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It’s Time to Start Worrying About Codger Hypocrisy Disease 2020
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It’s Time to Start Worrying About Codger Hypocrisy Disease 2020

Whataboutism is the catalyzing agent, so it could get very bad very quickly.

Megan McArdle begins her excellent column thus:

There’s an old brain teaser that goes like this: You have a pond of a certain size, and upon that pond, a single lilypad. This particular species of lily pad reproduces once a day, so that on day two, you have two lily pads. On day three, you have four, and so on.

Now the teaser. “If it takes the lily pads 48 days to cover the pond completely, how long will it take for the pond to be covered halfway?”

The answer is 47 days. Moreover, at day 40, you’ll barely know the lily pads are there.

That grim math explains why so many people—including me—are worried about the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as covid-19. And why so many other people think we are panicking over nothing.

We’ll get back to the COVID-19 thing in a second, but I want to warn readers about another plague with a doubling rate: COHID-20. That’s short for Codger Hypocrisy Disease 2020, a subset of the common malady of partisan myopia and hysteria. 

With COHID-20, the codger you like is immune to the very criticisms you level at the codger you don’t like. 

With the news that Joe Biden is pretty much a lock for the Democratic nomination—and the only possible, but extremely unlikely, alternative is another old crank—we can now be sure that COHID-20 will reach epidemic proportions fairly soon.

To borrow from McArdle’s metaphor, we’ve seen a few lily pads spring up already. For years now, you’d see the occasional clip of President Trump slurring his words, inventing African countries that don’t exist, calling for investigations into the “oranges” of the Mueller probe, and the like. But it’s mostly been color for late-night comedians and Twitter mockery. 

Before that, during the Obama presidency, conservatives—including yours truly—would have fun noting how Biden imagined or invented all sorts of strange claims. I still chuckle about the time he told Katie Couric that as president, FDR had gone on TV after the stock market crash of 1929 to reassure the American people. Never mind that FDR wasn’t president then and nobody really had TVs yet. There was also the time he told a guy in a wheelchair, “Stand up, Chuck, let ’em see ya.” And who can forget the moment he identified  Brussels, Belgium as “the capital of the free world.”

But these incidents—as troubling or trivial as you might think them—were like a few clusters of lily pads on a giant pond. 

That’s about to change. I’ve caught Tucker Carlson railing a couple times now about how it’s an outright scandal that the Democratic “establishment” is even letting Joe Biden run for office, given how mentally disabled the guy is. Cadres of warriors are filling the night sky of Twitter with clips of Biden stumbling on words, confusing names, and inventing crazy claims—like the suggestion that 150 million Americans have been killed by gun violence since 2007. 

In response, Democrats are working the munitions factories of social media and cable TV over time, for a return volley of Trump’s greatest hits. 

Now, you’ll note I haven’t said any of this is untrue. Because it’s not. Sure, some things are taken out of context or exaggerated by both sides. But the inescapable truth is that both of these men often talk like they are a few fries short of a happy meal. If you can’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to. 

Trump has an advantage, of course. He’s a known quantity. For his most ardent supporters, his weirdness is no longer even a source of concern, but a source of his greatness. When he said the chairman of the Federal Reserve might be a greater enemy than the president of China, it was a sign of how he knows how to fight. Canceling a trip to Denmark because the president there didn’t respond positively to his desire to buy Greenland (a policy I support, by the way) was just proof he knows how to play hardball. 

The stream of his bizarre statements and pronunciamientos has been so constant, his defenders are like the character in the Matrix who doesn’t even see the numbers in the code anymore.  

And this explains why they can look at Joe Biden and sincerely cry out, “My God, how can people even think of electing an old man without control of his faculties!?”

Of course, it’s not just that both of them talk like the kind of oldster on whom alarmed librarians call security to have escorted from the building.  They have other similarities. Earlier this week, Biden told someone they were “full of sh*t.” To listen to the shock and outrage of some Trump apologists, you’d think they have a serious problem with politicians using profanity. But we know that can’t actually be the case. 

Similarly, given how they talk about Hunter Biden, you’d think they have a problem with scions of prominent politicians making a buck off the family name. Don Trump Jr. has even challenged Hunter Biden to a debate on the question of who has profited more from their famous fathers. Forget the idea that Don Jr. would win the debate. How weird is it that people think this is a good idea? It’s as if Donnie thinks if he can prove that Hunter’s behavior has been marginally sleazier than his own, such that it exonerates him entirely. 

