The PBS News Hour:
The editors of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine write:
The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.
The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized,3 appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government,4 causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.
Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.
Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.
Read the entire piece
For nearly three decades Jim Abrahamson has been a teaching pastor of the Chapel Hill Bible Church near the campus of the University of North Carolina and Duke University. He was instrumental in starting this congregation in 1971 with a group of about 20 students and young faculty. The ministry grew to include some 2000 individuals. The church has a reputation of being broadly evangelical in its theology, nondenominational in its affiliation, open minded in its learning style, lay centered in its ministry, and ecumenical in its community involvement. Jim is retired and no longer the lead pastor of the congregation. In the piece below he offers some thoughts on evangelicals, Donald Trump, and the coming election. This article reflects the thoughts of Jim Abrahamson and does not represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church or its staff.–JF
Brene Brown writes, “We’re tired of the national conversation centering on “What should we fear? and Who should we blame?” Our greatest challenge is not the pandemic, racial injustice, economic stress or climate change. I believe that the greatest challenge we face in our country at this time is leadership.
In my three decades of pastoral ministry as an evangelical Christian pastor I have learned that it is not circumstances that shape our lives going forward but rather how we respond to them. The majority of my evangelical friends believe that our current President is the clear choice in the upcoming election. Realizing that evangelical Christians will not be comfortable with everything in a particular party’s platform, we have got to decide what issues are most important. I am asking Evangelical Christians to reconsider what they believe to be most important based on the following scriptural principles.
Political involvement: My priorities with respect to my life as a US citizen are shaped by principles formed by Christian Scriptures. Jesus, in response to a poll tax to support the Roman Empire, instructed his followers to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In the USA we have a government “of, by, and for the people,” which means we are called to be involved in politics. Our vote, voice, and virtue are not optional but a part of what it means to “render to Caesar.” For many it is surprising to note that Jesus seemed to have no problem paying taxes to support the corrupt Roman Empire. This challenges me to rethink what is most important in our political agenda as American Evangelical Christians. This leads to a second point.
Expectations: An important Biblical passage comes from St. Peter, “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13). The Christian’s striving for social justice and peace is an important witness to a kingdom of God that is coming, but not expected to appear in this age. As Christians, our ultimate hope is not to produce a perfect society in this age. Our hope is in the return of Christ at the end of history. As the late Richard John Neuhaus put it, “We cannot expect the kingdom of God before its time and without its King.”
Jesus saw a distinction between our responsibilities to the Roman Empire, “rendering to Caesar” and imposing the principles of God’s kingdom, “render to God the things that are God’s.” Civic virtue should not be ignored but Christians must decide where and how to promote it. When our vision to “Make America Great Again” is to make it our customized version of the kingdom of God, we misunderstand the Kingdom and lose credibility as witnesses for it’s Gospel. So what should Christians strive for as aliens in a “secular society”? This leads me to a third point.
Peacemaking: Evangelical Christians are to promote order, civility and good will as peacemakers. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). We are called to promote civil peace so that we can show and tell the Gospel’s hope to the world. The Gospel is about peacemaking – with God, our selves, and our neighbors, in that order. Christ does not call Christians to impose on the secular state, the same spiritual goals and moral boundaries that are expected of the Christian church. We are to invite individuals to be a part of Christ’s family. The civic protocol of our republic was shaped by the European Enlightenment, Classic GrecoRoman structures, and a generic, Biblical moral worldview. The architects of our constitution did not frame America as a distinctly “Christian nation” and Christ did not seek to influence the world through political, military or economic power. His kingdom was to emerge, not through controlling people from the top down, but by from the bottom up, changing hearts one by one. A key characteristic that we as evangelical Christians should look for in our president is the ability to be a peacemaker so that we can effect change through the popular support of “we the people.”
Character in leadership makes a big difference in peacemaking, and “promoting the general welfare.” Leaders must promote respect for our civic institutions (like the presidency and the press), model common values of our republic (like truthfulness and compassion), and be both civil with others and a servant of the people. We need a president who is a wise, healthy, adult who possess characteristics that mark him or her as an effective political peacemaker displaying characteristics like:
- Truthfulness – Respecting common facts of reality, and transparency, not deceptiveness
- Trust – Respecting others, dependability, earning other’s respect
- Tolerance – Forbearing with diversity and differences
- Tenderness – Empathetic, compassionate, gracious
- Toughness – Perseveres wisely with courage, and stamina, not as a childish bully but after the manner of a true civil servant.
