Readers around the world share their uncertainties and fears about a Trump presidency. If you’re a non-American in a country outside the U.S. and would like to add your perspective, please send us a note (especially if your country isn’t mentioned yet): firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first reader note from the subcontinent is from Jaiganesh:
Last Wednesday morning was a shock not only to the U.S., but to the whole world. While leaders of world nations voiced passive aggressive congratulatory messages, the global community watched in horror as President-elect Trump gave his victory speech. Then the world stock markets dipped, gold prices surged, the Mexican peso took a nose dive, and we witnessed the first fallout of a potentially free trade restrictive America in making.
India was already recovering from Prime Minister Modi’s retaliation against corruption while the U.S. was still up for grabs. To put it delicately, India was in denial. The immensely young Indian population was astonished to find a reality TV show joke on his way to the White House.
Why was there such a reaction from us, and the rest of the world? Why did the majority of the Indian population found it implausible to believe that Trump was now the President–elect of the United States? Here’s why.
Like most people, we did not pause to reflect on the human factor involved in elections. We did not consider Trump’s aggressive message against the Washington establishment from a white working-class U.S. citizen point of view. And like all the polls, we underestimated the silent Trump supporters who carried him to the Oval Office.
To put it simply, the U.S. works perfectly in the eyes of young Indians, with its lucrative job and business opportunities for the well-educated, liberal, and “Western” culture that most young Indians try to embrace, and the global leadership role the U.S. plays. We never understood the difficulties of middle-class American families faced in getting their kids to college—a privilege that middle-class Indians took for granted. We failed to comprehend that such a significant portion of our high-paying jobs were originally created for U.S. citizens. The cheap technical expertise of Indian college graduates brought millions of jobs to the country at the cost of U.S. jobs. This is all very much true; Donald Trump is not wrong.
A global community based on U.S. post-WWII military alliances was stunned by the very probable withdrawal of U.S. interventionist foreign policy. A nation that nurtured a bipartisan foreign policy to act as the world’s police for several decades was now crawling behind walls and closing its economic borders. A nation to which Indians looked up, a nation which Indian progressives and liberals wanted India to follow, is now taking a step back from global leadership, from standing as a pillar of nuclear non-proliferation, from leading by example in constitutional rights.
It is a gloomy day for our women to watch the great glass ceiling to go unbroken. My mother—who never followed global news enough to properly name the presidential candidates—was disappointed to watch Hillary give her concession speech. Seeing a women finally clinch the U.S. presidency would have been a moment of great satisfaction and motivation that the world’s female community lost to an isolationist America. When the world expected the U.S. to take a step forward, it took ten steps back.
India shares a lot of the populist lack of trust in the incumbent establishment with the U.S. electorate. We want change badly; our scope of progress hinges on it. And yet, this is somehow not the change that we want to see in our country. We want to see India move forward as a global superpower, and this election is going feed the fear of stepping out in Indian citizens, if they even have such a notion. We also share the diverse culture of the U.S., with a large Muslim population that makes us relate to the need for inclusiveness and religious equality that India is struggling to establish.
I am an electrical engineer, to nobody’s surprise, and I believe in the preservation of our environment. Hillary Clinton’s view of the U.S. being the Clean Energy Superpower would have been a defining moment for India, which still fails to implement even the most basic of carbon footprint control measures. It is horrifying to realize that the president-elect of the United States believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.
To sum it all up, the U.S. just disappointed half the world, including more than half of its voting population.
Another reader in India, Tarun, goes more into the Modi comparisons:
As an Indian national with generally liberal values, this feels like a play by play of the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi in 2014, complete with the decent-with-caveats economic performance of the prior government and the seemingly inexplicable anti-establishment sentiment. I attended grad school in Boston, and even in that liberal bastion it was very hard, until six months ago, to explain how demagogic and un-qualified Modi is for the position. I remember the dean referring in his welcome to the opportunities created by Modi’s election, and I remember feeling like he was describing a country I did not recognise.
