Americans are in the midst of a deadly threat to our lives and our nation. A virus that many of us don’t yet fully understand has ravaged the country with sickness, fear, and almost 4,000 deaths. It has shut down much of the nation’s economy, and those of us who are not sick are asked to stay home.
We want to understand the nature of the disease and how we can protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors. We want to know what the best treatments are, why our national response was so tardy, and what the future holds.
We need Truth Tellers
To find answers we need truth tellers who have the expertise and the intellect to understand and clearly explain details to both leaders and the people. Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of those truthtellers. He clearly articulates facts, danger and advice as we face down the Covid 19 pandemic.
But we also have a president whose primary objective seems to be standing on center stage and bragging. Neither truth nor substance matters to him. How he looks and how he sounds to his base is what he cares most about. So, when Trump makes one of his 16,000 misstatements and is corrected by Dr. Fauci he is not grateful that the public is getting the truth but is angry at the man who spoke the truth.
When Dr. Fauci and other health experts disagreed with the president’s announcement that Americans should abandon the social distancing policy and gather together in church on Easter day, Trump doubled down on his desire to reopen the nation’s economy by April 12. He suggested that the proposed cure was worse than the disease. His scientists disagreed. It wasn’t until political advisors told him that polls showed a majority of Americans supporting the medical experts that he agreed to another month of social distancing.
When Dr. Fauci regularly corrected Trump’s misstatements during public briefings, the president’s political base became an anti Fauci mob. The New York Times has found more than 70 accounts on Twitter (the primary presidential communications tool) that promotes #FuaciFraud. He is dismissed by the right wing as an anti-Trump deep state conspirator. Videos on YouTube blasting the doctor have been viewed thousands of times in the past week. This all flows from Trump’s vilification of anyone or any media outlet that doesn’t bolster his dangerously misleading or outright false proclamations about the pandemic or our economic recovery.
Trump Craves the Spotlight
The president cannot tolerate either disagreement or sharing the spotlight. For instance, when state governors appear to be gaining some traction in fighting the disease (and/or get good press) he lambasts them. Governors Jay Inslee of Washington, Gavin Newsome of California, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Larry Hogan of Ohio have all been victims of Trump attacks.
The president also lashes out at reporters who ask substantive questions instead of praising him––particularly if a truthful answer would cast doubt something Trump had said. His tendency to forsake truth for self-serving fiction is beginning to have a backlash from the media. For instance, Timothy Eagan of The New York Times reported that a public radio outlet in Seattle has quit airing the daily coronavirus briefings because the volume of misinformation Trump put out cannot be corrected in real time. Vox’s Mat Yglesias wrote that the briefings have become “ersatz rallies held for political purposes rather than bona fide attempts to inform the public.”
Yglesias is right: The president has not been hesitant to use the briefings for personal and political campaign benefit. On March 30 he praised some specific companies for “doing their patriotic duty” by helping with the response to the virus. That was a good thing. But then he called Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPilow, to the presidential podium.
Lindell told the nation, referring to Trump’s election, “God gave us grace on November 3, 2016 to change the course we were on…God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God.” He went on to praise the president “for giving us so much hope” and then extolled the virtues of our pre-virus economy. Remember: this was a briefing to update us on progress against the disease and advise us on precautions we ought to be taking.
Cuomo and Trump
Willie Brown, a former San Francisco mayor and past speaker of the California State Assembly, compared recent Cuomo and Trump public responses to the crisis: Cuomo told the public “I take full responsibility. If anything goes wrong, blame me.”
The president, on the other hand, blamed the pandemic on “one man from China.” He implied to the nation’s governors on March 23 that opening up the economy was more important than fighting the disease. He said wanted Americans back at work by Easter, despite the advice to the contrary from medical professionals: “We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion could be far bigger problems. We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.”
I believe that words like this from the President of the United States delayed an aggressive response to the disease and misled people about its deadly seriousness, thereby putting lives at risk.
Cuomo said that if Americans “are asked to choose between public health and the economy, it is no contest. No American is going to say ‘accelerate the economy at the cost of human life’…We are not going to accept the premise that human life is expendable. We are not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”
On the other hand, Brown wrote t “Trump appeared at a loss…and has focused on attacking immigrants, media, Democrats and occasionally members of his own party. Now, the time calls for reality leavened with hope. Both are completely beyond him.”
I can only hope that we will be “graced” differently in November 2020.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.