I am concerned as I observe President Trump unashamedly sow fear rather than trust, build walls rather than bridges, and foster vitriol rather than compassion and empathy. He seems too comfortable with lying, focusing on optics rather than reality, and self-interest rather than the “general welfare.” If this is allowed to continue we will survive as a nation but the credibility of evangelical Christian’s witness will be so damaged by their association with Trump, that any superficial gains will not be worth the losses incurred.
As citizens, we dare not overlook the character defects of our President and we must ask ourselves, does Donald Trump exemplify the traits necessary to lead us through this stressful period of our history in bringing us together? In contrast, Joe Biden has a long and consistent pattern of personal strength in these areas. He has a track record as an empathetic bridge builder with strong family values, a sound faith, and a history of perseverance through many personal trials. Noting Jesus’ encouragement to “seek the truth” and “fear not,” I have concluded that Biden is better suited to lead our nation than Trump.
In the Kingdom of God, the means are a part of the ends. When the devil tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:8-10) he offered him “the world’s kingdoms and their glory” if he would only give up the means, and Jesus said “no.” However, many evangelicals are saying “yes.”
Watch Trump after he left Walter Reed and returned to the White House:
- “I learned so much about coronavirus.” If only had “learned so much about coronavirus” seven months ago.
- 200,000 dead and the president says “don’t let it dominate you,” you’re “gonna beat it.” Communities and institutions made up of ordinary people are following science, social distancing, and wearing masks. This virus has turned our lives upside-down. And the president tells us not to worry about it. “Don’t let it take over your lives,” he says. He doesn’t even tell us to continue to wear masks and social distance. Is this leadership? Members of Congress, members of his staff, his advisers, and at least one court evangelical now have COVID-19 because Trump decided he wants to be “a leader.” And who is he leading? About one-third of the American people?
- “Maybe I am immune,” Trump says. Perhaps I have been wrong these past four years. Maybe Trump is the “anointed one” of God called for “such a time as this.” 😉
After the first night of the Democratic National Convention I tuned into Fox News. Laura Ingraham was on the air and, as might be expected, she was trashing the convention. I stopped watching after about forty minutes of analysis from Eric Trump, Ted Cruz, and other conservative pundits.
Cruz actually said that the reason the Democrats are pushing for mail-in-ballots and the funding of the United States Postal Service is because they know it leads to voter fraud. Cruz has no evidence for this claim. Nor is there any evidence to suggest mail-in-voting leads to voter fraud. But I digress.
Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was also on Ingraham’s show. He is a very patient man.
I was struck by the fact that none of the conservative, pro-Trump pundits mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech. They just couldn’t touch it.
Though Obama only mentioned “faith” and “God” a couple of times, this was a deeply Christian speech.
- She talked about the inherent dignity of human beings.
- She talked about truth.
- She talked about the character of a leader.
- She talked about health care.
- She talked about care for the environment
- She talked about racial justice
- She talked about the evil of racism and white supremacy
- She talked about empathy
- She talked about caring for others
- She talked about raising children with a strong moral foundation
- She talked about the coarseness of our culture under Trump
- She talked about selfishness
- She talked about greed
- She talked military violence
- She talked about using the Bible for a photo-op
- She talked about being a mother.
- She talked about being a neighbor
- She talked about meekness
- She talked about confronting “viciousness” and “cruelty”
- She talked about finding common ground based on the value of all human beings
- She talked about the need to speak truth to power
- She talked about family
- She talked about compassion
- She talked about grief
After covering Trump’s court evangelicals for the last four years, it was nice to hear such a Christian speech in this kind of public venue. I left the speech encouraged in my faith and hopeful for America’s future. Thank you Michelle Obama.
Here is a taste of his interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt:
I don’t know if you’ve seen, the polls have been going up like a rocket ship. Hey, I was, George Washington would have had a hard time beating me before the plague came in, before the China plague. And then, you know, like every other nation, like other countries, when you get hit, it affects you, and we went down a little bit. And then we went down a little bit more, and now we’re coming up at a level that we haven’t seen.
Read the entire interview here.
The George Washington comment is absurd. But something else is going on here.
I’ve said this before, but notice how Trump brackets the COVID-19 pandemic as if it is not part of his presidency. He seems incapable of understanding that his response to COVID-19 will be a, if not the, defining moment of his presidency. The mark of a true leader is how they respond in times of unexpected crisis. Trump has failed this test at almost every turn.