Please, please, please emphasise to your leaders our lessons after the fact. Despite three years of policy fumbling (especially in foreign policy which has been flat out chaotic) the major opposition—our Congress—has failed to make a coherent case for why they should come back to power. This is not for a lack of hitting the right “liberal” notes. The Congress’ spokespersons speak of globalism, women’s rights and minority rights fluently.
Their liberal bona fides, however, simply do not allow them to escape the fact that their party is built around the Gandhi family, which is their sole fund-raising apparatus and default provider of Prime Ministerial candidates. Inevitably, it is a relationship seeped in corruption and nepotism. When the Democratic Party effectively stepped aside for Mrs. Clinton’s coronation in the primaries, it showed itself to be a similar party.
There is of course plenty of sexism and racism to go around, but there are also enough voters who instinctively abhor such a mentality. Neither Modi nor Trump have won the popular vote nationally. But when liberal parties fall prey to this dynasty mentality, their core democratic populist appeal suffers in a way that conservative “blood-and-steel” appeal does not.
So, as bleak as this sweep looks, I hope American liberals do what Indian liberals have not: use the next four years to build a bench at the lowest levels of government and have them compete without the interference of the Democratic party machinery. The calls for a Michelle Obama candidacy are short-sighted and hypocritical. They are also a disservice to a very intelligent and qualified woman who will conceivably break herself trying to rescue a party unwilling to rebuild at the grassroots.
Thank you for doing a much more responsible job of reporting this election than the Posts Washington and Huffington. Stay safe and free.
For a primer on how precarious relations are between Germany and the U.S. following Trump’s win, don’t miss Frum’s piece from yesterday, “America’s Friendship With Europe Has Been Horribly Damaged”—and “nowhere,” he writes, “does the reaction look more dangerous than inside the most powerful state on the European continent, Germany.”
[Trump’s victory] up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. The mighty German middle is becoming less mighty, discredited by Angela Merkel’s flung-open door to Middle Eastern refugees. Anti-refugee, pro-Putin forces are gaining strength at the expense of the parties of the center. Two-thirds of Germans oppose a fourth term for Merkel.
Merkel has backed herself into a crazy political dead-end. She is identifying an open-door immigration policy as the foundation of her kind of liberalism—even as, in reality, large-scale immigration is helping destroy liberalism across the countries of Europe, and even within Germany itself. Warning that a Trump-led United States might not espouse values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and equal human dignity amounts to a passport for Germany out of the U.S. alliance.
Three German readers sent us dispatches from Deutschland last week reacting to Trump’s win and what it might mean for their country. My favorite one is from this first reader, Dariusch, given his heterodox views:
I’m an (atheist) German-Iranian, born and raised in Germany, living in Berlin with a background in political science, currently owning a cafe and maintaining a one-person video production company. I’m a green left winger, critical of some aspects of globalisation and welcoming of others. Unlike many left wingers in Europe and Germany, I don’t have a black-white view of the world or the United States. Things are too complicated for that.
On the morning of November 9th, my girlfriend checked out a News alert on her phone and yelled out „Oh my god! Trump has won!“ I just broke out in hysterical laughter, because it seemed so unreal that a clown would be the next president of a country that shaped European and German culture and politics so tremendously over the past 70 years.
If Trump goes along with his foreign policy plans of not honoring NATO commitments in Europe, that might actually have positive effects over here, as this could be a driver for more inner-EU cooperation regarding the security architecture in our neighbourhood.
A common European army would make so much more sense politically and be more cost-effective as well. We need to emancipate from the U.S. and shape our own, independent foreign and security policy. A Trump presidency could drive this emancipation. Likewise, the protectionist economic agenda bears the potential for companies moving from the U.S. to Europe. But probably, these beneficial ripple effects will fail to materialize.
