It’s been only two months — two months — since Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola in a Dallas hospital and this country went berserk. Every day that passed after Duncan’s death brought more and more politicians and news commentators and so-called reporters vying to outdo each other’s air of barely disguised glee dressed up as natural panic. “The Ebola Crisis,” as the media presented the subject to the public, quickly reached a level of shrillness and inanity not seen since the run-up to the Iraq War. Real viral proteins from West Africa took the place of trumped-up weapons of mass destruction buried in the Iraqi desert. But the outcome was the same: We were all going to die.
Republican members of Congress, who routinely answer any question about climate change by saying, “I’m not a scientist,” suddenly revealed their expertise in virology, infectious diseases, and international public health policy, except that the policies they were demanding were as willfully ignorant as their denials of global warming. Prompted by their handlers at Fox News, they excoriated President Obama and the Centers for Disease Control for remaining calm in the face of the imminent viral cataclysm that had been unleashed, in Bill O’Reilly’s memorable locution, from “black Africa.”
Throughout October, O’Reilly insistently called for a travel ban on anyone coming from the region, an idea he presented as common sense despite its flying in the face of thoroughly-researched public health policy. He was joined, perforce, by Ann Coulter, who really needs to add a double dose of Ensure to her diet. Necessarily it was all Obama’s fault: “A travel ban to America is certainly appropriate at least until American health officials get organized to contain any Ebola intrusion. But the president continues to say no. That’s just one of many examples of ideology trumping practical solutions to vexing problems. Summing up, we are living in a very dangerous, complicated world and we need problem solvers, not ideologues, in office.” So said Bill O’Reilly on October 20.
O’Reilly’s lackeys in Congress acted swiftly. That very day, the world-renowned problem solver Marco Rubio brought the “Keeping America Safe from Ebola Act of 2014” to the Senate floor. In the House of Representatives, Congressmember Mike Kelly introduced a similarly tasteless purse to match the senator’s hideous shoes. No action has been taken on either the Senate or the House bill to date, but of course their status may change when the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January. Then again, the fact that Ebola has disappeared from Americans’ increasingly shrinking attention span — currently measured in Planck time units — may be enough to prevent the bills from rising out of the trash heap of pointless, showboating legislative proposals that politicians use to get their mugs on the evening news.
For comic relief, from Wingnut Central comes this theory, given voice by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association: “It looks like [President Obama] actually wants Ebola to come to the United States. Why would he want that? Well remember, President Obama thinks that this country is racist to its core, it’s been racist since the beginning, it’s an evil colonial force that’s been the root of all kinds of evil all around the world, it needs to be punished, it needs to be brought down to size, it needs to be disciplined.” After stating for the record that he was not specifically accusing Mr. Obama of deliberately letting Ebola loose in the United States, Fischer finished with this: “It looks like President Obama wants Ebola to come to the United States to punish America for being racist. Maybe it’s part of his redistribution plan to redistribute disease, not just wealth.” White. Supremacist. Clown.
For rational white folks, Fischer’s Naziesque theory is a big shande, as my people say. In the end, it didn’t get any traction. As a matter of fact, by now, in mid-December, the trumpeted “Ebola crisis” has disappeared entirely from the nation’s awareness. It turns out not to have been a crisis at all. Governors Cuomo and Christie, who couldn’t have shoved their way in front of the microphones fast enough to announce their idiotic automatic quarantines in October, have somehow managed to keep their yaps shut about Ebola for the last month or so. Part of the reason for their silence is that the seemingly unshameable Christie’s solution turned into a sick joke when an infuriatingly sympathetic and feisty nurse was remanded to a ridiculous makeshift tent outside a Newark hospital. Christie — who, after all, gave her a box to use as a toilet, but she still whined about it, the fucking ingrate! — promptly called her complaints “malarkey” and proudly noted she was given “takeout food from the best restaurants in Newark.” A touch of hilarity was thus injected into an otherwise grim story of government overreach. George Orwell, meet Richard Pryor.
The nurse, Kaci Hickox, was liberated from her five-star plastic tent a few days later and went home to Maine, where she had to put up with yokels — excuse me, locals — demanding she be dispatched to an internment camp for do-gooders. Tragically for America’s 24/ 7 news hawkers, Hickox — a hero in any sane society for having gone to West Africa to help alleviate horrific suffering — did not develop Ebola. The Facebook page demanding her imprisonment isn’t getting too many “likes” these days.
The media’s morbid glee next erupted with reports that Dr. Craig Spencer, who had done exactly the right thing by alerting the city’s health department within minutes of recording a fever, had instead knowingly endangered the health of millions of people in the tri-state area by taking the subway to go bowling in Brooklyn. No matter that he showed no symptoms and therefore couldn’t even have infected an immune-suppressed infant: Hundreds of thousands of people touched the same pole on the A train that the selfish, evil Ebola carrier touched! And just think of those poor, innocent bowlers sticking their pristine fingers into those infectious holes! They’re all going to get sick and die! We’re all going to die!
Disappointingly, nobody got sick and nobody died, but the fear of clean extremities entering fouled holes rings a certain historical bell.
Suggesting, however implicitly, that Spencer’s pre-subway “fatigue” was evidence of his contagiousness, reporters of all political stripes managed to overlook the fact that the man had just flown more than 3,000 miles from Guinea to Brussels and another 3,600 miles from Brussels to New York and might have been just a tad jet-lagged from traveling through five time zones. It seemed as though Spencer’s isolation in a sealed unit at Bellevue Hospital was the only thing that kept him from being dragged out to the middle of First Avenue by an angry mob in hazmat suits and set on fire. Spencer didn’t die. End of coverage.
Then, much to the joy of newspeople across the nation, a black woman who’d recently come from West Africa made an abrupt exit from the planet in a Brooklyn hair salon. Alas, she’d suffered a boring heart attack. Her corpse was Ebola-free, dammit.
No one is currently under quarantine in either New York or New Jersey. Two health care workers returning from West Africa were quarantined in California and one in North Carolina. Spencer’s girlfriend was quarantined in the Harlem apartment she shares with him, but she’s been sprung by now. The 114 health care workers who came into contact with Spencer at Bellevue are no longer being monitored. About 220 people who recently arrived in New York from West Africa are currently being tracked. None of these people has developed Ebola. There are no Ebola cases in the United States. What a colossal letdown.
Now there’s nothing but silence. What if they threw a killer disease crisis and nobody came? A national health calamity that doesn’t materialize is so deadly dull. Never mind about the 17,000 or so people who actually contracted Ebola in “black Africa.” Only 7,000 have died. And let’s face it — their corpses and the families and friends they left behind are hardly worth a Planck time unit of thought.