Hi, everybody. Aniyah, thank you for that beautiful introduction. I could not be prouder of everything you’ve done in your time with the Obama Foundation.
And of course, I couldn’t be prouder of all of you in the graduating Class of 2020 — as well as the teachers, and the coaches, and most of all, parents and family who guided have you along the way.
Now graduating is a big achievement under any circumstances. Some of you have had to overcome serious obstacles along the way, whether it was an illness, or a parent losing a job, or living in a neighborhood where people too often count you out. Along with the usual challenges of growing up, all of you have had to deal with the added pressures of social media, reports of school shootings, and the specter of climate change. And then, just as you’re about to celebrate having made it through, just as you’ve been looking forward to proms and senior nights, graduation ceremonies — and, let’s face it, a whole bunch of parties — the world is turned upside down by a global pandemic. And as much as I’m sure you love your parents, I’ll bet that being stuck at home with them and playing board games or watching Tiger King on TV is not exactly how you envisioned the last few months of your senior year.
Now I’ll be honest with you — the disappointments of missing a live graduation — those will pass pretty quick. I don’t remember much from my own high school graduation. I know that not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn’t all that bad — mine usually go on way too long. Also, not that many people look great in those caps, especially if you have big ears like me. And you’ll have plenty of time to catch up with your friends once the immediate public health crisis is over.
But what remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood — the time when you begin to take charge of your own life. It’s when you get to decide what’s important to you: the kind of career you want to pursue. Who you want to build a family with. The values you want to live by. And given the current state of the world, that may be kind of scary.
If you’d planned on going away for college, getting dropped off at campus in the fall — that’s no longer a given. If you were planning to work while going to school, finding that first job is going to be tougher. Even families that are relatively well-off are dealing with massive uncertainty. Those who were struggling before — they’re hanging on by a thread.
All of which means that you’re going to have to grow up faster than some generations. This pandemic has shaken up the status quo and laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems — from massive economic inequality to ongoing racial disparities to a lack of basic health care for people who need it. It’s woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work; that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; and that our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
It’s also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth, something that we all have to eventually accept once our childhood comes to an end. All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing? Turns out that they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So, if the world’s going to get better, it going to be up to you.
That realization may be kind of intimidating. But I hope it’s also inspiring. With all the challenges this country faces right now, nobody can tell you “no, you’re too young to understand” or “this is how it’s always been done.” Because with so much uncertainty, with everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.
Since I’m one of the old guys, I won’t tell you what to do with this power that rests in your hands. But I’ll leave you with three quick pieces of advice.
First, don’t be afraid. America’s gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.
Second, do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up.
I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when its inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; if we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.
One day soon, students will read Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Good history teachers will understand the speech, as they do with all presidential rhetoric, in the larger context of the Trump presidency.
I recently revisited the speech amid this coronavirus pandemic. I imagined what kind of essay questions I would put on a future exam related to this period in American history. Here are a few:
Trump never had an approval rating over 50%. Considering this fact, how should we explain his calls for national unity? Other presidents saw their approval ratings soar in times of crisis. Why didn’t this happen to Trump?
Trump said that the “Bible tells us, how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Did this kind of spiritual harmony exist during Trump presidency? Did the church speak truth to power with a united voice? Discuss the state of American Christianity in the age of Trump.
Read the rest here.
Christian Paz has chronicled them at The Atlantic. Here are a few:
When: Friday, February 7, and Wednesday, February 19
The claim: The coronavirus would weaken “when we get into April, in the warmer weather—that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.”
The truth: It’s too early to tell if the virus’s spread will be dampened by warmer conditions. Respiratory viruses can be seasonal, but the World Health Organization says that the new coronavirus “can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather.”
When: Friday, March 13
The claim: The Obama White House’s response to the H1N1 pandemic was “a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now.”
The truth: Barack Obama declared a public-health emergency two weeks after the first U.S. cases of H1N1 were reported, in California. (Trump declared a national emergency more than seven weeks after the first domestic COVID-19 case was reported, in Washington State.) While testing is a problem now, it wasn’t back in 2009. The challenge then was vaccine development: Production was delayed and the vaccine wasn’t distributed until the outbreak was already waning.
When: Multiple times
The claim: The Trump White House “inherited” a “broken,” “bad,” and “obsolete” test for the coronavirus.
The truth: The novel coronavirus did not exist in humans during the Obama administration. Public-health experts agree that, because of that fact, the CDC could not have produced a test, and thus a new test had to be developed this year.