In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, right-wing anti-globalisation groups already start gaining momentum. After the elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany in 2017, the reactionary ideology of returning to a pre-globalisation state and implement closed societies could be up for growing political gains. A President Le Pen would be bitterly opposed to any integration of the armies and is also a proponent of economic and cultural isolation. Same goes for Wilders in the Netherlands and that Hampelmann (Jumping Jack) in Austria, whose name I didn’t bother to remember. Those groups will gain ground and drive the old parties to more quickly embrace parts of these reactionary, dangerous and obsolete ideas to hold on to their dwindling power, as they already have before November 8th.
With Trump’s victory, right-wing demagogues in Europe will gain an upswing. Nothing good can come from a Trump presidency for Europe and Germany at this point. I’m really afraid that future historians will look at back to the year 2016 and say “That’s when the whole mess started”—like they said looking back on 1914 or even 1933 (but let’s not exaggerate until we have a good reason for it).
The U.S. is a deeply divided country, just like most parts of the Western world in this day. The overall positive developments of integrating societies, cultures and economies did not reach a large chunk of people who have been forgotten. This is the case everywhere, from Los Angeles to Kaliningrad. There are many deep dividing lines, along cities and the countryside, among race, wealth, religion and education.
From here, the United States don’t look like a coherent nation state. I think it’s time to rethink the political system. Two parties cannot adequately represent the diversity of opinions and people. They just form a wide compromise that nobody is really happy with. To me it seems completely strange, how the loser of the popular vote regularly moves into the White House. At the time of its foundation, the United States had the most advanced political system of the world, but 300 years later, it requires a major overhaul.
Here’s another reader, Angela (not Merkel):
As a German citizen living in Berlin and a political scientist by trade, I am deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s victory. In the evening hours of November 8 (CET), I watched a short segment on CNN International describing the voter turnout at a polling station in Florida. And when I saw the long line of young women and what I believed to be Cuban- or Mexican-Americans waiting patiently to cast their ballot, I went to bed quietly confident that Hillary Clinton would win. Would any of those young women vote for “Grab-them-by-the-…”-Trump?, I wondered to myself. Most certainly not. Would any of those Cuban- or Mexican-Americans vote for a candidate who promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it? Most certainly not. And with so many people turning out to vote, I was sure Hillary Clinton would win. So I thought.
When I got up early in the morning on November 9, I realized I was mistaken. Throughout the day, I felt so frustrated and shocked that I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the TV or the radio; I was still in denial.
Given what the now president-elect has said and done during his campaign, I am afraid that a Trump administration might adversely affect both Europe and Germany. I am afraid that Trump might undo the system of international organizations and alliances as we know it. He has declared NATO, which is a cornerstone of both German and European security, essentially dispensable, while heaping praise on authoritarian leaders. He doesn’t seem to care a lot about the rules which govern international relations and trade and which have served both the U.S. and Germany quite well for 70 years. And I am also afraid that German-American relations might take a turn for the worse as the president-elect has made no secret of his dislike for Angela Merkel and her immigration policy. And the German chancellor doesn’t seem to like Trump very much, either.
With the British Brexit vote in mind, I am amazed by the fact that the predictions of pollsters have been proven wrong once again. I am also quite amazed by the fact that a populist candidate got elected, after a divisive campaign full of brazen lies and insults—though I believe a similar thing might happen in Germany in 2017, when the federal parliament, the Bundestag, is due to be elected. Until then, the right-wing populists of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), who have been busy scaremongering ever since the refugee crisis began in autumn 2015, will do their best to spread even more fear of Muslims and Syrian refugees among the German population. I am pretty sure that they will eventually manage to lie their way into parliament.
It is very saddening to see that many Germans are unable or unwilling to recognize the not-so-hidden authoritarianism, antisemitism, and nationalism lurking beneath the AfD’s surface. And it is equally saddening to see that the United States, our friend and partner, whose troops once freed Western Germany from Nazi tyranny, with a democratic tradition so much longer than ours, now has a president-elect who is applauded by white supremacists and former Klansmen and who essentially declared “I alone can fix it” during his convention speech.
