Are we the greatest country in the world?

I want to share with you my thoughts on the current state of our country.

I want to, but I’m afraid I can’t quite put my thoughts into words. However, you buy this newspaper or read us online for a reason, and I feel obligated to try and do so. Just bear with me.

To start, I’ll quote from a monologue in the pilot episode of “The Newsroom,” an HBO political drama that aired from 2012-2014. Jeff Daniels plays the lead character, Will McAvoy, who is the anchor of a fictitious nightly news broadcast.

The episode starts with McAvoy addressing a large crowd in an auditorium. He’s asked by an attendee why he thinks America is the greatest country in the world. His response, “It’s not the greatest country in the world,” creates a media firestorm, and much of the first season revolves around the fallout from those remarks.

Of course, those remarks were written for dramatic effect, and they’re certainly controversial. They were a great hook for the beginning of the TV show. Unfortunately, though, the writers of that outstanding monologue were right.

We’re not the greatest country in the world. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we are. We like to portray ourselves as an enlightened people, and we love to pretend that we’re much better than we actually are. That smug sense of superiority has caused us to rot from the inside.

Consider the fact that more than 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and there’s been no national day of mourning. In fact, many of us have decided the virus is just an inconvenience, and we’ve moved on with our lives. Damn the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions; they’ll have to fend for themselves, right? After all, this world is survival of the fittest, and we care only about ourselves.

Of course, that’s only one problem facing our country. Millions of Americans lack basic access to health care due to high prices and lack of insurance. Poverty remains a huge problem even as we add billions more to the coffers of our nation’s richest citizens. Our political system, the two-party republic, is utterly broken, and politicians seem to do nothing but bicker. The president adds fuel to every fire we have, and local leaders (I’m looking at you, Hal Marx) take their cues from him.

We allow hatred to go unchecked, and discrimination occurs for bafflingly stupid reasons such as sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors. Racism still runs rampant, and our minority populations deal with inequalities at every level. Black Americans are dying at much higher rates from COVID-19, and they’re being murdered in the streets by corrupt police officers.

The saddest thing is that many of us refuse to see these harsh realities. We instead see the government asking us to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus as oppression, and we cry out in protest over it. We’re a selfish people, and that selfishness has been on full display throughout this pandemic.

I don’t know the solution to our country’s problems, but I think the first step in solving them is at least recognizing them. If we’re all truly patriots like we claim to be, we should acknowledge our faults, come together and resolve to fix them. With the current state of our country, I don’t know if that’s possible, but I don’t see another way forward.

I’m gravely concerned about our country’s future, and all I know is that I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Will you join me?

Congrats to Class of ’20; now, go do great things

Each year, The PineBelt NEWS publishes a special section recognizing our area’s graduating high school seniors, and we’re currently preparing that section for release.

I’ve been working with local high schools to gather a roster of the graduating seniors and also their individual portraits. There are 11 high schools in Forrest and Lamar counties, including eight public schools and three private schools, and they’ll graduate approximately 1,600 students this academic year.

These students are entering the “real world” in a time of great uncertainty, and my heart goes out to all of them. Instead of spending their final months in high school worrying about prom dates and final exams, they’ve been worried about COVID-19 and if they’ll even get to have a graduation ceremony. They’re resilient, and we’re certainly proud of them.

Former President Barack Obama gave a virtual commencement address to the Class of 2020 on Saturday, and, as usual, I was inspired by his prose. Obama said the graduating class would have to “grow up faster than some generations” because of the world’s uncertainties, and he provided the class with three pieces of advice that I think are helpful.

The former president’s first piece of advice for the graduates was “don’t be afraid.”

He noted that America has gone through tough times before, and the country has always come out stronger as a result.

He said this is usually “…because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.”

Obama’s second piece of advice was for graduates to “do what you think is right.” He added that “…you won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do … but, if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when it’s inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you … and you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

His final piece of advice for new graduates was to “build a community” because “no one does big things by themselves.”

