(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

On Monday afternoon, Donald Trump did precisely what many feared he might in the event he emerged from his bout with COVID-19 relatively unscathed: He told voters the virus isn’t something that people need to fear.

“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!”, the president exclaimed, in a tweet sent just prior to another press conference starring White House physician Sean Conley.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid”, Trump went on to say. “Don’t let it dominate your life”.

Some readers understandably take issue with the visual (above) because it compares apples to oranges. But do note: It’s not misleading. It states unequivocally that the death tolls from wars are combat only, each event is clearly labeled, and the statistics are taken directly from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

It is, however, an apples-to-oranges comparison. Of course, any chart that compares historical tragedies of different sorts is vulnerable to that criticism. Surely that doesn’t mean we should never compare death tolls from different sorts of tragedies.

Also, note that even tragedies which ostensibly admit of comparison (e.g., one war versus another war or one epidemic versus another epidemic) are only comparable if they occur within a relatively short time frame. Medical advances mean that maladies which were once deadly are now no longer cause for concern, so side-by-side comparisons are in most cases just a way to visualize medical progress. And, while I’m no military historian, I’d wager that if you could travel back in time and equip historical combatants with modern weaponry, humans would have wiped each other out centuries ago, which means comparing deaths from ancient battles to modern warfare is essentially meaningless.

Finally, it doesn’t matter what percentage of the population perished. You wouldn’t comfort a grieving husband whose wife of four decades just passed away from COVID complications by talking to him about population ratios.

All of that to say this: Please spare me (and other readers) the chart critiques. The visual is meant to serve one purpose and one purpose only: It is a poignant reminder that, contrary to Trump’s efforts to play down COVID-19, the virus has in fact claimed more than 210,000 American lives, and killed more than 1 million people globally in the space of just nine months. It is a tragedy of historic proportions.

That said, Trump is probably correct to suggest that Americans shouldn’t let their fear of the virus “dominate your life”. But he’s turning a multi-faceted health crisis into a black and white issue. Just because you wear a mask to the grocery store doesn’t mean COVID-19 is “dominating your life”. Spacing people six feet apart at events isn’t evidence that you’ve given your freedom over to the virus, it’s just common sense.

If Trump had observed those two simple recommendations (wearing a mask and spacing people six feet apart), there’s a good chance that three GOP senators, one former New Jersey governor, one president of Notre Dame, and one first lady, might not be positive for the virus right now.

Read more: Amy Coney Barrett Event Seen As Height Of White House Virus Negligence

In any event, all of that should go without saying and it seems as though it does for most voters and market participants. The price action on Monday was indicative of traders pricing in more stimulus and, quite possibly, greater odds of an undisputed election result.

“As Biden’s election odds drift higher, so too do the prospects for a Democratic sweep of both chambers of Congress and the White House, opening the door to aggressive fiscal stimulus and deeper deficits”, BMO’s Jon Hill, Ben Jeffery, and Ian Lyngen, wrote Monday afternoon.

This isn’t complicated, folks. For the details, see here and here, but as Hill, Jeffery, and Lyngen put it, back-end underperformance “follows intuitively”. Monday’s aggressive bear steepening found the 2s10s and 5s30s wider by more than 4bps each. 10-year yields ended near 0.76%, the cheapest in more than five weeks. 30-year yields moved through their 200-DMA on a closing basis for the first time in 2020.

“Although there are still 29 days until November 3, the more time Biden spends with near double digit polling leads, the easier it will be for the market to price in that outcome (skepticism of the polls notwithstanding), pushing the curve steeper”, BMO’s rates team went on to say, summing up the story of the day.

Equities were buoyant, consistent with higher odds of more virus relief spending and (note) guaranteed fiscal stimulus under a “blue sweep” scenario.

None of this is at all inconsistent with stocks being relieved that Trump is on his way home, by the way.