This doesn’t bode well for Europe, where right-wing populism has been on the rise in recent years, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for Germany. Right now, I am deeply worried about the future of Germany, the European Union, and the United States of America.
Here’s one more reader, Jörg, in the Frankfurt area. He’s mostly concerned about the environmental impact of a Trump presidency:
The European right-wing populist movements and “parties” and their ignorant and furious followers will see Mr Trump’s rise as a confirmation of their crude and equally ill-informed and mislead opinions—probably not in Germany (there is a hope left that enough people in this country retain a memory of the 1930s), but in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and others are a different matter. If they fall into the hands of these right-wing populists, Europe is going to lose all of its achievements in freedom, wealth, and true scientific and social enlightenment—in combination with Climate Change that could mean the end of civilisation as we have only just gotten to know it.
And so I come to something—Climate Change—that has great significance to us and should have much more importance to citizens everywhere, including the U.S. of America. The fact that it didn’t come up in any of the three “presidential debates” just proves how far removed you people in America are from the realities in this world. Trump has clearly no idea what is happening on this planet. No other single issue is going to affect all of us on this scale. All other decisions need to be based on this fast approaching super-crisis.
For reasons too complicated to mention here, European people (at least on the continent; the U.K. is for other complicated reasons a different matter, similar to U.S.) are more aware and better educated about scientific facts. If Trump disrupts the process of international accord on Climate Change—a fragile thing at best anyway—there is no telling what kind of rise of the average temperature will be possible. Time and speed is of the utmost crucial importance here; even a slowing down of the necessary basic structural changes could have terrible consequences. If Trump wants to stay ignorant of some basic facts of the world in which he lives in, on a personal level that is fine with all of us. But as the deciding force and power he represents now, he must grow up and stop his childish (or maybe senile) behaviour.
Now it is time for Europe (and other parts of the world) to fast become assertive, independent, and perhaps even strong. It seems that some of our politicians have seen this coming. Plans for a European army are emerging—a good start. Economy and finance must follow immediately, and a discussion about better and possibly more democratic structure is on the way.
Yes, we all have learned something about democracy from America (as America once learned from Europe). This election has taught us even (and once) more how a democratic system can be corrupted by groups and individuals egocentric enough and opposed to democracy. Thank you, America, for this. We will reflect deeply and thoroughly on this lesson.
Update from another reader, Eva:
Being a German-American (currently visiting my parents in Germany, and hearing/reading the news of both sides every day), David Frum’s article first interested me a great deal. His analysis of language in Merkel’s brief congratulatory statement the morning after the election hooked me. I am a linguist, well aware with practices used in formal statement. My linguistic background, especially the field of pragmatics, makes me a nerd sometime, plucking apart what people said, what they really said while, say, standing in line at the post office.
I was surprised by Frum’s remarks on perhaps Germany turning the tables, and not clinging to traditional positions of power. That it might be perceived as arrogance, or as patronizing. Just something that the U.S. isn’t used to very much.
While I read Frum’s article I thought huh, this is interesting—someone perceiving Merkel this way, from a tiny speech given under circumstances that were terribly uncomfortable. I do think there is some oversensitivity in Frum’s writing. Merkel is not “downgrading” the American-German relationship just because “its ties are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union.” I perceive this to be neutral, or even positively stressing how deep U.S.-German relations are. Perhaps it’s a German thing to always state the obvious the truth, when for many a “fluffing up” of reality as it really is, would be preferable. It really isn’t insulting. It’s the equivalent to you perhaps saying to a very good friend: “you know, after my mom and dad and grandmother and brother, you really are the closest and most important friend I have outside of immediate family.” It’s honest—not downgrading.
The other issue of concern is Merkel offering collaboration based on certain Western values that America and Germany share. They concern democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the equality of people of all sexes regardless of origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.
Frum is correct to perceive a “conditional” quality here—the two countries operating together as long as their work is based on those values. What crime is there here in Merkel being the one to point out the conditionality? Is it so terrible that a smaller country does not approve of everything and anything in the big and mighty country? Is it hurt pride?