He urged graduates to “be alive to one another’s struggles,” to stand up for one another’s rights and to ditch old ways of thinking, including sexism, racial prejudice, status and greed.

Obama ended his speech by saying the graduating class is already full of leaders, and he’s excited to see the great things they accomplish. I’m excited, too, because I know our graduating classes are full of talent and promise. I’ve been privileged to interview several of them, and they’ve filled me with Pine Belt pride.

Consider Lorin Brown of Petal, who I wrote a story about this week. Lorin’s high school career was filled with success, and she’s been widely recognized as a student leader and for her academic accomplishments. However, I was most impressed by her sincere desire to help others as she pursues her dream career.

Lorin wants to study psychology and fight disorders like autism and dementia. She’s not seeking vast fame or fortune, but she’s looking for meaningful ways to help others in her community. I know she’ll continue to do great things, and I’m ready to write about them.

The Class of 2020 is filled with people like Lorin, and they need our support as they embark on their next chapters. Let’s rally behind them and be their biggest cheerleaders.

Congratulations, graduates. Go and do great things. We’re behind you.

Finding a motto for 2020 in a strange place

About a week ago, I was tossing out old papers on my desk when I stumbled across my 2020 planner, which has to be the most useless invention in the world at this point.

Each year, I buy a paper planner and promise to use it, and it never turns out well. I usually abandon it a few weeks into the year, but I was particularly proud of this year’s planner and had been doing a good job with it. I paid too much for it, and the retailer even embossed my initials on the front cover.

The thing came with stickers and everything, and I was a planning fool for a while. And, then, you know … COVID-19 hit.

Anyway, I flipped back to the front of the planner and read my New Year’s resolutions, which filled me with a strong sense of frustration. The new year – and the new decade – had started with such promise, and now it was already May, two months into the time period I’ll refer to from now on as “The Age of Coronavirus.”

It feels like five years ago, but yes, the virus made its first impact in Mississippi on March 11. If you’ll remember, the first case was found in none other than Forrest County, and yours truly has done nothing but cover the virus since then. My planner, with its dumb stickers and optimistic phrases on each page, was getting good use as a paperweight, and those resolutions, scribbled with such passion in December, had long since been forgotten.

I was throwing the planner away when a sheaf of papers fell from it and hit the floor.

“It’s mocking me by shedding all over the house now,” I thought as I tossed the planner in the garbage can and picked up the scattered papers.

They were meeting notes from a webinar I’d attended earlier in the year. I barely remembered the event, and I quickly reviewed the notes to see if there was anything worth keeping.

In the margins of one of the pages, I’d written – and underlined – this phrase: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one else knows what they’re doing, either.”

I don’t recall if this is something one of the speakers said or if it was just an observation I’d made, but my goodness, what a fitting statement for 2020, I thought. I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the note out to keep. I may frame it as my motto for the rest of the year.

Indeed, we’re living in unprecedented times, and we should all strive to be easier on ourselves and on others. I was talking with a co-worker earlier this week about how everyone in our society seems to be on edge and full of anxiety. COVID-19 has disrupted our daily routines and our safety nets, and it has us living in fear of the unknown. If we’re not careful, that fear can manifest itself into anger and even depression.

So, be kinder to yourself and to others. Don’t worry about those New Year’s resolutions, and don’t let an idle 2020 planner bother you. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and soon, we’ll be back to complaining about how busy things are and how packed our schedules can be. Personally, I look forward to those days.

Oh, the things I miss …

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I’ll do when the COVID-19 threat passes. I’ve also been thinking about the many things I miss.

I have a lot of time on my hands, as we all do, so I’ve spent some time considering these subjects, and I think the first thing I’ll do when all of this is over is give someone a big hug. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to hug or shake hands, and, for us southerners, that’s been really difficult.