When: Friday, March 6
The claim: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. We—they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
The truth: The country’s testing capabilities are severely limited. Many states have experienced a lack of testing kits, as my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported. Trump made this claim one day after his own vice president, Mike Pence, admitted that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
When: Tuesday, March 17
The claim: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic … I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”
The truth: Trump has repeatedly downplayed the significance of COVID-19 as outbreaks began stateside. From calling criticism of his handling of the virus a “hoax,” to comparing the coronavirus to a common flu, to worrying about letting sick Americans off cruise ships because they would increase the number of confirmed cases, Trump has used his public statements to send mixed messages and sow doubt about the outbreak’s seriousness.
When: Thursday, March 26
The claim: This kind of pandemic “was something nobody thought could happen … Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”
The truth: Experts both inside and outside the federal government sounded the alarm many times in the past decade about the potential for a devastating global pandemic, as my colleague Uri Friedman has reported. Two years ago, my colleague Ed Yong explored the legacy of Ebola outbreaks—including the devastating 2014 epidemic—to evaluate how ready the U.S. was for a pandemic. Ebola hardly impacted America—but it revealed how unprepared the country was.
Read the entire piece here.
Journalists are writing the first draft of the history of the Trump presidency and it looks pretty bad. I imagine it will look a lot worse once the historians start writing in a decade or two. Here is a taste of Michael Biesecker’s reporting at the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — After the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment.
A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.
By that time, hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile. That federal cache of supplies was created more than 20 years ago to help bridge gaps in the medical and pharmaceutical supply chains during a national emergency.
Now, three months into the crisis, that stockpile is nearly drained just as the numbers of patients needing critical care is surging. Some state and local officials report receiving broken ventilators and decade-old dry-rotted masks.
“We basically wasted two months,” Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary during the Obama administration, told the AP.
As early as mid-January, U.S. officials could see that hospitals in China’s Hubei province were overwhelmed with infected patients, with many left dependent on ventilator machines to breathe. Italy soon followed, with hospitals scrambling for doctors, beds and equipment.
HHS did not respond to questions about why federal officials waited to order medical supplies until stocks were running critically low. But President Donald Trump has asserted that the federal government should take a back seat to states when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
When an AP reporter attempted to ask Trump about the issue on Sunday, the president cut off the question.
“FEMA, the military, what they’ve done is a miracle,” Trump said with a flash of anger. “What they’ve done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for states is incredible.”
Trump then ended the briefing and walked off the podium.
Read the rest here.
Those reading this blog and following my Twitter feed know that I have been a big fan of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of this pandemic. I am apparently not alone in my praise. Yesterday my daughters showed me Tik Toks of female college students swooning over the 62-year governor. I know Cuomo is a controversial figure in New York, but he shown us all what leadership looks like in a time of crisis. I wish he were president right now.
Over at Vanity Fair, Chris Smith suggests Cuomo is playing a “psychological game” with Donald Trump. Here is a taste:
The phone conversations themselves are usually unremarkable in tone. Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump talk about what medical supplies are urgently needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic in New York. The chat seems productive. They hang up. And then Trump tweets a potshot, saying Cuomo needs to “do more.” Or the president suggests that New York is somehow profiteering, sending hospital masks “out the back door.” Or he goes into the White House briefing room, as he did on Wednesday, and snipes that Cuomo “shouldn’t be complaining because we gave him a lot of ventilators…The problem is with some people, no matter what you give, it’s never enough. It’s never enough.”
Cuomo, who has a serious temper, hasn’t taken the bait. At times he has gotten publicly angry about the Trump administration’s failures; at times he has praised Trump for delivering, without descending into obsequious flattery. “One-on-one, it’s perfectly cordial with Trump,” a political veteran familiar with both men says. “Because the show isn’t on. Backstage, before the lights go on, he’s a different guy.” Crucially, though, Cuomo has let the personal stuff roll off his back, not allowing the Trump noise machine to interfere with the governor working the federal bureaucracy to, for instance, grant New York permission to send coronavirus tests to in-state labs instead of the Centers for Disease Control laboratory in Atlanta.
“The governor is a guy who knows when to pull, when to push, when to praise, and when to hit,” a New York and Washington political insider says. “You’ve seen it especially in his dance on ventilators. He’s walking the line of, ‘I’m not criticizing them yet, but I’m making the need clear. Trump can say I’m not using them—here’s why I’m not using them. I need these ventilators for the surge.’ And whether the top-level dealings with Trump have been successful or not, Cuomo has been very successful in dealing with the next level down, in the federal agencies.”