Merkel doesn’t actually say anything here that should cause an outcry. The values she has just mentioned are at the core of U.S. identity. One would expect them to not be removed or broken, or that would mean the States breaking those commitments, or changing them significantly. Which indeed should cause the U.S. to cry out with shock and confusion.
Frankly, the many fabulous things that the U.S. have done for Germany over the course of history don’t really enter here, but Frum brings them up. A good cooperation, a genuine friendship, help that can never be overemphasized, especially in the years after WW2 and during the Cold War. But you can’t argue: we did all this for you for so long, so now you have to play along with whatever because you owe us and owe us forever. The Germans still have a spine and an inherent moral compass. Trump’s many incredibly offensive remarks about different races, and women, do not belong among those “shared values” between the U.S. and Germany.
I think Merkel is not arrogant or cocky. She simply knows—much as many a person enters a marriage—that certain things are desired but not necessary, some necessary at all costs, and some simply a deal breaker. Which of us entering a serious relationship does not have their deal breakers? Someone’s a smoker? Not religious? Not from same ethnic background? Away on his job too much? There are thousands of things that people view as “deal breakers.” It is good to know them in advance, and to stick by them. That is not cocky behavior. That is simply knowing yourself well, and knowing what you can live with in advance. Merkel is simply aware of the deal breakers. Those would be qualities that go against the shared familiar qualities of the West. Racism? Offensive, nonthinking language all the time? Sexist remarks (or even deeds?) I admire when someone knows their deal breakers and sticks by them.
I wanted so much to read more moderate articles, to believe that Trump is not at all bad. Every day I think about it, but it just doesn’t sit right. I can see certain talents and fortes and experience in him, but then moral issues—those of your inbuilt moral compass—just keep popping back up, and they simply are stronger. This president, may you like it or not, will always be the president who wants to grab women by the pussy. That, among other things, will never disappear. It showed his true colors. There are simply are no valid apologies for some of the things he has said.
I wish I could be nicely divided, in a gray area, but this time it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want my spine to bend. I want to listen to my moral compass. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror without guilt.
The morning after the U.S. presidential election, my colleague Krishnadev touched on the “striking parallels” between Trump’s victory and Brexit:
The polls tightened in the last few days before the vote. The establishment dismissed that as an aberration. While some citizens complained about being forgotten, about increased immigration, and a lack of meaningful jobs, elected officials spoke of the benefits of globalization and trade. [...] Although the political establishment and the chattering classes may have dismissed Trump’s chances, [he] had consistently predicted that he was “going to do something so special.” It will, he said, be “Brexit plus, plus, plus.” He was right.
We made a callout for non-American Atlantic readers who live outside the U.S. to share their reactions to the gobsmacking results of Election Day. (Use email@example.com to share your own from abroad.) Here’s Martin with “a view from the U.K.”:
The reasons for Trump’s victory and for Brexit are rather similar: the revolt of the white provincial working class marooned in regions that were once the heavy industrial heartlands and where, for a century, communities shared a common culture and felt proud of their lives. Technology and globalisation destroyed these communities and the establishment parties who didn’t speak their language, didn’t hear them, and left them to rot.
The phenomenon of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the revolt of a different group—leftish graduates and intellectuals. But there is one similarity with the Trump/Brexit movement: Both the Rust Belt and the Ivory Tower felt that the national conversation was not touching on what they, their friends, and their colleagues at work felt were the big issues.
In the case of British graduates, it’s the lack of affordable housing, the privatisation and monetisation of public services coupled with no consideration of the ethics, values, and purpose of these services. The establishment parties reduced the language to generic “political speak,” degraded the autonomy and judgement of professionals, and replaced them with management consultants’ reports, guidelines, and box ticking, leading to failure despite financial investment. This graduate revolt is also rooted in the everyday experience of those working in the frontline of public service.