I also know I’ll never take my weekend shopping trips – to Target and Corner Market – for granted again. I never thought the idea of roaming the aisles at Target without a mask – or without a sense of urgency to get in and get out – could make me teary-eyed, but here we are.

Another big casualty of the pandemic for me has been the loss of movie theaters. On a Friday night or a lazy Saturday afternoon, I can typically be found reclining in one of the chairbacks at a theater in town, munching on popcorn and sipping an overpriced alcoholic beverage. There’s something magical about movie theater popcorn, and I miss it, but I mostly miss the entire experience of visiting a theater and seeing a great film. I’d settle for a lackluster one at this point.

I miss my Sunday breakfasts at either The Depot or SouthBound Bagel & Coffee Shop in downtown Hattiesburg. The Depot closed its doors shortly after all this started, and I greatly miss my typical coffee and granola dish. I’ve ordered takeout from SouthBound (too many times, according to my scale), but a genuine SouthBound experience isn’t complete without enjoying your meal in the cramped confines of the restaurant.

My scale, by the way, has just about given up on me. We’ve ordered a lot of takeout since this started. I tell people it’s because we support local restaurants, and that’s partly true, but I’m also lazy and don’t want to cook. I consider this killing two birds with one stone, but it’s been damaging to my weight loss efforts. I miss my gym and the trainers, and I hope they don’t run away from me in shock when I’m back at it. I promise I’ll get back to my routine when the pandemic passes.

I especially miss seeing people at church. Virtual services are great, and the pastors in our area are to be commended for the way they’ve adapted to a tough situation, but it isn’t the same for me. I miss the ritual of going to church, and I especially miss the beautiful music. I miss the comfort of greeting others, and I miss the feeling of accomplishment I always earned by actually getting up and making it to church on time each Sunday.

I even miss traffic on Hardy Street, to be honest with you. In the nearly five weeks since this all started, I’ve ventured to the west side of town a few times, and it’s no fun navigating Hardy when the traffic is so light. I miss yelling at people for not using their blinkers or for cutting me off in traffic.

The list of things I miss can go on and on, but I mostly miss social interaction. I’m used to getting together with my friends multiple times each week and enjoying a sit-down meal at one of our local restaurants, and that’s an experience I’ll never take for granted again. I haven’t been able to see my family in weeks, and it’ll be nice to visit with them again, too.

I’ve also been working on a list of things I won’t miss, and the daily casualty reports from the Mississippi State Department of Health top that list. Those reports are a reminder that we must continue to take this illness seriously, even though our adjustments are uncomfortable and have us missing our creature comforts. We must continue to keep our guards up for now, and we must listen to the experts.

We must wear our masks and practice social distancing. If we get complacent and adjust back to normal life too soon, then we’ll be back in this same situation – or in a worse situation – for many more weeks.

It’s OK to miss things, and I certainly do, but we can all take comfort in the fact that this, too, shall pass, and things will roll back to normal once again.

Until then, friends, I’ll see you from a safe distance. Stay healthy.

Pets can help us cope with the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect time to adopt – or foster – a pet.

Anxiety levels are understandably high right now, and companion animals have been clinically proven to lower stress rates and even improve heart health.

Plus, they’re great at relieving the loneliness many of us are feeling right now because of the necessary social distancing and shelter-in-place efforts.

I’ve been working from home for three weeks now, and I rarely venture out of the house. My two cats have been constant companions, and they’re also endless sources of entertainment.

The “boys,” as I call them, are Henry and Edgar, and if you’re friends with me on social media, you’re very familiar with them both. I think they’re both minor celebrities due to my Facebook and Instagram pages, and when I talk to others, I’m almost always asked how they’re doing.

Henry is the older of the two and recently turned 6. He’s an all-black cat except for one tiny white dot at the very tip of his tail. He’s a fat and happy cat, and he spends most of his time curled up next to me. As I tell others, he supervises my work. I think he generally disapproves of anything that doesn’t involve us napping or him getting food.