This is why COHID-20 is going to spread like wildfire now. Whataboutism is the catalyzing agent.  When Biden fans attack Trump’s craziness or boastfulness, Trump fans will be outraged by the selective outrage of Trump’s critics and respond with examples of Biden’s craziness and boastfulness– and vice versa. And for the most part, they will all be right.   

You’re going to be seeing all of this over, and over, again:

COHID-20 is going to define much of the coming campaign, which means everything is going to get incredibly stupid.  And, whoever wins, the odds that we’ll see the 25th amendment put to use in the next administration have gone up dramatically. 

About the other virus.

So back to Megan’s column. I think she’s right. There’s a lot of guesswork in my thinking. But I think the safest guess is that we’re going to see a major outbreak of COVID-19 fairly soon. Actually, that part isn’t a guess.  

Trump did the right thing early when he cut off travel from infected areas, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. But the problem is that unless you completely prevent the virus from coming to the United States, the only thing that such moves buy you is time. And if you don’t use the time properly it really doesn’t matter if you made the right decision early. 

The metaphor I’ve had in mind hasn’t been of lily pads on a pond, but of fires. Imagine you accidentally throw a lit match into a wastebasket and the contests start to catch fire. This isn’t a crisis, but people understand that you have to act immediately. So you throw water into the basket to put it out. If you fully extinguish the fire, crisis averted. But if you still see smoke coming out, you need to get more water or move the trash can someplace where the fire can’t spread. 

Trump acted immediately by implementing the travel ban. But then he walked away without making sure the fire was completely out. This wasn’t wholly his fault. The CDC made some bad decisions. So did the FDA. 

The reason I think we will definitely get a major spike is that we haven’t been testing. This means, for sure, that there are many more cases of COVID-19 out there. And once testing comes on line, it will feel like there’s been a huge spike almost overnight when in reality the existing cases will only become visible, thanks to the testing. If we could put a drug in the water supply that made every left-handed person glow in the dark, it would seem like the number of left-handed people exploded almost instantly, when the number hadn’t changed at all (thank God!). That’s what I mean about it not being a guess we’ll see a major outbreak soon. We’ll be able to see many of the people already infected. 

Whether we get an Italy-like scenario remains to be seen. But it seems more likely every day, because every day that goes by without a lot of testing and the quarantine measures that come with it, is another day closer to the pond being covered with lily pads. 

About last night.

I’m working on the assumption that everyone is caught up on the Sanders-drubbing. And I’d rather wait for the Friday “news”letter to get into the punditry. But I will say that I take the numbers, particularly out of Michigan, as major vindication for my   longstandingtheory that Sanders and Trump benefited enormously from running against Hillary Clinton. My colleague Sarah Isgur has a good piece on this, here.  

As Sarah suggests (as does Tim Alberta, here), the tea leaves for Trump in last night’s results could be more dire than people think. Because Hillary was toxic to many suburban Republicans and moderate Democrats, Hillary underperformed the Obama electorate, and maybe the “natural” Democratic electorate. If the turnout and voting in traditional Republican suburbs last night is even close to predictive for 2020, Trump has a big problem. Alberta:

Two things happened on Tuesday in Michigan. First, Democratic turnout exploded. Second, Biden performed far better with key demographic groups than Clinton did four years ago. If either one of those things happens in November, Trump will have a difficult time winning the state again. If both things happen, the president can kiss Michigan’s 16 electoral votes goodbye—and with them, more than likely, the electoral votes of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

There goes the White House.

The often-unspoken hope among Republicans is that Trump hastened the migration of the white working class from the Democratic coalition so that it can afford to lose white college educated suburban voters. It’s hard to know from last night, but there’s no way to read those returns and think that this hope is now more plausible. 

Other stuff.

The latest (epic-length) Remnant is out. My friend David Bahnsen came on to talk about the markets and COVID-19, Elizabeth Warren, and the future of The Remnant.  Tomorrow, Ross Douthat will be on to talk decadence, germophobia and even Suicide of the West (now out in paperback!). Also, by the time you see this, the latest Dispatch Podcast will be out, in which I reveal myself as a very bad feminist ally.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.