While it wouldn’t be accurate to say that all Americans wish Trump the best, most market participants do, at least in the very near-term, because an adverse outcome from his diagnosis could have set in motion a (very) messy series of events leading into the election.

That the president told Americans not to fear the virus on a day when New York City moved towards new lockdowns in a handful of zip codes was especially unfortunate given the very real potential for his words to make those lockdowns ineffectual or otherwise prompt those already not following the advice of public health officials to persist in their behavior.

Finally, if you’re wondering whether The White House is, in fact, obfuscating when it comes to the actual date of the president’s initial positive test (or, alternatively, his last negative test), Sean Conley again refused to answer the question. “I don’t want to go backwards”, he said, smiling.


As for Trump, the president tweeted this: “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

(Don’t fear) the reaper. More cowbell.


25 thoughts on “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

    1. What difference does that make in this context? Would you talk to someone who is grieving about population ratios? “I’m sorry about your wife of forty years, Mr. Johnson, but take solace in the fact that she was a smaller percentage of the overall population than she would have been had she died 150 years ago”.

      1. yes folks have different sensitivities. but catching covid isn’t certain death. life comes with all sorts of risk. in that sense fear doesn’t help. a great president once coined a great expression around that. the chart is informative, i was curious about additional context (data, not emotion)

        1. actually, fear is sometimes very helpful. if fear wasn’t an emotion that people possessed, people would be even more prone to doing silly things than they already are. irrational fear isn’t healthy. being afraid of a deadly respiratory illness is entirely rational as long as that fear is manifesting in common sense things like mask wearing. obviously, boarding oneself in the basement (for example) would be a manifestation of irrational fear. being bitten by a poisonous snake isn’t “certain death” either, but when i go for my nightly run, if it happens to be after dark, i take along my keys and hang them from my pocket so that they jingle as i jog. that is an entirely rational way to help reduce the chances of stepping on a poisonous snake (of which there are many here), just like wearing a mask (or not holding a ceremony where 150 people are seated right next to each other during the middle of a pandemic) is a common sense way to avoid catching a highly contagious virus.

      2. Covid is scary. yes – but the indirect consequences of the virus is as bad – the number of identified cancers have dropped 37% in my country, cancelled/postponed surgery has exploded, mental illnesses has gone through the roof, bankrupt businesses…

        On one hand we have a widow of a man lost the fight to Covid, I almost lost my father as his surgery was deemed critical in April in midst of the pandemic – and he barely made it another 3 weeks…

        Its not all black and white. A complete lockdown is not a solution.

        (I am not a Trump fan, but we can not go full lock down for a complete year either).

        1. “Mental illness has gone through the roof” is a familiar talking point with little in the way of hard data to support it. There hasn’t been enough time since the onset of the outbreak to diagnose an explosion of mental illness. And, by your own account, how would we have diagnosed it? If the number of identified cancers has dropped 37% that must mean postponed doctors visits and procedures. Are people not postponing psychiatric visits? Is it only cancer screenings that are being postponed? Are psychiatrists open but oncologists closed? And what does this have to do with mask wearing and spacing people apart at ceremonies for SCOTUS nominees? Where did I say anything about the advisability of entire countries going into full lockdowns?

          1. Just relax a little.

            I agree that Trump is a full retard, and is not worthy of the presidency.
            What I can see and hear from my own sources (having a handfull of friends working as Doctors), what I hear is that:
            1. A lot of surgeries has been postponed (just as my fathers), due to that the anestetic doctors have been fully occupied due to Covid
            2. A lot of people at hospitals have not been busy at all, people have stayed at home – in fear of disturbing the hospitals. Also regular screenings of breast and prostate cancer have been cancelled.
            3. There is a significant rise of medication to manage depressions, the direct cause may be discussed – a but a lot of people are having tough times due to indirect consequences (lost incomes, increased stress, less excercise)

            My point is, and was, we can not stop living some kind of normal life – the side effects are severe.

