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Trump’s vaccine fantasy vs. L.A.'s reality

Hikers
Hikers — some masked, others not — explore the newly reopened trails at the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve in Woodland Hills on May 9.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 16, 2020. Here’s a look at which hiking trails reopen today in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles, likely where I am as you read this newsletter. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Two competing narratives emerged this week on what restarting much of our economy will look like. On one side you have people like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and President Trump expressing impatience over the realities of disease transmission and vaccine development. Paul — a non-practicing opthalmologist and no scientific slouch himself, as noted by our columnist Virginia Heffernan — cited precisely no evidence when he suggested that Dr. Anthony Fauci was off-base in merely warning of the risks of reopening schools and lifting restrictions amid a pandemic. As for the president, who on Friday touted his “Operation Warp Speed” initiative to accelerate the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, editorial writer Mariel Garza warns that rushing a mass inoculation effort carries significant risks and gives anti-vaxxers a new talking point.

The other narrative is boring, almost disconcerting, and involves continued restrictions on our movements and employment. But it’s far more promising from a scientific standpoint than Trump’s miracle vaccine or Paul’s “let ’er rip” eagerness to reopen. This week, Los Angeles County’s public health director caused a brief uproar when she leveled that the local stay-home order would likely persist through the summer, given the slow burn of COVID-19 through Southern California. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti clarified those remarks, saying that restrictions will continue to ease as residents demonstrate compliance and the healthcare system remains intact.

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This is how we arrive at the “new normal” sooner rather than later — with day-in, day-out adherence to social distancing rules, by masking up in public and by demonstrating a collective vigilance for each other’s health. It’s a lot less sexy than flirting with herd immunity experiments or indulging in Hollywood fantasies of vaccine heroes, but as the L.A. Times Editorial Board notes, it will get the job done.

He’s a hero that no one wants to be around. Samuel Yamshon, an ICU physician in New York, writes of being shunned on sidewalks and in elevators but lionized by strangers who nightly bang on pots and pans to show their gratitude: “In the new world of coronavirus, the physical and the virtual are at odds, yet both are real. Healthcare workers unflinchingly face the grim reality of the coronavirus, but we need help processing that when the day is done and we face the nights alone. Virtual connectivity helps keep us sane.” L.A. Times

Trump just came up with the worst campaign slogan: “Transition to Greatness.” Say what you will about “Make America Great Again,” but it worked because it said nothing explicitly meaningful while evoking whatever positive feeling the listener wanted. In contrast, says columnist Nick Goldberg, “Transition to Greatness” might actually mean: “I have failed to make America great in my first four years, but there’s an election ahead so I am using the word ‘transition’ to imply that we’re making progress, because, even though I generally don’t mind lying, no one will buy that I’ve actually succeeded in making the country great — or that I’ll be able to anytime soon.” L.A. Times

Republicans won! In California! I yearn for the days when a special election to fill a suburban congressional seat went largely unnoticed, so please forgive me for failing to be either impressed or worried that the seat briefly held by former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill was won by a Trump-aligned Republican. That said, Miriam Pawel’s piece warning that the Democrats’ successful tactics in 2018 — door-to-door campaigning and heavy voter engagement — might be obsolete in a pandemic is worth a read. New York Times

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If Trump says someone’s “disgruntled,” that helps his credibility. The saga of Richard Bright is fully straightforward and infuriating: The federal government’s top vaccine expert pushed back against Trump’s hawking of hydroxychloroquine, and he was removed from his post in the middle of a pandemic. That’s a scandal, full stop. And since he doesn’t have the trust of the president, he deserves ours, so it’s worth noting what he’s saying about where we are: A vaccine is almost certainly further off than the administration says, and the federal government hasn’t done a fantastic job, the president’s fantasies notwithstanding. L.A. Times

Another reminder that the electoral college is a blot on our democracy: The Supreme Court is considering the fate of “faithless electors,” or electoral college members who disregard their state’s popular vote and make the nation’s system for picking a president more chaotic and undemocratic than it already is. Thankfully, says the editorial board, a clear majority of justices appeared reluctant to loosen the reins on these electors, but the real solution remains what it has been for so long: Get rid of the electoral college. L.A. Times

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