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A “perfect storm” is an overused expression that often describes what happens when a whole lot of things go wrong at the same time to create a disastrous situation or outcome.* Welcome to America in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. If it is possible to have a tsunami of perfect storms, the response of Trump and his federal cabal to the pandemic will define this concept for generations to come. Not since America’s Vietnam debacle have the decisions of its national leaders had such a calamitous impact on the nation’s safety and security.

The American death count from the pandemic in just a couple of months has soared past the Vietnam figure that took over 10 years of venal incompetence to accumulate. And this is with no end in sight and a human toll that far exceeds the death toll. There are reasons for this, some of which are shared by other countries struggling to confront the coronavirus, but some of which are so painfully unique to 21st century America.

The list is long and every pundit has their own, but any worthy list would include at the top that America now has the worst president at the worst possible time, a perfect storm in and of itself. Never in the nation’s history have presidential incompetence, ignorance, and utter self-absorption so corrupted the national response to a major crisis. America has had terrible presidents before at key moments in history (Herbert Hoover and the “Great Depression” come to mind), but we have never had a president so woefully unprepared to meet a national challenge as Trump has proven to be.

This should not come as a surprise given Trump’s pre-pandemic performance. However, every once in a while, even woeful leaders become what is needed in the moment, somehow able to rise above their obvious flaws. With Trump, the nation watches as he drags us further into an abyss, surrounded by a small army of toadies unwilling to tell the naked emperor that he is not the emperor. The daily deference to this fool warps the capacity to collectively respond to the pandemic, to keep people safe and alive, and to provide an empathetic backdrop to the real tragedy in our midst.

Perhaps if America’s democracy were institutionally sound, Trump could be removed or at least marginalized, but the balance of powers that are supposed to rest with Congress and the judiciary is providing no balance at all when the nation needs it most. The Congress cannot even develop a plan that will allow it to do its job. If the checkout clerk at the grocery store is so essential that he has to show up each day, how can those elected to lead be so inessential that their absence from the job site is countenanced, allowing the incompetent executive to blunder on without meaningful legislative challenge and oversight.

Meanwhile, the judicial branch seems so paralyzed that it cannot respond to any of today’s urgent national needs while it struggles to unravel yesterday’s dilemmas drawn from a world model that may not exist anymore. If you are waiting for some judge to order something that will force Trump to do something today that would have saved lives a month ago, you are assuredly still waiting or dead.

Even the military, so often portrayed as America’s guardians in an uncertain world, has been largely left in its barracks waiting for the orders to help protect a fearful nation from an invisible enemy.** But apparently Trump, their bumbling commander-in-chief, can’t even get them rolling to do the one thing we should be able to count on them to do well in the present crisis – procure stuff, gather the stuff together, put it in a warehouse, and move it to where it is needed.

So, with our national leadership and national institutions in chaotic freefall, the nation is left to wallow in fifty uncoordinated human experiments in life with COVID-19 being conducted by the politicians and public health community in the states. Just to understand how this is likely to end, many of the most ambitious experiments are being conducted in some of the worst governed states in the nation. Would you trust the governor of Alabama to educate your children? Of course not, now you are left to hope that somehow her COVID-19 experiment will protect their lives.***

With this invisible enemy in our midst, much of the American myth is in tatters. Our public delusions of the past decades are now in plain sight for all to see and our “exceptionalism” has become our albatross. Confronting reality is made more difficult by a skewed national moral compass.

A significant component of that skewed moral compass is that America is a nation that has somehow conditioned itself to accept preventable death – war is good when we fight it, universal access to meaningful healthcare is too expensive, and rampant gun violence is the price the unarmed pay so that the armed can protect us all from our own government.

Think about this - in 2018, over 48,000 people in America died of suicide, but that won’t happen in your family until it does. Throw in another 67,000 drug overdose deaths that same year, and the combined figures are more deadly than COVID-19 to date.**** While these numbers are always jarring, the national response to suicide and opioid deaths has been next to nil, with Americans idly standing by while underfunding and political indifference undermine a meaningful national response that could greatly diminish readily preventable death.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic in our midst, we are at it again. While you watch this time, know that people in your community will die on the alter of a frontier culture that glorifies the freedom to put others at risk over the inconvenience of public health initiatives that seek to preserve human life.

So, America, take a walk on the wild side, and break loose from negative news and body counts. It is time to head for the beaches where the sunlight will cure us and where enough booze will allow us to forget that we have no cure and no federal government capable of executing anything but us.

* - a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors.

** The U.S. military has approximately 1.3 million active duty personnel and around 800,000 reservists, only a small portion of which is busy doing its own killing on a daily basis.

*** Alabama Governor Kay Ivey – 5/7/2020 in the midst of the pandemic:

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