In the movie “Independence Day,” aliens invade earth — and the people of earth unite and heroically fight back.
In the sequel, the aliens come back — and, surprise, the people of earth still unite and heroically fight back.
In “Red Dawn,” the United States is invaded by Soviets, Cubans and Nicaraguans and — Americans unite and heroically fight back.
In the remake, the United States is invaded by North Koreans — and, yes, we know you’ll be surprised by this, Americans unite and heroically fight back.
We knew all those movies were fiction at the time, but it’s taken the pandemic of 2020 for us to truly understand just how fictional they were. This year, we actually were invaded — not by space aliens or hostile regimes, but by a microscopic virus. And how did we respond? We did not unite and only some people heroically fought back.
Why are we telling you this today? Because today was supposed to be the first day we would be virus free. Back in March, the researchers at The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington put together models for how the virus was expected to play out in each state. That model almost perfectly called one thing. It predicted the virus would peak in Virginia on May 20. Instead, the state’s virus count peaked on May 18 with the high point of its rolling seven-day average coming on May 21. Either way, pretty darned close.
However, there’s one thing that model got wrong: It said that Virginia would have its last virus-related death on July 15, making July 16 — today — it’s first day free of virus-related deaths. In fact, that model basically said the pandemic would be over in the U.S. by the summer. We know now that’s not so.
We used to talk about a “second wave” in the fall but the reality is the United States hasn’t worked its way out of the first wave yet. Our virus cases are still going up. We’re so close to this we don’t understand how unusual this is. In Canada — a country next door to us and very much like us —the virus counts peaked in May and have been steadily going down since. They’re going down in Great Britain. They’re going down in France. They’re going down in Germany. They’re going down in Italy. They’re going down in Spain. They’re going down across most of Europe (Sweden is a notable exception). They’re going down in South Korea. The United States likes to think of itself as an “exceptional” nation but in this case we’ve made ourselves exceptional in the wrong way. Instead of looking like other developed nations, our virus chart looks more like that of Brazil.
Why is this? It’s easy to blame President Trump for not taking the virus seriously enough — and you’d be right for doing so. Trump’s response — to basically wish the virus would go away — stands apart from those of other world leaders. That’s not an ideological judgement, because some of those countries we listed above that have been successful in combating the virus are governed by conservative parties just as the U.S. currently is. Whether a country is governed by liberals or conservatives has not been a useful predicator of how well they’ve handled the virus.
It’s also easy to blame state governors. Here in Virginia, we’ve faulted Gov. Ralph Northam for not acting sooner to test nursing home patients even though it was clear that the virus runs most rampant through long-term care facilities. Others have faulted governors in certain states who re-opened their economies against the advice of scientific judgement.
Blaming politicians only goes so far, though. Ultimately, we have ourselves to blame. We have 1,992 people dead statewide — 62 times as many as who died in the Virginia Tech shooting. We have 135,235 people dead nationwide — 45 times as many as who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and more than the number of Americans who died in all the wars since World War II put together. We have 573,752 dead worldwide — and yet we still have people who refuse to wear a mask and treat “social distancing” as a joke. Yes, we know it’s a summer tradition to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — but is this really the year to visit that petri dish and bring back “souvenirs” to share with your neighbors?
When did Americans become so weak that so many people refuse to come to the common defense? That’s essentially what we’re talking about here. Our heritage celebrates the minutemen of Revolutionary War fame who turned out “at a minute’s notice” to defend their communities against the British. They put their lives on the line; we’re only being asked to put a mask on our face. Liberty? Are your liberties infringed by the sign that says “no shirt, no shoes, no service”? (Perhaps you saw these at the beach?) If not, then apparently those “liberties” begin somewhere around the neck.
Generations of men before us were drafted into the military and sent overseas to fight a war. We regard their sacrifice as patriotic, but someone today can’t be bothered to put a cloth over their face to defend their neighbors? Shakespeare had a line that fits this moment. It comes as Hamlet laments how the new king, his uncle, is so inferior to the old king, his late father: “What a falling off was there!”
In the “Independence Day” movies, there’s one character we never see: In that fictional America, we never see anyone collaborating with the invaders. Yet here in the non-fictional America we effectively have people collaborating with our viral invader every day. The country that produced the liberators who stormed ashore on Normandy on D-Day has today produced the viral equivalent of the Vichy French regime.
Many of the predictions about the virus have turned out to be wrong. We haven’t needed to build field hospitals. Those IHME models overstated the number of deaths. Perhaps the modeling was wrong, or perhaps enough people changed their behavior to slow the spread of the virus. But not enough have.
The virus is still here. Remember when we thought the cure for this was simply summer and sunshine?
Not happening. Maybe someday there’ll be a vaccine. Let’s hope so. But until then, we don’t need governments to tell us what to do — we only need people to be willing to defend their neighbors. And all you need is a simple mask.
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