Once Bernie and Corby voiced these concerns, the graduates turned up to town-hall meetings and turned up to vote. However, what Bernie-style politicians have failed to do is to find a language that connects with the Rust Belt communities. Unless they can find a way of doing this, Trump will last a long time and many more Trumps will spring up—even in Europe.
Are you British and want to share your personalized U.K.-centric view of Trump/Brexit, or of the U.S. election more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll include. (Other countries to come.)
Another reader flags a viral video from British comedian Tom Walker, seen below. Walker plays a news reporter named Jonathan Pie, who unleashes an impressive NSFW rant about his lack of surprise that Trump won: It’s a result of overreach by the far left in America, he insists. The annoying camerawork in the video and Pie’s overheated affect is a bit much, but those aspects might just be a satirical skewing of the Glenn Becks and YouTube ranters of the world. Check it out for yourself. He touches on Brexit and covers a lot of the points raised by the Trump voters and anti-Trump voters we’ve been hearing from in Notes:
Update from James, “a Canadian living in my adopted city London, where EU arrogant elites got slaughtered by the same heartland vote that propelled Trump to victory last week”:
Thanks to the EU, I barely recognise the London I originally came to live in, marry, etc. Elites have flushed out much if not most of the happy, mentally healthy British people who used to live/work/play here—replaced by a soul destroying METROPOLIS type society that’s too expensive to live; too depressing to play; but boy oh boy if work is all you live for, this is a form of heaven.
Similarly the EU has banned so many consumer products, replaced by EU standardised second-rate ones, that you get the distinct feeling you’re being set up to become a globalist servant. There’s literally nothing in it for everyday Brits but the destruction of their excellent culture, while getting denigrated constantly by the media.
Then to top it off, the Westminster government has been reduced to servant status itself, since the EU courts decide everything these days. No one even wants to be the prime minister here since Brexit. It’s one big shambles.
That said, I love the Brits, and if history shows us anything, they will come out of this as hilariously awesome as ever.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at the University of California at Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
China warned Italy. Italy warned us. We didn’t listen. Now the onus is on the rest of America to listen to New York.
In the emergency-department waiting room, 150 people worry about a fever. Some just want a test, others badly need medical treatment. Those not at the brink of death have to wait six, eight, 10 hours before they can see a doctor. Those admitted to the hospital might wait a full day for a bed.
I am an emergency-medicine doctor who practices in both Manhattan and Queens; at the moment, I’m in Queens. Normally, I love coming to work here, even though in the best of times, my co-residents and I take care of one of New York City’s most vulnerable, underinsured patient populations. Many have underlying illnesses and a language barrier, and lack primary care.
“The thought of simply breathing in and out without coughing and reuniting with my children ... is goal enough. To—literally—live and let live will be enough.”
I can pinpoint the exact moment I started feeling off. My partner, Will, and I were on a bike ride on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, to escape our apartment and get some exercise. This was back when leaving a New York City apartment to get some exercise was still okay, or at least that’s what we’d read, or at least that’s what we thought? If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what is considered dogma today might change tomorrow.
Ten minutes into our bike ride, I was overcome by an intense fatigue. “I think I have to go back,” I said.
Back home, I felt chilled. Took my temperature: 99.1. I’m normally 97.1, but still, not a huge deal. We’d been so careful about wiping down doorknobs, washing our hands, and keeping everyone except for our family out of our apartment. I’d been ambiently worried enough that my 13-year-old son could be a silent carrier of the virus that I’d yanked him out of his public middle school and off the crowded subways four days before Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled the plug– (far too belatedly, in my opinion). I was getting over a urinary-tract infection, so my fever, I thought, must be from that.
The government is showing how not to handle a pandemic.
By now, the global timeline of the coronavirus’s development has been well established: The first case reportedly appeared in mid-November; in December, the Chinese government was still attributing hospitalizations to a peculiar form of pneumonia; through January and February, the outbreak began spreading around the world; and its epicenter is today firmly in Europe and the United States.