Read the rest here.
Here is a taste of the editorial:
The outbreak that began in China demanded a White House that could act swiftly and competently to protect public health, informed by science and guided by compassion and public service. It required an administration that could quickly deploy reliable tests around the nation to isolate cases and trace and contain the virus’s spread, as South Korea effectively did, as well as to manufacture and distribute scarce medical supplies around the country. It begged for a president of the United States to deliver clear, consistent, scientifically sound messages on the state of the epidemic and its solutions, to reassure the public amid their fear, and to provide steady guidance to cities and states. And it demanded a leader who would put the country’s well-being first, above near-term stock market returns and his own reelection prospects, and who would work with other nations to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases around the world.
What we have instead is a president epically outmatched by a global pandemic. A president who in late January, when the first confirmed coronavirus case was announced in the United States, downplayed the risk and insisted all was under control. A president who, rather than aggressively test all those exposed to the virus, said he’d prefer not to bring ashore passengers on a contaminated cruise ship so as to keep national case numbers (artificially) low. A president who, consistent with his mistrust and undermining of scientific fact, has misled the public about unproven cures for COVID-19, and who baited-and-switched last week about whether the country ought to end social distancing to open up by Easter, and then, on Saturday, about whether he’d impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A president who has pledged to oversee the doling out of the $500 billion in corporate bailout money in the latest stimulus package, some of which will go to the travel industry in which his family is invested. A president who spent a good chunk of a recent press conference complaining about how hard it is for a rich man to serve in the White House even as Americans had already begun to lose their jobs, their health care, and their lives. A president who has reinforced racial stigma by calling the contagion a “Chinese virus” and failed to collaborate adequately with other countries to contain their outbreaks and study the disease. A president who evades responsibility and refuses to acknowledge, let alone own, the bitter truth of National Institutes of Health scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony: that the country’s testing rollout was “a failing.”
Timing is everything in pandemic response: It can make the difference between a contained local outbreak that endures a few weeks and an uncontrollable contagion that afflicts millions. The Trump administration has made critical errors over the past two months, choosing early on to develop its own diagnostic test, which failed, instead of adopting the World Health Organization’s test — a move that kneecapped the US coronavirus response and, by most public health experts’ estimation, will cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American lives. Rather than making the expected federal effort to mobilize rapidly to distribute needed gowns, masks, and ventilators to ill-equipped hospitals and to the doctors and nurses around the country who are left unprotected treating a burgeoning number of patients, the administration has instead been caught outbidding individual states (including Massachusetts) trying to purchase medical supplies. It has dragged its heels on invoking the Defense Production Act to get scarce, sorely needed ventilators and masks into production so that they can be distributed to hospitals nationwide as they hit their peaks in the cycle of the epidemic. It has left governors and mayors in the lurch, begging for help. The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID-19 cases than were necessary. In other words, the president has blood on his hands.
Read the entire piece here.
Fail-safes exist not to fix the underlying problem, but to limit losses. Amid all the disorganization and dysfunction, people are working purposefully to save lives. As Trump promised a quick treatment to solve our woes, a primary adviser—Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—immediately stepped in to quash the speculation and urge citizens to take shelter instead. As Trump floated an Easter deadline for the end of Americans’ isolation, governors extended social-distancing rules into May. “Yeah, no,” Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, said Friday. “We’re not going to be up and running by Easter. No.” (Yesterday, Trump finally gave up that pretense.)
As Trump pretends he is a war president—but only belatedly invokes the Defense Production Act to get a single company, GM, to manufacture a single commodity in the months to come—the leaders of companies such as 3M and China’s Alibaba work through the logistics of getting supplies to those who need them. As Trump says that the states need to take the lead during a national catastrophe that hurts them all, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military quietly move medical assets to prepositioned areas, based on long-standing emergency-management principles that require no presidential authorization.
As Trump touts dubious remedies, private laboratories are showing signs of tremendous progress in both high-volume testing capacity and future treatments. As Trump leads press conferences whose apparent purpose is to draw attention to himself, a nation turns its focus to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, whose daily situational-awareness reports highlight the urgency of the effort and offer the public a reminder of what hands-on leadership looks like.
