In an era of shout radio and social media degenerates, political endorsements have about as much value as Donald Trump’s alternative facts. A few newspapers valiantly press on, but those endorsements are not much more than vanity plates in print, especially in provincial communities like ours. Thankfully FlaglerLive as a nonprofit cannot endorse, and wouldn’t do so even if it could. But this year I’m personally going to break that rule and borrow a page from my Zarathustran colleague John Walsh. I’m making just one endorsement. I’m endorsing the same person for president, for governor, for state attorney, for county and city commission, for mosquito control, for P-Section prime minister and of course for Beverly Beach mayor.
I endorse Jacinda Ardern. (She’s not a friend.)
The name might not ring too many bells. I still have a hard time with it myself. (Contrary to the way many pronunciation guides have it this side of the planet, you don’t pronounce the first r.) She’s New Zealand’s prime minister. In 2017, when she was 37, she was the world’s youngest woman to take any country’s leadership. In eight days she’s poised to win a second term. Polls have her ahead of her challenger by 15 points. She’s the Angela Merkel of the southern hemisphere, but better. She managed not only to tame the coronavirus, but essentially to kill it in New Zealand.
As of Wednesday the country had gone 10 days without a single new case. All restrictions have been lifted. No social distancing, no masks required, no limits on gatherings. It’s the result of what the prime minister calls “go hard, go early” (the strategy Flagler’s own Dr. Stephen Bickel was pushing early in the pandemic) a strategy that meant immediate and strict but brief lockdowns backed by grown-up enforcement–none of that infantile do-as-I-please selfishness so common in Flagler-flavored bacchanals–and an entirely scientifically based approach to tracing, containing and smashing the disease before it turns into a mass killer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arnold Schwarzenegger yielded the seventh Terminator movie’s title role to Ardern.
New Zealand is a country of 5 million people, or 45 times the population of Flagler County. Keeping in mind the absurd back-patting of our own elected officials about how this county has kept its numbers low, compared to other counties in Florida, here’s how we compare to the real world. This week Flagler recorded its 1,800th case. That’s 300 more cases than for the entire country of New Zealand for the entirety of the pandemic. We boast about our infection rate of 1,575 per 100,000 population, because it puts us at the bottom of counties in Florida, that inferno of viral indulgence. You want to know New Zealand’s rate per 100,000? Thirty-eight. This week we recorded our 32nd covid-related death in Flagler County. New Zealand, that country of 5 million, has had a total of 25.
It’s not fail-safe. Nothing is with this Strangelove of a virus. New Zealand declared the virus defeated a few months ago only to see a small resurgence, though the term “resurgence” is relative: a few dozen cases reemerged, and just because of that, major cities locked down again, briefly. (When we get a spike in Flagler, we just turn up the karaoke machine at the local social club.) New Zealand’s grown-up approach worked again. The few dozen cases were traced and contained. And now its society has reopened without virus, without limits.
Of course the country has suffered economically. Every country has. But not anywhere near the sort of cratering that took place in the United States. New Zealand’s unemployment rate is at 4 percent after a peak of 6 percent in June. It’s going to have a hard time in coming months, but nothing on the scale of American Darwinism, where government abandoned workers when they needed safety most and is abandoning them again when they need economic lifelines. New Zealand was successful because the only thing it battled was the virus, not untruths, not a president’s incendiary calls to “liberate” this or that state, and because New Zealand’s leader, unlike Donald Trump, was not the enemy of her own people. Not surprisingly, Jacinda Ardern never faced the risk of getting kidnapped and “tried” by rogue militias, as Michigan’s governor did by our very own right-wing terrorists (those “very fine people” the acting president admires) when Gretchen Whitmer did her best to go Ardern on her state.
New Zealand is the exception, an island nation with natural barriers, but many other countries have been nearly as successful by being equally deferential to science, because they’ve refused to let politics drive the response, because grown-up nations don’t let a cult of personality dance on 200,000 graves. For all its colossal medical, technological and economic advantages, the United States failed that test, because we have a failure at the helm, a superspreader worried less about his own staff than about the the right camera angles catching the bulk of his next advertisement for himself. Even Narcissus wasn’t a walking biological weapon. I suspect Jacinda Ardern could run the United States by Zoom better than Trump could run so much as the Rose Garden, covid’s favorite Washington petri dish.
Speaking of endorsements, the New England Journal of Medicine has never in its 208-year history done any. It ended that tradition this week, not quite endorsing Joe Biden, but endorsing giving Donald Trump the boot, which amounts to the same thing. As the editors wrote, “Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed ‘opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies…. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
The editorial’s indictment in the plural is the chilling caution. Trump is merely the bulky goon above the surface. Nine-tenths of Trumpism is a viral load we’re not about to be rid of no matter what happens on Nov. 3. And Joe Biden is no Jacinda Ardern. But getting this dying country to convalescence is victory enough for now.