          2. This is a common type of answer when there are no answers for concrete questions. There is no sense in which I am not “relaxed”. I just asked a bunch of questions, and these aren’t really answers. They are anecdotes. What is “a significant rise of medication to manage depressions”? Where is that data? I’m not saying there isn’t any data. It may very well be as simple as Googling it, which I’ll do this afternoon. My point is that time after time after time, commentators have trotted out two straw men arguments: 1) we can’t stop living some kind of normal lives, and 2) there is a depression epidemic. On the first, most proponents of various lockdown measures have never (ever) argued that people should “stop living some kind of normal life”. That is a straw man. Nobody that I’m aware of has ever said: “The best idea is that we never live any kind of normal life again”. On the second point, America has had a depression problem for decades. There is voluminous medical evidence of that. There is scant medical evidence to support the notion that there has been a statistically significant rise in depression among large swaths of the public above and beyond existing depression levels due to COVID lockdowns. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence. It just means that there can’t possibly be any reliable evidence because the time frame (8-9 months) just isn’t amenable to peer-reviewed research on the subject. You can’t gather the data and do a peer-reviewed study in 8-9 months on something that is this important. The process isn’t designed to go that quickly. I come from academia. I know it isn’t possible. Again, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any studies. Or that there aren’t working papers. Etc. I’m sure there are. But the results cannot possibly be conclusive.

            You should note that when I take readers up on a comment, it is not evidence of irritation. Readers often assume based on experience with other sites that editors won’t/can’t/shouldn’t respond to subscribers or passersby. That assumption does not apply here. I can and will occasionally respond. You shouldn’t take it personally. You should take it as an encouraging sign that your editor is engaged — which is a good thing.

  1. yes, don’t fear the virus if you, too, can afford 4 days of hospitalization, $30,000 plus worth of difficult-to-obtain medications and cadillac (tesla?) treatment.

  2. He should probably retain some humble fear, inasmuch as he has not cleared the virus and remains in danger, even with all the drugs he has received.

  3. That video might as well be something out of Moscow circa 1982, when Brezhnev was in the hospital.

    Let’s hope the market continues pricing in an uncontested election. I feel better taking the average of 10,000,000 market participants than just the average of the 10 to 20 places I get my information from.

  4. He is benefiting from advances in medicine. Good Covid therapy has always been the best foot forward.
    If contracted in April it would have played differently. Well enough to leave a hospital to go to a home with an in house hospital does not describe life for most Americans.

    1. Every genius, skilled worker, trained caregiver needlessly lost to a preventable disease or war is a loss for societies economy.
      As late as July 1st a national mask policy, even voluntarily enforced with good-will and unity, would have kept deaths below 200,000 by January 1st. Time would have given pharmaceutic/medical community time to develop life saving therapies. Lives have been sacrificed for a political agenda. Citizens as cannon fodder is reprehensible.
      Bad Generals waste lives every war. Defense is a better strategy than capitulation.
      Trump very simply is not a good choice for Commander and Chief.

  5. “Don’t be afraid of Covid”, Trump went on to say. “Just look at me. If you will get sick, you will be immeditelly hospitalized into Walter Reed, get Remdesivir & antibody cocktails and all this will be paid by taxpayers”.

    1. He is not out of danger yet. You can bet that most of his medical group will be in attendance at the White House. So what is the difference between a hospital and the White House?

      The Con man he is will be thinking how to con us all in the coming weeks. You can wager your last dollar on that eventuality. The problem with the Con is that it works till it does not and once it quits working is fails dramatically with horrific consequences. Are we there yet? I do not think yet but the seeds have been planted and he will have to play is cons flawlessly to avoid a waterfall decline.

    1. Yes that is true. I think the desperate gambits today rather than making him look as in the past strong is making him look weak to his base. This is a notable shift. So it seems you might be missing part of the underlying motivation. There is also the idea that kicking him while weak, is a typical human move when a bully falls.

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