceptable casualties of war.

Trump started the drumroll when he declared last month that he wouldn’t take responsibility for the lack of federal response to the virus. That basically signaled the abdication of the feds. It was up to the states, insisted the president.

The states acted, in the form of widely broadcast virtual press conferences arranged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. They pointed to a minimum testing requirement, which will be a struggle to meet in the coming weeks.

Of course, Trump became incensed at a challenge to his authority. He insisted that King Donald had sole right to produce the back-to-work order, lifting the previous state stay-at-home mandates.

Game on. The science is complicated, but the numbers are simple. Out of every twenty citizens, red or blue, how many are infected by the virus and don’t even know it? This is a case of the invisible unknowables, to be solved only by a test. Before we wander into a jungle of our closest friends and associates, how many are “asymptomatic?” That doesn’t make them bad people, but we are dealing with a rampantly contagious, invisible and infectious bug.

We’ve seen it in a band of demonstrations — signifying what? The right not to wear a facemask? For some of us, the reverse logic here — the facemask protects others more than you — still escapes many.

Against all this is the backdrop of a ruinous recession-if-not-depression, which can cause its own health problems. It’s not hard to understand why everyone — even those who can consider a lockdown as a vacation — would like it gone.

Everyone’s debating the safe day to reopen, but there isn’t a single date. And nobody wants to jump first and then recoil as reports follow of another outbreak.

Nobody will be able to claim victory, if politics is what they’re after. We’ll reopen job by job, in order of importance. We’ll stay away from crowd sizes, since they seem to breed mini-pandemics. Separate rules will appear. Maybe we’ll let mass sports reopen stadiums with only one fan for every ten seats — giving a new meaning to “home-town crowd noise.” The “12th man” at football games will become the 50th — and so on.

Fear of jumping first may save us all. Even Trump won’t strip down for a stroll on the beach, which will save us all a few B-rolls.

In Aspen, we’ve already lost a big chunk of summer business. Food & Wine and the Ideas Fest dropped off the calendar. It’s hard to see how the now-delayed Music Festival can proceed, with its dependence on audiences that defy social distancing.

Can it really be that the blueness of your zip code can affect your health? We hope the first outbreak won’t come, adding to the death-and-diseased toll, while enduring good odds that one will.

The real infectious disease here is our habit of tying so many of our ills to politics. There’s got be a pill to fix this — isn’t there?