Trump is now the distraction in chief. The individuals and agencies who are tuning him out and going on with their jobs aren’t quite a “deep state”—the supposedly nefarious national-security bureaucrats whom Trump believes are out to get him—but their efforts do have the feel of an apparatus rushing into a vacuum. This alternative to national leadership is not ideal, and if Trump were suddenly to step up, great. But he won’t, so a hodgepodge of federal bureaucrats, state and local leaders, private companies, and average citizens will keep on planning around his deficiencies.
Read the entire piece here.
A.B. Stoddard is an Associate Editor at Real Clear Politics. She is also a regular commentator on Fox News. Real Clear Politics, according to its Wikipedia page, is a “conservative news site and polling data aggregator.”
Here is a taste of her letter to Bush and Obama. It is published at the conservative website, The Bulwark:
Dear President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama,
The moment you have sought to avoid for nearly four years is here. We are witnessing one of the worst crises to ever confront the United States and one of the worst government failures in the history of the country you served and love.
Together, you have a collective 16 years as president, during which you dealt with a number of crises: the September 11 attacks, two wars, the collapse of the financial system, and the Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks. Faced with these events, you marshaled the vast forces of our government, trusted our best experts, told hard truths, led capable teams on complex missions to tackle these emergencies, and called upon our citizens to unite in patriotic spirit to ride out the storm together. Neither of you were perfect presidents—you both would be the first to admit that—and you each have your detractors.
But both of you knew what the job of the president is in times of crisis and how to manage the basic blocking and tackling of government responses.
President Donald Trump has now proven what many of us long suspected: He has not done any of this, because he cannot do it. He lacks the most basic capabilities required of a president in this moment.
America doesn’t just deserve better. We need better.
And you can help.
This is the time for you to join forces and publicly demand that the government create a plan to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.
The United States is now a worldwide epicenter for the virus. We have outpaced the rest of the world even though we had a long lead time to prepare for it and were one of the last large countries to be struck by it.
But the scariest part is that we are leading the world in total number of cases and the wave has still not crested here: The pace of infections is still accelerating.
These are not political talking points. They are facts. Because COVID-19 doesn’t care where you live in or what party you vote for. In a pandemic, there are no red or blue states—only infected states.
These facts have developed for one reason and one reason only: They are the catastrophic consequences of President Trump’s leadership. He denied the threat the virus posed for weeks. He ignored months—years—worth of warnings and calls to action to move faster on testing capacity and to stockpile essential medical supplies.
And even now, with the evidence of his failure everywhere around us, President Trump continues to push for an arbitrary, dangerous end to the suppression measures which have been enacted by state and local authorities.
You both know that Trump’s response has failed and that continued failure could result in damage which will extend not for years, but decades, to come.
So it is time for you to step forward publicly, rally Americans of both parties to heed the recommendations of public health officials, and demand that the current executive leadership do better.
I know you are both loathe to do this and believe that former presidents should not criticize sitting presidents. Under nearly every other circumstance, that impulse is a wise one. But in this particular situation there is an ongoing disaster where a course-change by the current leadership could effect a material change in America’s outcome. And the only two men in America with enough moral and political leverage to make a difference are the two of you.
Please do not wait another day.
Read the rest here.
Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has been an honest and consistent critic of Donald Trump. His recent piece at The Atlantic is titled “Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.”
Here is a taste:
As one person who consults with the Trump White House on the coronavirus response put it to me, “He has chosen to imagine the worst is behind us when the worst is clearly ahead of us.”
After listening to the president’s nearly-two-hour briefing on Monday—in which, among other things, Trump declared, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say … ‘Let’s shut down the entire world.’ … This could create a much bigger problem than the problem that you start off with”—a former White House adviser who has worked on past pandemics told me, “This fool will bring the death of thousands needlessly. We have mobilized as a country to shut things down for a time, despite the difficulty. We can work our way back to a semblance of normality if we hold out and let the health system make it through the worst of it.” He added, “But now our own president is undoing all that work and preaching recklessness. Rather than lead us in taking on a difficult challenge, he is dragging us toward failure and suffering. Beyond belief.”
Yes and no. The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.
This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”
She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”
Last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo asked mental health professionals to volunteer their services during this coronavirus crisis. In today’s press conference, the governor announced that 6000 mental health professionals have signed-up to offer free services to those in need. Every state in the country should be doing this.
Perhaps I missed it, but I have yet to hear Donald Trump address the question of mental health. As Frank Rich recently argued in his column at The New York Times, Trump seems incapable of this kind of empathy. Here is a taste of his piece “We’re Relying on Trump to Care About Our Lives.” A taste:
During Sunday evening’s briefing, when he was supposed to be comforting Americans on the precipice of financial ruin, he instead lamented the billions of dollars he had supposedly forgone to be president. Our self-glorifying “wartime president” morphed into a self-pitying Daddy Warbucks.
