by Sean Kelly
Back in mid-March President Trump declared war on coronavirus and labeled himself a wartime President. During a series of press briefings at the White House, the president called the virus an “invisible enemy” and deemed the fight against it a “medical war.”
When we think of war time presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson all come to mind. Each placed their trust in a team of key advisors, worked to protect the country, had a plan for victory and often warned that things would get worse before they got better.
Such has been the case in the war against COVID-19. A formidable foe also known as SARS-CoV-2, silently and imperceptibly makes its way into the human body through droplets from an infected sneeze or cough – typically lodging in the nose and throat. It can also slip into the lungs triggering an inflammatory response that causes oxygen levels to plummet, patients to gasp for air, and in severe cases respiratory ‘death by drowning.’
It is an invisible enemy indeed, as a matter of fact, it’s not even alive. The Washington Post reports that, “viruses have spent billions of years perfecting the art of surviving without living — a frighteningly effective strategy that makes them a potent threat in today’s world.” The novel coronavirus is technically a spike protein with a spherical structure that helps it gain entry into the body by binding to cell membranes. Once it hits the lungs, it divides and conquers, creating infinite versions of itself.
In terms of warfare, COVID-19 is always mobilizing. It never regroups or falls back, requires no munitions and has unlimited reinforcements. It has effectively shut down the globe in terms of business, industry, commerce, social contact and human interaction.
For our part, we’ve taken mass casualties. Worldwide coronavirus infections are approaching 2 million, with over 118,000 deaths. More than 580,000 Americans have been infected and over 23,000 have died. Our only offensive has been to retreat, hunker down, take shelter and hope the enemy withdraws. Is there a winning wartime precedent for such a tactic? Not really.
Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist famously said, “four elements make up the climate of war: danger, exertion, uncertainty and chance.” There’s no doubt that we’re in a dangerous place mercilessly trapped between a killer virus and a collapsing economy. We’ve extended ourselves emotionally and monetarily. Things are wildly unclear and events are unfolding so rapidly we have little time to prepare ourselves for what happens next.
“We went from full throttle to 90% revenue loss in three weeks,’’ said the CEO of a New Jersey
car service company last month. “We’ve been through 9/11. We’ve seen recessions. We’ve never seen anything like this.’’ In just two weeks, more Americans were put out of work than in the most brutal months of the Great Recession. Slumping economic indicators and crumbling consumer sentiment have historically fallen over consecutive quarters of dismal economic news. Now, life is turning on the daily media counts of the pandemic’s relentless advance.
“The economy has never gone from healthy to disaster so quickly,” said Jason Furman, who served as an economic advisor to President Obama. “The housing bubble burst in 2006, the first financial tremors were in 2007, and the major financial events were spread out from February through September of 2008. What would take years in a financial crisis has happened in days in this health crisis.’’
As we continue to shelter in place and quarantine in our makeshift trenches, no one knows how or precisely when this will end. “We had the best economy we’ve ever had,” said President Trump. “And then, one day, you have to close it down in order to defeat this enemy.” And in our efforts to win the fight – generations of wealth, a collective lifetime of savings and the financial future of millions of Americans are being systematically destroyed.
This is our “big war” as the president calls it. We face an existential threat from the unrelenting advance of a deadly disease and the scorched economic earth left in its wake. We can endure, however, in the same way that the survivors of previous big wars have, by doubling down on the safety, liquidity and certainty of holding solid gold.