Edgar – the black-and-white one – is still very much a kitten and is less than a year old. I found him on the porch in mid-2019, and he was a pitiful looking little creature. I spent several weeks luring him to me, and I finally succeeded in gaining his trust and getting him to the veterinarian. He then moved in with us, and despite Henry’s initial resistance, has become a beloved member of the household.

It wasn’t easy getting the two to socialize, but they now spend as majority of their days cuddled up to each other or chasing each other around the house. They rarely fight, and Henry seems to have settled into his new role as a big brother or adopted dad. If you can’t tell, I love them both very much.

Henry is also a rescue animal. I adopted him from one of the local animal shelters when he was a tiny kitten, and I’m glad I did. He has added much love to my life over the years.

In fact, I’ve had rescue animals for my entire life. My childhood pets included a calico cat who was found in the woods and lived with us until her death at the age of 18. My loyal boyhood dog, who died from cancer several years ago, was a rescue from an animal shelter, and we later adopted another dog from the same shelter. His name is Napoleon, and he’s elderly now but still full of energy.

It’s amazing how much joy animals can add to our lives, and we all need a little joy right now. We also need a jolt of positivity, and what’s more positive than a happy cat or dog?

If you’re on the fence about adopting, I encourage you to visit one of our local shelters and at least try fostering. Our shelters are almost always at full capacity or over their capacity, and these animals need a savior. You can make an immediate impact by fostering or adopting, and you’ll feel great about doing it.

These shelters are doing the Lord’s work, and they hold a special place in my heart. Consider helping them out, and I suspect you’ll find that you’ve helped yourself, too, in countless ways.

Have fun loving on a pet, and stay safe until we talk again.

Order from Reeves has suspicious timing

Are politics at play during the COVID-19 pandemic?

They sure seem to be, and one doesn’t have to look far to see what I mean.

For weeks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves resisted calls to implement a statewide shelter-in-place order, but last week, he suddenly reversed course and issued the order. The order came after a rapid rise in the number of positive cases throughout the state and multiple deaths.

Only hours before, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a similar order, and, in explaining his action, said that he did so after a “change in demeanor” from President Donald J. Trump.

In recent weeks, the president has certainly changed his tone on the virus. For months, he downplayed the severity of the threat, but he seems to have finally realized that the virus is a problem that will not be solved with partisan rhetoric.

Under his leadership, the federal government is now encouraging strict social distancing policies and finally pumping much-needed medical supplies to the states.

Did Reeves, like DeSantis, only change his mind about the order after receiving permission of sorts from the White House? The timeline seems to confirm my suspicion, and it’s also helpful to remember that both governors are well-known allies of the president.

It’s alarming to think that elected governors – leaders who should uphold the best interests of their citizens over the beliefs of a president – are taking cues from Trump in times of crisis.

These leaders should instead rely on experts – and, in this case – medical professionals.

Mississippi Today, the statewide nonprofit news organization, said that a big reason for Reeves choosing to issue the order was a grim plea from LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

In an email to Reeves, Woodward wrote, “Without a statewide ‘shelter in place’ starting very soon (which is proving effective elsewhere), our health system will be overwhelmed. The immediate time frame (right now) is our last inflection point in controlling COVID-19 in our state.”

Woodward added that a shelter-in-place order “is the only additional thing we can do right now to decrease the force of the impact … every ventilator and ICU bed we can spare will matter.”

Despite the excellent reporting by Mississippi Today, I think there’s much more to Reeves issuing the order than an email from Woodward. Her request should have been all that was needed, but I have a sinking feeling politics were at play.

During his lengthy career in Mississippi politics, Reeves has proven to be quite the political animal, and he has also chosen to closely align himself with Trump. Like DeSantis, he seems to bask in the limelight that Trump occasionally shines on him via his Twitter feed.

I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that Reeves is not making his decisions based on the shifting moods of the Trump White House. The governor needs to remember that he was elected to serve the citizens of Mississippi and not the president.

It’s time for Reeves to set politics aside and be a forward-thinking, independent and strong governor of the Magnolia State.

The coronavirus relief package: Complicated, expensive and necessary

The federal government recently approved a $3 trillion economic relief package to respond to the coronavirus crisis, and, despite the sticker shock, it seems to be a mostly good and necessary piece of legislation.

Democrats and Republicans alike deserve a round of applause for working together to get the package, officially called the CARES Act, passed. There’s a healthy amount of criticism that can be assigned to either side and to the president for the government’s slow response, but the relief package is a good start.

However, a start is all it is. Other countries are doing more to guarantee lost wages and stabilize their flailing economies, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before our federal government has to inject even more money into American households, especially as unemployment numbers soar and as the economy continues on a nosedive trajectory.

For now, government-issued stimulus checks will be coming to most Americans. The one-time check will depend on income, but single adults who have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less can expect $1,200. Married couples without children who earn $150,000 or less will receive $2,400.

Taxpayers who file as head of household and earn $112,500 or less can also expect $1,200. For every qualifying child age 16 or under, there will be additional payments of $500. The total check decreases for higher incomes and stops altogether for single people earning $99,000 or married people who have no children and earn $198,000.

The check will arrive within three weeks, and the amount will be based on 2019 or 2018 tax data. If you haven’t filed a 2019 return yet, it may be a good time to do so, especially if you’ve recently moved, updated other personal information or if your income has changed. The IRS will directly deposit funds to your bank if they have your account information on file.

The check comes with few strings attached, and you won’t be required to pay income taxes on the additional money. People who receive Social Security retirement and disability payments each month will receive a stimulus check, as will eligible unemployed people and veterans. The relief package also temporarily suspends most garnishments except for child support.

The CARES Act greatly expands unemployment insurance coverage. Self-employed and part-time workers are now eligible for benefits. People suffering from COVID-19 – or those caring for someone with the virus – are also eligible for assistance. Also covered under the package are parents who have seen their daycare provider close due to the pandemic.

The package also adds an additional $600 to the maximum unemployment insurance weekly benefit offered by each state. In Mississippi, the maximum weekly benefit is $235, meaning an unemployed worker in the state could receive $835 per week with the addition of the federal cash. The additional $600 weekly benefit can last up to four months.

Most Americans with student loans will benefit from the CARES Act. Loan payments are suspended until October, and interest is also suspended for the six-month period. These rules are for direct loans – or money borrowed from the federal government – and will impact 90 percent of student loans, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

Another benefit is the more than $370 billion in government-backed bank loans that are now available for small businesses through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The loans are meant to help cover monthly expenses like payroll, rent and utilities, and businesses will not have to repay portions of loans used for these purposes.

The CARES Act also pushes $140 billion to the U.S. health system, including $100 billion directly to hospitals. The cash is meant to provide personal protective equipment to health care workers and also boost the supply of COVID-19 testing kits. Under the legislation, virus testing – and any potential vaccines – are to be covered at no cost for patients.

Additionally, evictions are temporarily suspended for renters whose landlords have mortgages backed or owned by federal entities. These landlords are also prohibited from charging any late fees for nonpayment of rent. Homeowners with mortgages backed by federal entities are protected from foreclosures for as long as 180 days.

If cash is needed to recover from the pandemic, the package temporarily suspends the 10 percent penalty on withdrawals from individual retirement accounts or workplace retirement plans and spreads any income taxes owed on withdrawn money over three years. Americans can also borrow up to $100,000 from their 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan.

The legislation has many other interesting – and impactful – provisions, including increased cash for the agricultural bailout program, a year-long extension of the REAL ID program, new rules for charitable deductions and billions of dollars for state, local and tribal governments. This money is to be used for local disaster relief funds, election security grants and even transit improvements. 

Of course, getting this piece of legislation passed was a politically charged process, and the final bill also includes a $454 billion emergency lending fund for businesses, states and cities. Within this provision is nearly $60 billion for airlines and $17 billion for companies “critical to maintaining national security,” such as Boeing and perhaps even the oil industry.

These payments do come with strings attached. Bailed-out corporations must keep most of their workforce, stop buying back shares of their own stock, cap the pay of their executives and end dividend payments to shareholders while receiving aid.

Like I said, the CARES Act is mostly good, but I could have done without billion-dollar corporate bailouts. I’m hopeful, though, that the aid provided to average Americans and to small businesses will prove that this relief package was necessary, and I hope the government will take additional steps if they need to do so.

Americans need to be financially empowered during this crisis, and our leaders must be ready to act before the crisis worsens – and not react, as they did this time.

The possible positives of a post-pandemic world

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is, for me, the most unsettling part of the pandemic. We do not know when it will end, nor do we know what the world will look like when the crisis finally subsides. However, I am choosing to be optimistic, and I am looking at the possible positives of the world following the virus.

A major positive is that the pandemic could make loving our neighbors – you know, the biblical teaching we all seem to sometimes forget – the next big thing. Americans are known for their ability to unite in a crisis, and that unity is desperately needed in our polarized country. Instead of viewing ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, we could again view ourselves as Americans – especially as we realize we are all in this together, no matter the outcome.

Hopefully, the pandemic also causes us to realize we are global citizens and that policies like “America First” will not work in the long term. For the country to be successful, we must actively participate in global affairs, and we must care what happens to our neighbors beyond the borders of our country.

Another positive can be found in the amount of innovations that are happening in the midst of the pandemic. Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh of Forrest Health was recently asked for good news in the face of COVID-19. He said, “The thing that I’m most hopeful about is innovation – whether it is getting our groceries, medical care, education … this may really have some silver linings in terms of the way we do business and interact with one another. This could push us into the 21st century in ways we were crawling into it.”

In just a few short weeks, we have seen the power of technology at work. Classes are moving to a virtual format, and my gym is even offering online workouts. Our institutions – banks, churches, grocery stores, hospitals and more – are quickly and effectively adapting to what could be the new normal.

Telemedicine – or the practice of caring for a patient remotely – will be part of that new normal. The capability to electronically visit a physician is already there, and it has been allowable in the U.S. for years. In fact, I remember attending my first telemedicine session back in 2015. My then-health insurance provider offered an app that allowed you to virtually visit a physician, and I used it on an occasion when I had a severe sinus infection.

There are clear benefits to the telemedicine system. Convenience, of course, is at the top of the list, but virtual care also improves overall access to medicine and reduces costs associated with traveling to visit a physician. Some early studies also indicate that telemedicine improves the overall quality of care and reduces unnecessary emergency room visits.

The pandemic could also transform other systems, such as the way we vote – and it could be the end of the road for physical polling places. The rise of electronic voting is already on the way; in fact, it has been 10 years since Congress first passed laws requiring electronic balloting for military personnel and other citizens living abroad. Joe Brotherton, chairman of a startup firm that provides electronic ballots, believes the “adoption of more advanced technology – including secure, transparent, cost-effective voting from our mobile devices” is on the way, according to a Politico article.

Brotherton said a hybrid model – mobile-phone voting with paper ballots for tabulation – is already being implemented for the 2020 election cycle in “certain jurisdictions.” Meanwhile, voting by mail could also become an option because of the pandemic, with some states, such as Utah, Oregon and Washington, already allowing such an option, according to the article. These changes will make it easier for some to vote and could even encourage more civic participation at the ballot box.

What are some other things that could change?

