I’ve Seen this Movie…

It was a different time and a different contagion, but the set up was eerily similar. A mysterious microbe, the Andromeda Strain, was loose and threatening life on the planet. It first appeared in Arizona where it wiped out most of the population but left two survivors – a dyspeptic old man and a bawling infant.

Back to the future… in 2020 we see a dyspeptic old man and bawling infant rolled into one golden combover and the arrival of a new contagion. Will Donald J. Trump with both ends of the Andromeda spectrum covered help us survive the coronavirus?

In Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, Dr. Jeremy Stone, an unmarried professor of bacteriology is selected to lead a task force to defeat the microbial enemy. Though he is a Nobel laureate, he is chosen because he fits the profile of the Odd-Man Hypothesis i.e. that unmarried men were better able to execute the best, most dispassionate decisions in crises. Trust me...I’m not touching that one.

But, back to the future again; in the 2020 sequel, notwithstanding the Odd Man Hypothesis, with no member of the Trump crime family willing to take the fall, “Mother” Pence has given the Grand Dragon permission to use Mikey to head the task force. The choice, of course, was based on the Born Again Man Hypothesis that promises God will intervene and save the world if everyone prays hard enough–the same failed strategy he employed during the 2015 HIV crisis in Indiana.

In the Andromeda Strain, Dr. Stone is the real deal – a super sleuth chasing down an elusive pathogen with the help of a CDC protocol and coordinated government plan. Wouldn’t it be great if the sequel had such a plan.

Today’s worldwide pandemic is confusing, unsettling, and full of mixed messages. The skilled scientists on the US’s coronavirus task force are thankfully beginning to take charge but their strategies involve draconian shutdowns of restaurants, bars, sports events, theme parks, and transportation systems, while working around a feckless president whose only concern is his own ego and re-election. 

In the beginning, Trump tried to manage the game but got knocked out in the second inning. After a robotic Oval Office address, Mike Pence came in to lead the team and called the skilled reliever, Dr. Anthony Fauci, up from the bullpen to take the mound. Everyone hopes he’s Mariano Rivera and Mike Trout rolled into one. It’s not too late for a save, but it’s going to be a long game. With Fauci on the mound and a couple of other All-Stars, like Dr. Deborah Birx, in the batting order we may live to play again.

Make no mistake, this is a real crisis not a game. Thanks to some adults from outside the White House (Fauci, Birx, and various governors) a strategy is emerging. It’s not a problem that can be jawboned. Lies and pep talks are not going to subdue this virus. The public wants and needs good information, and we might finally be getting it though it’s mostly from local officials, governors, and trustworthy media sources not the feds.

As we’ve come to expect, it’s all parallel play for Trump. Pence is set up to take the fall, but the Grand Dragon, unable to resist the spotlight, comes to every task force briefing, grabs the mike, tells us how great everything is, makes a few more self-serving remarks and then leaves the room to the grown ups.

On Sunday, he took credit for the Federal Reserve Board’s emergency cut to the federal funds rate, something he had nothing to do with, doesn’t understand, and has no power to affect. Yesterday, following those remarks, jittery investors drove the Dow down another 3000 points. For some reason, the Grand Dragon hasn’t grasped the fact that this is not primarily a financial crisis. This is a global health emergency and neither fiscal nor monetary policy changes will do anything to bring about a solution. The coronavirus pandemic calls for a war-like marshaling of expertise and resources and he won’t get out of the way.

While he dithered and spewed, the American public and the stock market was looking for guidance and reassurance. Neither was in evidence and the result has been a kind of survivalist panic. Households are hoarding everything from toilet paper to guns and whiskey while investors are taking shelter in gold and short term treasury bonds.

The Andromeda Strain ended on a sober but positive note; civilization survived. We can only hope that the dyspeptic old man’s task force manages to gain control over the current pandemic and our real life sequel ends the same way.

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