Throughout, another set of events were occurring here in India. Late last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government introduced and passed a controversial new law, ostensibly in support of minorities in neighboring countries, that in fact openly discriminated against Muslims and undermined India’s secular foundations. Then, early this year, protests over that new law snowballed into a pogrom in which dozens of people—mostly Muslims—have been killed.
Hospitals are poised to face the kind of life-and-death decisions that industrialized countries typically encounter only in times of war and natural disaster.
Two weeks ago, a man came to an emergency room in New York with pain in the lower-right quadrant of his abdomen. A CT scan showed inflammation around a fingerlike projection at the base of his colon. Combined with a fever, this was a classic case of appendicitis. Surgeons took the man to the operating room and removed his appendix.
The next day, recovering upstairs, the man still had a fever. Doctors ordered a test for the coronavirus. A day later, his results came back positive.
Under usual circumstances, a person with a dangerous, infectious respiratory disease such as COVID-19 requires special precautions in a hospital. Everyone who enters the patient’s room—even to ask how they’re doing or to pick up a lunch tray—is required to don a fresh gown, gloves, and mask. If the worker must get in close contact with the patient, the mask has to be an N95 respirator, and a face shield is required to guard the eyes. Without exception, every piece of this gear must be discarded in a biohazard dispenser upon leaving the room. An errant mask or glove or gown, coated in virus, can become lethal.
You live in a cramped apartment and you’re scared. But escape is selfish.
Hello fellow New Yorkers. You want to leave. So badly. I know. Me too. But don’t. Don’t do it.
It is absurd at this point that it’s even your choice. The bridges should be closed to all but essential traffic. The airports should be shuttered. Instead, Hertz is still renting cars at its 17 Manhattan locations, AirBnB is listing “Corona free” homes in New Jersey, and airlines are offering (apocalyptically cheap) tickets from all three New York airports to Anywhere But Here.
I know all that because I spent one morning this week Googling a dozen possible escapes, in a moment of claustrophobia and panic. I share 900 square feet with two kids and a dog. My wife is a physician who is still seeing patients. And even though I trust her precautions and protocols, I can’t shake the feeling of dread. Mixed in with the uncertainty is the certainty that everything is going to get much, much worse, as the cases spike and people I love or know or admire begin to die. My impulse is to do something—to move, to flee. I’m sure virtually everyone else in the city feels the same way.
With the country’s attention turned north, the coronavirus pandemic is exploding in Louisiana.
Between the time this sentence was written and the time this article is published, hundreds more Americans will likely have died from COVID-19. Hundreds or perhaps thousands more people will have been hospitalized, and certainly tens of thousands more will have tested positive for the coronavirus. At this point, making predictions about the pandemic is like riding a barrel over Niagara Falls: We can only guess how it ends, but we do know things are going down.
Here’s another prediction that’s safe to make: The city of New Orleans—and, potentially, all of Louisiana—is going to become the next front in the fight against the pandemic. Even as national attention is justifiably focused on the aggressive outbreak in Washington State and the mounting pressures on New York City’s hospitals, the virus’s advance in Louisiana has shaken local officials and doctors, and the state is already approaching a similar burden of infections and deaths as the crises to the north. There’s good reason to believe that this southern outbreak will be even more difficult to contain, and is perhaps a better harbinger of what’s to come as the pandemic spreads across the country.
The coronavirus is making me experience what Germans poetically call heimweh, the hurt of being far from your native land.
In times of upheaval or natural catastrophe, the State Department often advises Americans to avoid some of the world’s poorest nations. When ISIS took over large parts of Syria and Mali descended into civil war, the federal government implored Americans not to go to those countries. One of the pieces of advice it offers to those who insist on visiting them anyway is rather blunt: “Draft a will.”
These warnings speak to a set of assumptions so obvious, they seem almost silly to spell out. America is a rich and stable country. So long as U.S. citizens stay home—or restrict their travel to other developed nations—they are likely to remain safe. Travel warnings tend to flow from north to south, rich to poor, democracy to dictatorship.