One of the best baseball writers working today — or, rather, one that I enjoy reading a great deal — is NBC’s Craig Calcaterra. He’s as good at writing about the individual moments as he is at taking the hundred year view, and he’s at his best when he put baseball in a social context. And, as a former corporate lawyer, he does it with some snark, some cynicism, and a healthy dose of skepticism. I’ve found his take on the MLB-MLBPA negotiations over a 2020 baseball season to be the most realistic; most writers are focusing on the “labor dispute” aspect of it, but Calcaterra focuses on the reality that there’s a pandemic that swamps all other concerns.
He posted this Twitter thread/essay today, which I will quote in full, and then I’ll add some thoughts of my own at the end:
This isn’t baseball’s fault. The recklessness and even conscious disregard for the public’s health and safety on the part of America’s leaders has doomed us to months more illness and death. Baseball is just one, relatively unimportant part of that.
We spend a lot of time shaming people in bars or whatever. I roll my eyes at that but I don’t really blame them. You can’t lock down indefinitely. It’s not economically or psychologically feasible. People weren’t going to do it. At some point something was gonna give.
We were warned about it. We had a head start. Our leaders could’ve created and implemented a plan that would’ve avoided all of this. They simply chose not to. Mostly out of lack of courage or political will. In some cases out of raw political calculation and cynicism.
Our leaders failed to act promptly to shut things down and encourage smart practices in March. Even the ones we’re supposed to like or who got rave reviews early on failed us in the end. They all gave up and caved.
They failed to roll out a massive, collective effort to produce personal protective equipment and to develop large-scale testing capacity and contact tracing in March and April. They failed to implement the massive economic safety net that was required for us to weather it.
Our leaders caved in the face of nihilistic, reactionary political agitation — much of it encouraged by President Trump himself, the leader most responsible — to end shutdowns, to discourage the use of masks, and to discourage social distancing. They’re still doing it.
People have died because of this. More people are going to die because of it. Others will get sick and have lasting health problems. All because our leaders failed to protect us. Because, in some cases, our leaders openly invited and encouraged reckless behavior.
We failed as a nation. Our almost unshakable sense of American Exceptionalism prevents most of us from accepting that, but we have to accept that we failed. That we lost. That we were defeated. Until we do that we’re going nowhere. Nothing is getting better.
And we sure as shit aren’t playing baseball.
It was the bit about “American Exceptionalism” that resonated the most with me. As dark as this is, it’s also the truth — America is certainly exceptional, exceptional at dying from COVID-19. There was a chart in the Washington Post yesterday, widely circulated on social media, that tells the tale: Europe’s case counts peaked some time ago and have fallen almost to nothing, while the United States peaked, saw some decline, and now has entered an endless plateau of COVID cases. The United States is exceptional — exceptional at being an example to the rest of the world of how not to handle the virus.
I’ve always been a cynic about the whole idea of “American Exceptionalism.” The United States is one country among many. Many countries do things better than we do — better educational outcomes, better approaches to poverty and health care, better race relations, better safety nets. The United States is good at building weapons and using them. The country’s wealth has been poured for a long time into being the world’s biggest bully. Instead of investing in people and life, we invest in bombs and death.
We’re an empire in decline, and I think the United States won’t survive past 2050. American leadership has faltered badly in the last twenty years, from the endless Middle East adventurism to the ill-conceived unilateralism of the last three. I said to my Diamond colleague Matt Barham a day or two before the office shut down in March, “The thing about turning points is that you often don’t know you’re past them until it’s far too late to turn around, and looking at what’s happening with COVID I think this is how American hegemony ends, because we’re going to badly bungle it.”
The rest of the world has watched the United States surrender to the virus with both pity and horror. The United States mobilized to defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The United States conceived and executed a plan to go to the Moon in eight years. After three months of a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than World War I did in a year and a half, the United States has given up. It’s like if FDR had said in March 1942, “War is too hard.” It’s like if JFK said in the summer of 1961, “Science is too hard.” We used to do the hard things. Now, doing the hard things is anti-American.
The world sees this abject failure, and they know that the United States isn’t a leader any more. We are a country deliberately, consciously failing its own people. Why should they trust us to help them when we won’t even help ourselves?
I’ve made my peace with the reality that between four and ten of you (possibly) reading this will be dead of COVID within a year. Three hundred thousand dead Americans before Election Day is not unlikely.
I could number among them. I have no desire to die unconscious with a ventilator tube down my throat. If I reach that point, give me morphine and let me drown.
I’m angry, and I’m uncharitable, and I know who I blame — the denialists and the fantasists, the selfish and the indifferent, the stupid and the ignorant, the inhumane and the damned. Historians in the next century will assign names to all of these in their books and papers on the needless tragedy and death. I won’t; this is merely part of history’s first rough draft.
Our leaders failed us. Our businesses failed us. Our relatives failed us. Our neighbors failed us. We failed us.
And the COVID virus will grimly point out those failures for a long time to come.
Wear a mask. Save a life. Don’t be an ass.