“I think it’s very hard for rich people to run for office,” he said. “It’s far more costly. It’s a very tough thing. Now, with all of that being said, I’m so glad I’ve done it. Because, you know, there are a lot rich people around. I’ve got a lot of rich friends, but they can’t help and they can’t do what I’ve done, in terms of helping this country.” I’m glad he’s glad. Scratch that. I’m dumbfounded.
It has been observed, accurately, that he’s exactly the wrong leader for this crisis because he has thinned the ranks of responsible professionals in government, because he has hollowed out relevant departments and agencies, because he devalues science, because he degrades information and because he parted ways with credibility years ago.
But it’s worse than that. He’s facing judgment calls that require an emotional depth and a moral finesse that simply don’t exist in him. America is relying on him, of all presidents, to care as much about vital signs as about dollar signs.
He did that when he asked the nation to stand still for 15 days, but can he continue to do it? I’d have doubts if the economy were merely the biggest of many bragging points for him, if it were just a major part of his political profile.
Read the entire piece here.
This builds off my previous post:
The president is not a leader. He is unable to meet this challenge. He has proven that he is not worth listening to in this moment.
If you want information about the coronavirus:
Listen to governors like Andrew Cuomo, Mike DeWine, Andy Beshear, Larry Hogan, Jay Inslee, Gavin Newsom, Tom Wolf, and Gretchen Whitmer.
Listen to people like Tony Fauci and Sanjay Gupta.
Listen to Mike Pence.
“Tony Fauci has one of the hardest jobs in America right now”–CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta
To Dr. Fauci, if I could? Dr. Fauci, as was explained yesterday, there has been some promise with hydroxychloroquine as potential therapy for people who are infected with coronavirus. Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19?
Anthony Fauci: (42:36)
No. The answer is no. The evidence that you’re talking about, [John 00:17:40], is anecdotal evidence. As the commissioner of FDA and the president mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it’s truly safe and truly effective. But, the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.
Speaker 4: (43:11)
Speaker 5: (43:11)
Mr. President, on that thought …
Speaker 6: (43:11)
Speaker 7: (43:13)
Speaker 5: (43:15)
On those therapies-
Donald Trump: (43:18)
I think, without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that, maybe, than anybody. I’m a big fan, and we’ll see what happens. We all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It’s early, but I’ve seen things that are impressive. We’ll see. We’re going to know soon. We’re going to know soon. Including safety. When you get that safety, this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem, and it’s very effective. It’s a strong drug.
It was also apparently effective against SARS.
Donald Trump: (43:56)
It was, as I understand that … Is that a correct statement? It was fairly effective on SARS?
Anthony Fauci: (44:02)
John, you’ve got to be careful when you say “fairly effective”. It was never done in a clinical trial, they compared it to anything. It was given to individuals, and felt that maybe it worked.
Was there anything to compare it to?
Anthony Fauci: (44:13)
That’s the point. Whenever you do a clinical trial, you do standard of care versus standard of care plus the agent you’re evaluating. That’s the reason why we showed, back in Ebola, why particular interventions worked.
Speaker 5: (44:28)
Sir, on that topic-
Speaker 8: (44:28)
Sir, on masks-
About the possible therapies, yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for “immediate delivery”. Immediate. We heard from-
Donald Trump: (44:37)
We were ordering … Yes, we have millions of units ordered. Bayer is one of the companies, as you know, big company, very big, very great company. Millions of units are ordered. We’re going to see what happens.
Donald Trump: (44:51)
We’re going to be talking to the governors about it, and the FDA is working on it right now. The advantage is that it has been prescribed for a totally different problem, but it has been described for many years. Everybody knows the levels of the negatives and the positives. But, I will say that I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs.
Donald Trump: (45:17)
We’ll see how it works out, [Peter 00:00:45:18]. I’m not saying it will, but I think that people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game changer. We’re going to know very soon. We have ordered millions of units. It’s being ordered from Bayer, and there is another couple of companies also that do it.
For clarity, Dr. Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree. I guess on this issue [crosstalk 00:45:41]-
Donald Trump: (45:42)
I think we only disagree a little bit.
Donald Trump: (45:44)
I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see. We’re going to known soon.
Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope and misrepresenting our preparedness right now?