  • Health care staff, small business owners and employees, store clerks, truck drivers, utility workers … these soldiers on the front lines of the pandemic could finally get the respect they deserve.
  • The health care system could get a major revamp, especially as the crisis continues to point out glaring holes in the system. Whether this is a public option or something else, expect this issue – already a major political talking point – to explode in importance.
  • Introverts – and germaphobes – unite! The pandemic could end the handshake, the fist bump or the awkward hug. Personally, I am rooting for the Vulcan salute as our new universal greeting, but I understand that may meet a little resistance.
  • That two-hour meeting Monday morning, the one filled with a lot of small talk … yeah, it could have been an email. The pandemic could end our obsession with meetings, and it could greatly streamline business while boosting productivity.
  • Our sick world will get a respite. Studies are already showing how the skies are clearing in previously polluted areas, such as hugely populated cities in China. Could the virus make us understand the real challenges of climate change and make us treat our planet a little bit better? That remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.

Trump has failed the country with pandemic response

The COVID-19 pandemic should be the end of the road for the Trump presidency.

The federal government has failed in its initial response, and that responsibility falls squarely on the president’s shoulders. He was elected to lead, and he has proven he is unable to do so.

Of course, what was anyone really expecting from Trump? This is the president who has tried – multiple times – to cut funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also fired the U.S. pandemic response team, and he didn’t replace them. This is also the president who said, just a few weeks ago, that the virus was a new “Democratic hoax.”

I don’t know what changed his tune this past week when he finally declared a national state of emergency. It may have been his own close call with COVID-19 – after all, he was supposedly tested after being exposed to it at Mar-a-Lago – or it may have been the fact that thousands of Americans have now fallen ill with the virus. I guess it’s hard to persist with the “hoax” talk when your own people are dying.

Whatever the case may be, I’m afraid our government’s response is “too little, too late,” especially as other countries have implemented strong testing measures and even started quarantines. In South Korea, for example, residents can go through drive-thru testing sites and get results texted directly to their cellphones within 10 minutes. By the way, did I mention the test is free, paid for by the government?

Hong Kong is another example. After the first cases were detected, the government quickly developed diagnostic tests and deployed them to every major hospital. More than 12,000 people were placed in quarantine, and government leaders called for calm. With a unified response, Hong Kong is seeing a limited number of cases instead of explosive impacts.

A similar situation can be found in Singapore and in several other countries. The countries hit the hardest, such as Italy and Iran, all failed to respond quickly to the pandemic and downplayed its enormous impact. Those countries have casualty numbers in the thousands.

The U.S. response should have been immediate and decisive. Instead, as one article put it, we are acting like a “failed state” with no idea how to handle such a crisis. Our leaders don’t have consistent messaging, and Trump has even tried to control public health notices issued from the CDC. As Ashish Jha, who runs the Harvard Global Health Institute, put it, our government’s response has been a “fiasco.”

The U.S. is currently reporting thousands of cases, but that number is probably extremely low due to a weeks-long delay in deploying tests, said Jha. He expects the number to be probably “five to 10 times as many cases out in the community as have actually been detected,” according to an NPR report.

“Without testing, you have no idea how extensive the infection is. You can’t isolate people. You can’t do anything,” he said. “And so then we’re left with a completely different set of choices. We have to shut schools, events and everything down, because that’s the only tool available to us until we get testing back up. It’s been stunning to me how bad the federal response has been.”

The responsibility for the “fiasco” of the federal response goes back to Trump. This hasn’t been a hoax, Mr. President, and you and your administration will go down in history as extremely ineffective and weak in a time of crisis.

When Trump took office, his inaugural address was about stopping the “American carnage,” but as our casualty numbers mount, I wonder what the carnage will look like over the next few months. It’s a terrifying proposition.

We can’t afford another crisis with Trump at the helm (literally … I mean, take a look at the stock market), and we certainly can’t afford four more years of potential disaster because we have such an irresponsible leader.

Trump must be voted out in November. It’s no longer a game of politics. It’s a game of our survival.