The cherry blossoms are here – creating a blur of pink and white and beauty on the Potomac River side of DC.
They are a sign of spring… of renewal… of hope.
And this year, they are blooming in solitude.
No crowds are allowed in this time of “social distancing.” And when people began to defy the edict for a chance to gaze at the blossoms, the police moved in to cut off access, using their cars to barricade the roads leading to the most famous cluster of blooms — those circling the vast pool in front of the Jefferson, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Memorials.
This is our “new normal.” A nation largely of extroverts, we are forced by an unseen enemy to stay home, connecting with others via phone and internet, and trying to stay calm amidst a barrage of worrisome news.
The hit on our national psyche — and of course the public health and finance — is mounting. The overall cost is going to be huge.
In an era when our president insists on “America first” policies, we are getting a vivid reminder — thanks to a disease that knows no borders — that we are one world, and what happens in other countries has a direct affect on all of us.
Yes, there are Americans who are tone deaf to the message — who believe the coronavirus is no more serious than the seasonal flu, that all the warnings of potential hospital chaos are hyped and this is nothing more than a plot to harm Donald Trump’s chances of re-election.
But the overwhelming majority of us are rightfully concerned. We know, as David Ignatius put it in an essay for the Washington Post, that the “coronavirus is a test of national character.”
You might say we are fighting three crises simultaneously:
A medical crisis
A financial crisis
A leadership crisis
Each day, we are witness to the newest Donald Trump reality show. Every afternoon or — more recently — early evening, he enters the White House briefing room with members of his coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump reads off a script touting all he has done to protect Americans… lies about everything from access to virus testing to the potential for a “miracle” cure… and then hovers over the others as they go to the podium and offer praise.
It is almost as if — robbed of the ability to hold campaign rallies — he has decided to do a daily “Trump Show.”
Medical officials who will not play his game — such as the highly respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci — are beginning to disappear from these staged events. It is not known if that is because the president does not like anyone to contradict what he is saying in public, or if they just can’t take it anymore.
Let’s just say the tensions between Dr. Fauci — who insists on telling the truth — and the president are running high.
Fauci is a man known for his patience and cool head in a crisis. Trump is known for his attention deficit disorder — the inability to digest quantities of information, engage in detailed briefings with experts, and carefully ponder all advice.
No, this is a man who “goes with his gut.”
And now, with the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States spiking, he appears to be getting tired of this whole “social distancing” thing and anxious to cut the nation’s financial losses.
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem,” he said roughly midway through the 15 day shutdown his administration pushed in order to curb the spread of the disease and prevent coronavirus cases from overwhelming our health system.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down… normal life will resume soon,” he told reporters.
Tell that to the people of New York City, the biggest virus hot spot, where ambulance sirens are constant and medical professionals worry they will soon run out of the basic tools to do their jobs — things like protective masks and gear to drain fluid from damaged lungs.
There, as in cities and towns across the country, the economy is being transformed. Job losses due to the coronavirus shutdown are expected to reach into the millions and there are fears that many of the small businesses forced to close their doors may not survive.
Congress and the president are saying “forget about the deficit!” and are pouring billions — soon to be trillions — of dollars into the economy to provide everything from direct checks to middle and lower income Americans, to loans and grants to keep corporate entities afloat in these challenging times.
Sorry Mr. President. You can talk about getting things back to normal soon but it is going to take time — a lot of time.
Even Trump’s strongest allies in Congress are speaking out. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham — perhaps his biggest defender in the Senate — tweeted:
“Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment… played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.”
That is certainly putting the whole problem in terms the president, hopefully, can understand.
Or maybe this will get his attention. A new survey by the Axios news website and Ipsos polling organization shows a sudden, massive shift in the lives of everyday Americans since the number of coronavirus cases began to rise.
Over the course of just one week, the percentage polled who said they were out of work more than doubled from 10 to 22 percent. Those surveyed who said they were staying home to self-quarantine went from 10 to 39 percent.
And then there was this — perhaps the statistic most likely to get President Trump to sit up and take notice: the latest Axios/Ipsos poll shows the partisan divide on the seriousness of the coronavirus has virtually disappeared.
Nine in 10 Americans now fear the virus. Last week, there was a gap between Democrats and Republicans, with members of the president’s own party much more likely to downplay the threat. Now, 95 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Republicans surveyed said they are concerned.
We are told it is likely to get worse before it gets better. And so we search for any hopeful signs.
Like the forbidden cherry blossoms.
I am one of the lucky ones. The most beautiful trees are near my home in a park where the branches of blooms form a canopy over part of my regular running route.
We are told it is okay to go out for a walk or a run as long as we stay away from others. And so I did — making my way around the barricades and onto the secluded park trail where I could clear my mind for an hour and take in the sheer beauty of all that pink and white.
It made me smile.
And yes, it gave me hope.