TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2020
Sunday's unhelpful example(s): On Sunday, the virus of peaceful separation spread to the letters published by the New York Times:
To the Editor:
Thomas L. Friedman has written another brilliant column, outlining the deep, irreconcilable divides in our country. He describes the fear of less educated whites that the country’s population is moving heavily toward people of color and different cultural backgrounds, and that they are being left behind by a skilled technological society that they believe ignores their needs and demeans them. There is also a rural and urban divide. These differences have deeply divided America, exacerbated by the Trump presidency.
A century and a half ago America fought a civil war over issues painfully analogous to these. Perhaps it is time to consider a similar solution, but by peaceful means. The fractionalization of the country is leaving deep scars that will not heal.
Perhaps recognizing this can lead to peaceful separation of the union into red states and blue states acceptable to both sides. The states on each coast could join in a blue union, with a few states in between, perhaps even joining with Canada to unite the geographic separation.
Once again, our own blue tribe will get both coasts. We might even join with Canada!
We're not entirely sure that this will be "acceptable to both sides." For our previous discussion of such implausible cogitation, you can just click here.
Did it make sense to publish this letter? We have no idea. That said, the letter below was comically wrong on several levels. Let's start with what it said:
To the Editor:
Like [Frank] Bruni, I wonder how more than 70 million Americans could have voted for Donald Trump. I understand that many who live away from large, diverse urban areas believe that “elites” look down on them and have strong negative feelings about nonwhites and immigrants. That said, I am baffled as to why his failure to manage Covid and its economic fallout—which must have affected many directly—wasn’t more important in their electoral decisions.
Part of the answer is that many of them do not share the view that, in fact, he did fail. I heard an elderly person in Florida tell an interviewer that she thought Mr. Trump had done all he could about the virus. Yet those of us who read The Times and other mainstream media know that Mr. Trump rejected science-based recommendations. As a result we did worse than every other developed country.
Since the data don’t lie, my assumption is that those facts did not make an impression on Trump voters. Why? Because they get their news and views from sources—Fox and social media—that overwhelm them with “alternative facts.”
To make progress on the many fronts that need attention, this is a problem that must be overcome.
This letter strikes us as comically wrong. We'll take you through several steps:
We agree on one general point. In our view, Donald J. Trump's approach to the pandemic has resided just this side of lunacy from the very beginning. There has never been a perfect way to react to this horrible situation. But the president's public statements have generally been insane.
That said, have we "done worse than every developed country?" Also, do "those of us who read The Times" know such "facts" from reading that newspaper?
Also, "since the data don't lie," is it fair to assume that the letter-writer's factual claims "did not make an impression on Trump voters?"
Comically, the answers are basically no. Things get even dumber when you ponder the link the Times inserted into the letter's text.
Let's start with the basic facts. At present, our "total deaths to date" are not the highest in the developed world after adjusting for size of population.
We do reside near the top on this unfortunate measure. That said, after adjusting for population, the U.K.'s number is slightly worse. Spain and Belgium are still doing considerably worse, with Italy right on our tail.
How about an arguably more salient measure—current "daily or weekly deaths?" On that unfortunate measure, quite a few of our most obvious peer nations are currently doing much worse.
After adjusting for population, European nations which once seemed to have the virus licked are now recording weekly deaths at rates which significantly exceed our own. Canada and Germany are still doing better than we are, but even Germany's weekly death rate has risen to the point where it's more than half of ours.
At present, daily/weekly death rates in Spain, France, Italy and the U.K. substantially exceed our own (see data below). This could always change, of course. But "those of us who read The Times" may not be aware of such facts, especially after reading the letter the Times chose to publish this Sunday.
The self-impressed reader felt fairly sure that "those of us who read The Times" have been getting the full set of relevant facts from that great newspaper. Oddly, when the Times inserted a link into the text of his letter, the link went to a five-week-old, barely coherent report in Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg reporter sourced her fuzzy claims to a JAMA report, to which she didn't link. The Bloomberg report was five weeks old and largely incompetent. For unknown reasons, the Times provided a link to that report, not to its own work.
At present, major peer nations are drowning in Covid deaths. Despite the president's crazy behavior, we are not the worst in the world at the present time. That said, "those of us who read The Times" are often poorly informed, along with reams of The Others.
On the brighter side, we're rarely in doubt about our tribal superiority. In such ways, our failing nation continues to slide toward the sea.
Current weekly deaths: Below, you see Covid death counts from the past week (through November 17). When you adjust for population, our rate in nowhere near the worst in the developed world:
Deaths from Covid in the past week:
United States: 8969France: 4067Italy: 3983United Kingdom: 2909Spain: 1908Germany: 1308
Rachel almost always forgets to adjust for population. So do the bulk of our "highly educated" upper-end mainstream journalists.
Such is the state of our failing nation's never-ending intellectual dysfunction. It's been like this for years and years, certainly so in the Times.