There’s weather, and then there’s climate.

One is a mix of atmospheric events that happen at a specific time and place, like a snowstorm. And the other is the set of conditions that underlies the specific events of the day, measured over wider spaces and longer time periods.

You can have a wicked cold snap in January, or even an April snowstorm and still be living in the hottest year in human history, no matter how many people tweet “What happened to global warming?”

Coronavirus is like the weather. It’s devastating like a hurricane and it’s doing damage to people’s lives and livelihoods all around the world. 

We need to take shelter, support the people who are directly affected and begin the long, expensive process of rebuilding. 

But Donald Trump provides the climate – the underlying conditions that control how we can respond to overwhelming and destructive events caused by a virus for which there is no vaccine and no effective treatment.

Too bad for us that just when we need a historic level of teamwork, we have a president who needs political division to survive.

In the week when the death toll reached 100,000 lives, Trump is tweeting lies, reiterating baseless accusations that TV host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, murdered a former staffer.

When his megaphone of choice, Twitter, tried to apply some too-little-too-late fact checking to his wildly irresponsible rhetoric, Trump retaliated with the full power of his office – an executive order that exposes social media companies like Twitter to lawsuits.

This might be mildly diverting if the country were not in the middle of an actual crisis. We need leadership, and he needs chaos.

Trump bungled the onset of the pandemic, because he was slow to realize how serious it was. He was not the only one to make that mistake, so he might be forgiven for it.

But since then he has driven a wedge between people who are suffering now and those who have not had to suffer yet.

Under what passes for leadership these days, there is no public health intervention that can’t be politicized. 

Even the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that in the middle of the pandemic spread of a respiratory virus we would all be better off covering our faces when we can’t avoid close encounters has turned into a political proxy war.

Trump won’t wear a mask and he berates those who do. Going maskless in public is becoming the red hat of the 2020 election campaign.

He has even encouraged a COVID denial movement, which discounts the deaths because the victims were mostly old and infirm, and claims that the cure has been worse than the disease. 

That is the climate under which we are dealing with the coronavirus disaster. The number of new cases may decline and the daily death toll may start to settle, but we are still going to live under the conditions that make it difficult if not impossible to stop the suffering.

Since Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act in mid March, the federal government’s response has been following whatever the president thinks he needs to win that day’s news cycle.

If he wants a positive coronavirus story, he’ll promote a quack treatment unsupported by research. If he wants everyone talking about a different story, he’ll pick a fight like the one with Scarborough and Twitter. 

Meanwhile, 40 million Americans are out of work, 27 million have lost their health insurance and we are approaching the start of a third month when millions of families and small businesses won’t be able to pay their rent. 

Under different conditions, we would would know what to do – care for the sick, protect the healthy from infection and start to rebuild. But that is not the climate we live in now.

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