Donald Trump: (45:57)
No, I don’t think so. I think got-
[crosstalk 00:46:01] the not-yet-approved drug-
Donald Trump: (46:05)
Such a lovely question. Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.
Donald Trump: (46:21)
You’re going to see soon enough. We have certainly some very big samples of people. If you look at the people, you have a lot of people that are in big trouble. This is not a drug that, obviously, I think I can speak from a lot of experience, because it’s been out there for over 20 years. It’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not a brand-new drug that’s been just created, that may have an unbelievable monumental effect like kill you. We’re going to know very soon.
Donald Trump: (46:51)
I can tell you, the FDA’s working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you want it, you can have a prescription. You get a prescription. By the way, and it’s very effective. It works.
Donald Trump: (47:03)
I have a feeling you may … I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. There’s been some interesting things happened, and some very good things. Let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know the expression? What the hell do you have to lose?
What do you say to [crosstalk 00:47:22]-
Donald Trump: (47:26)
John, go ahead.
What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. 14,000 who are sick. Millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?
Donald Trump: (47:38)
I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism. The same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast, I called Concast, for who you work.
Donald Trump: (48:01)
Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens.
Donald Trump: (48:18)
Want to get back to the science and the logistics here-
Donald Trump: (48:21)
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
The units that were ordered, are they for clinical trials? Are they for distribution to the general patient population?
Speaker 7: (48:27)
As I understand it, we are going to be taking samples in New York. Governor Cuomo very much is interested in this drug, and they are going to work on it also after they get a certain approval. We’re waiting for one final approval from the FDA. We’ll see what happens, but we’ll use it on people that are not doing great or even at the beginning of not feeling well.
This would fall under the modified hospice-
Speaker 7: (48:50)
John, what do we have to lose?
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), represents science and facts. This makes him an immediate threat to Donald Trump, a president who peddles in propaganda, lies, and other assorted mistruths. Fauci’s words are based on evidence and expertise. Trump’s words are based on a feeling. Perhaps this is the kind of feeling that the former casino owner gets when he makes a business deal or invests in a stock. Consider Trump’s words again:
Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.
Trump has a Tony Fauci problem. The good doctor is a rock star because he knows things. And because he knows things he has more authority with the American people than the president. This might cause a narcissistic populist to lose sleep at night.
Is it too late? 🙂
They say a crisis reveals character–especially in leaders. We had FDR during the Great Depression and World War II. Despite his latest antics, Rudy Giuliani led New York City in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
And then there is Donald Trump:
Thank goodness that several state officials have stepped-up during this coronavirus crisis. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has impressed me the most. “If someone wants to blame someone,” Cuomo said today after telling the New York workforce to stay home, “blame me. There is no else responsible for this decision.”
As Ben Smith of The New York Times recently wrote, “In ordinary times, Mr. Cuomo’s relentlessness and bullying drive New Yorkers crazy. In an age of the coronavirus, they soothe our battered nerves.”
Here is more of Smith’s piece:
“A crisis shows you a person’s soul,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo mused during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “It shows you what they’re made of. The weaknesses explode and the strengths are, uh, emboldened.”
He paused. He’d forgotten, perhaps, whom he was talking about and seemed to have strayed to talking about himself. Then, he returned to the subject at hand, introducing the Westchester County executive: “And, uh, George Latimer has really stepped up.”
Mr. Cuomo has governed New York for more than nine years without inspiring much love. He wins elections by grinding opponents into dust before they can make it to the ballot box. He governs by transaction, not inspiration, as a dispenser of favors and destroyer of insurgents’ dreams, the purest master of the machine since Lyndon Johnson in his prime.
He has passed marriage equality, cut deals with Republicans, meddled incessantly in the running of the subway system. The people most passionate about politics these days — the New Left and the Trump-led right — dislike him because he governs as both a social liberal and a friend of business. Many moderate and liberal politicians, who ought in theory to like Mr. Cuomo, simply fear him.
And yet Mr. Cuomo has emerged as the executive best suited for the coronavirus crisis, as President Trump flails and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrestles haltingly with a crucial decision and then heads to the gym.
The governor has been the clearest and most decisive of the three, relentless behind the scenes and open about the risks. He has publicly worried over his daughters and his 88-year-old mother, and put state prisoners to work making hand sanitizer. He’s alternated between sweetness and confrontation with Mr. Trump, as he would with a wayward upstate legislator.
Read the rest here.
Here is Cuomo’s latest press conference: