I’d like to draw your attention to Jeffrey Tucker’s recent piece at Brownstone, on How They Convinced Trump to Lock Down.
The problem he addresses is a chronological one. As late as 9 March 2020, Donald Trump was arguing vehemently to stay open, and emphasising that no shutdowns had ever been enacted to stop seasonal influenza. By 11 March, he suddenly declared himself “fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!”
What changed? Deborah Birx reports in her book that Trump had a friend die in a New York hospital and this is what shifted his opinion. Jared Kushner reports that he simply listened to reason. Mike Pence says he was persuaded that his staff would respect him more. No question (and based on all existing reports) that he found himself surrounded by “trusted advisors” amounting to about 5 or so people (including Mike Pence and Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb). …
Something about this story has never really added up. How could one person have been so persuaded … ? He surely had other sources of information – some other scenario or intelligence – that fed into his disastrous decision.
Isolating the date in the trajectory here, it is apparent that whatever happened to change Trump occurred on March 10, 2020, the day after his Tweet saying there should be no shutdowns …
Tucker hypothesises that the sudden reversal is related to a decision, taken around this time, to place American pandemic policy in the hands of the National Security Council, rather than the ordinary public health offices. He suggests these steps ultimately represent suspicion that the virus had been enhanced in a laboratory.
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Note, though, that crucial date: Whatever happened to change Trump’s mind, happened on 10 March 2020. This is the precise day that the Italian lockdowns, at first exclusive to Lombardy, were extended to the whole country; and it is also the day that Silicon Valley thinkfluencer and general pandemic cipher Tomás Pueyo posted his first, mysteriously viral Medium essay on Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now.
I hardly ever bold for emphasis on this blog, but I’ve made an exception here, because these coincidences are hugely important.
Pueyo’s significance is often overlooked by my friends on the other side of the Atlantic, because the pandemic in America and the pandemic in Europe were very different. If you had to pick a single figure most responsible for bringing lockdowns to Europe, though, that figure would be Pueyo and his ominously dumb blog posts.
Pueyo’s 10 March essay and his 19 March follow-up on The Hammer and the Dance racked up tens of millions of views within days, were discussed at the highest levels of multiple European governments, and received translations into nearly 40 languages. Pueyo went on British television to debate government epidemiologists about their herd-immunity approach; in a secret strategy document, German modellers named their ideal scenario of maximum restrictions “Hammer and Dance” after him.
Almost as important as the sheer fact of Pueyo’s influence, is the content of his blog posts, which reveal a definite and well-informed strategy. “The Hammer and the Dance” was a deeply successful attempt to popularise the assumptions behind Neil Ferguson’s notorious 16 March modelling paper demanding lockdowns in the United Kingdom, making his basic idea universally applicable (and no longer specific to the British health system) and more politically palatable. The 10 March piece, timed exactly to Trump’s change in attitude, transparently popularises the basic arguments and thin research underpinning the late-February report endorsing Chinese-style lockdowns issued by the WHO-China joint mission. It was with this report that the WHO abandoned all prior pandemic plans and recommended lockdowns to the rest of the world.
Without Pueyo, it’s very likely the dry WHO report would’ve gone mostly unread. Relatedly, Ferguson’s lockdown mania wouldn’t have even a fraction of the influence without those millions and millions of Medium impressions. Pueyo turned the incipient pseudoscience behind lockdowns into a popular, viral internet phenomenon, which seized the minds of people across the West and created popular enthusiasm for novel mass containment policies.
The sequence of events, then, is this:
1) The WHO-China joint mission endorses lockdowns at the end of February.
2) All of Italy locks down in accordance with the recommendations of this report between 8 and 10 March.
3) Also on 10 March, Pueyo released his viral blog post, explaining in heavily annotated, easy-to-understand pseudoscientific prose and imagery the WHO/Chinese case for locking down.
4) Donald Trump immediately abandons his prior minimisation of Covid and promises to use all his powers to “challenge” the virus.
One theory, would simply be that Tomas Pueyo’s posts resounded within the American national security establishment as much as they did in European governments, and convinced Trump that he had to “act now.” Birx, Pence, Kushner and the rest can’t agree on a story about why he changed his mind, because the truth – that he or his closest advisers were convinced by a sciencey viral blog post – is too ridiculous to admit.
Another theory – not necessarily mutually exclusive – would be that Pueyo’s work was brought to prominence via algorithmic manipulations, bots, influencer amplification, or other means, to support decisions which were taken in the days leading up to 10 March, and which were probably related in some way to the general Italian lockdown announced on that day.
eugyppius: a plague chronicle is a reader-supported publication. maybe you subscribe?
Trump gave this man-made catastrophe oxygen by allowing the extension of the "15 days to slow the spread" for another 30 days. I'll admit he was in a trick-box. That said, a leader is supposed to recognize a trick-box, accept it, provide a solution and then make his case as to why the long term "COST" of this nonsense should be rejected.
He did not do that. I'm very disappointed that he did not rally the country around the only true solution there was: Let healthy Americans protect the vulnerable by being "brave" and "filtering" c19; that it was patriotic to take this head-on, rather then kicking the can down the road. To make his case that there was a "price" to be paid no matter what. But the price to hide from it would be orders of magnitude higher.
To make this point he would also have had to tell it like it is; that it is also patriotic for the "vulnerable" to stay at home until the healthy have done their job protecting the vulnerable (being a firewall) by taking on the risk of getting C19. That's what a leader does; make the tough decisions when you don't have all the information, when there are no "good" options and then communicate to the public the way forward.
In other words, to make an appeal to Americans that it was ultimately in every individuals and the countries interests, to rally around mitigating the unavoidable "pain" would require accepting the relatively low risk. To do otherwise would be cowardly and result in even more deaths of the vulnerable. This would have created peer pressure to be brave and for each individual to do their part in a common goal. Sort of like women in the World Wars giving white feathers to cowardly men.
The risk to the healthy was always negligible and he should have made that clear - we knew from the beginning that to be true. His lack of foresight led to the opposite type of peer pressure, which was a key feature in protracting this nightmare. And to recognize his reelection was at more risk if he allowed the country to be paralyzed by fear.
By failing to understand this he allowed the narrative to grow roots. This means, he may have to pay a price politically. He chose the "easy" way out by hoping this would self resolve or that the "vaccine" would magically end the "pandemic". A leader understands that being indecisive compounds the problem, confuses followers and always leads to poor outcomes. By following this strategy he allowed cowardness to become a virtue. He did not recognize that that was the "real" trickbox he (and the country) was in.
Around the same time, there was a Medium article circulating going against the lockdown drum beat, rationally talking about the Cruise ship data, the historical uselessness of lockdowns, and Corona's general status as a just really bad flu.
It went viral in right-wing circles through natural word-of-mouth, and Medium removed the article. Soon after, the "Hammer and Dance" made its splash.
Every day, I am more and more thankful Substack seems to have thrown hack platforms like Medium to the dustbin of the internet.