What Happened to Covid-19?

Remember Covid-19? That deadly pandemic that’s killed more than 80,000 Americans – and counting? President Trump apparently doesn’t.

Neither do the hosts of any Fox News program. Or most Republican members of Congress.

What gives?

It’s simple: All of Trump’s denials and deflections are coming back to roost. All his predictions have failed. And – oh, yeah – an election is on the horizon.

The result? A sudden uptick in accusations against President Obama. That’s all the GOP can talk about now. Obamagate. Obama’s crimes. The conspiracy against Trump.

The Right has resurrected this long-disproven chestnut, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, to throw smoke when the whole coronavirus battle is heading down the toilet.

Trump has declared “Mission Accomplished,” so it’s time to move on. (Remember how well that worked for Dubya?)

Cash First, People Second

President Trump knows his chances of reelection shrink with the economy. So, he’s made a calculation: Better to lose a few thousand lives than lose an election.

American voters are expendable in his eyes. Especially when the risk is greater to the poor and ethnic minorities. Both groups that tend to vote Democratic.

In other words, the rush to reopen the economy is a win-win for Trump. He gets whatever short-term boost may come to the economy, and he may see a decline in the number of Democratic voters.

His cronies agree. Texas’ Republican lt. governor suggested we should sacrifice the old to get the economy running again. And Chris Christy tried to compare the pandemic to World War II in terms of sacrifice.

Can you imagine a more cynical view? It’s okay to sacrifice thousands of American lives… if it’ll start lining the pockets of the rich again.

What’s worse, Trump and his cronies were behind the whole problem in the first place.

Doomed by Trump’s Magical Thinking

Over and over again – for two months – Trump and his allies claimed this pandemic was nothing to worry about. It’ll miraculously disappear. One day, you’ll wake up to warm weather and no more coronavirus. We have it under control.

By the time team Trump began to take the problem seriously, the genie was long out of the bottle. Two months of testing, gone. Two months of mitigation, passed by.

Even after the president woke up, he dithered. He argued with governors. Dragged his feet on testing and stocking supplies. Put Jared in charge of a supply team that accomplished virtually nothing.

His daily updates were mostly long rants about how unfair the news media were being… how the governors didn’t show enough appreciation… how good his ratings were. And every step of the way, medical experts had to correct his lunatic ideas, while trying not to insult his fragile ego.

Then came injecting disinfectants. Forcing packing plant employees back to work – without requiring safety improvements. And it’s all China’s fault.

Trump and his team refused to follow their own guidelines. Until two close staffers got sick. He pushed for states to reopen too soon. And even instigated protests against stay-at-home orders. (“Liberate Michigan!”)

Now it’s come completely unraveled, so it’s time to declare victory and move on.

Time to Open Up, Folks

So, Trump has essentially washed his hands of the Covid-19 crisis. It’s re-open the economy or bust. And to distract from that nagging health issue.

So, Trump and his cronies have trotted out “Obamagate” again. It’s almost all you hear from Fox News pundits and hosts. Right-wing radio talk shows are full of it. And Trump’s bootlicking lapdog of an attorney general is back on the case.

The smoke from this smokescreen is getting kind of thick.

Except that Covid-19 is still here. Still killing thousands of Americans. And still spreading in many states. Georgia re-opened and saw a big spike in cases.

Thousands of out-of-staters flooded into Georgia to take advantage of the loosening of restrictions. Who knows how many brought a hitchhiker home with them, creating new hotspots?

And you know it’s not a good sign when Republican governors begin burying the numbers… or stop reporting them altogether.

Time to open up, they say. Time to get the economy moving. Except what they’re really saying is its time for thousands more Americans to die needlessly.

Donald Trump, the “Chinese” Virus, and the Future of America

We all saw the picture of President Trump’s speech. A Washington Postphotographer snapped a frame of Trump’s prepared speech. And there it was: The word “Corona” was crossed out – with Trump’s beloved “Sharpie” – and replaced with “Chinese.”

Here he was again… assigning blame and, at the same time, tossing a little racism in the mix for his base. Is it any wonder we’ve seen a sharp uptick in racist acts against Asians? Of course, Trump has an excuse. “That’s where it originated,” he says.

But when he talks about H1N1, he doesn’t call it “the American virus.” Even though it was first identified here. I wonder how the President would feel if all the other countries called H1N1 “the American virus.” Can you imagine him remaining calm? I can’t.

But here we are, facing a deadly pandemic with our national response depending on the moods of a paranoid narcissist. Who seems comfortable with a little racism, to boot.

So, what’s really happening here? Let’s look at the timeline.

Donald Trump vs. COVID-19

When asked how he’d rate his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump was quick to respond.

“I’d rate it a 10. I think we’ve done a great job…” was his immediate response.

But here’s how Trump’s darling – Fox News – described it…

“President Trump on Monday gave his administration high marks for its response to the coronavirus,” Fox wrote, “despite criticisms for a shortage of testing kits and for his downplaying the severity of the pandemic.”

Even Trump’s most ardent cheer squad had to hedge its comments. Because – let’s face it – the White House response hasn’t been stellar.

In fact, the President tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic for weeks. And thus delayed our nation’s response. In the end, this could cost thousands of lives.

Most of Trump’s moves since then have followed suit: Delaying action that could slow the spread and save lives.

And making Trump’s response of “I’d rate it a 10” accurate only if it were on a scale of 1 – 100.

Trump Did Something Right… Almost. Then…

On Jan 31, Trump blocked entrance to the U.S. for most people who’d traveled to most of China in the last 14 days. But this didn’t apply to Macau or Hong Kong… or to U.S. citizens or lawful residents.

With these gaping exceptions, Trump made the only smart move he’d make for weeks. Weeks? His comments to downplay the severity date back to at least Jan 22.

On Feb 2 – in spite of a quiet move by HHS Secretary Alex Azar to declare the novel coronavirus a public health emergency – Trump tells Fox’s Sean Hannity, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

On Feb 24, Trump asked for more than $1.75 billion in new and moved funding to fight the coronavirus threat. At the same time, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

By Feb 25, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was saying a coronavirus pandemic wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. At the same time, Mitt Romney – a Republican – said he was disappointed the administration wasn’t doing more to prepare.

On the same day, Trump tweeted, “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus…” On the 28th, he blamed the spread of coronavirus on the Democrats.

On March 5, Trump claimed partial victory. He compared U.S. numbers to those of other countries. And blamed “MSNDC” for publishing fake news.

On March 9, Trump tried to compare seasonal flu with COVID-19. We don’t shut down over the seasonal flu, he argued… so why should we over this novel coronavirus?

On March 10, Trump promised tests people couldn’t get. On the same day, he demanded more work on the wall to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The only problem? Cases were far more widespread in the U.S. than in Mexico.

On the 11th, he announced “payroll tax relief” and blamed the Democrats for slowing response. (In spite of the fact that payroll tax relief largely benefits employers.)

March 12 found Trump boasting about 4 million test kits soon to be available. “If you go to the right agency,” he claimed, “if you go to the right area, you get the test.”

On March 13 – more than seven weeks after COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.  – Trump declared a public health emergency. Meanwhile, the disease had spread widely.

March 17: Trump called for people to work at home, limit travel, and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

On March 23, Trump tweeted, “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself…” Breitbart News said Trump was ready to start relaxing coronavirus restrictions.

On the 24th, he told America he’d “… love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go by Easter.”

Of course, Trump has since reversed himself on this… along with pretty much everything else he’s said about the COVID-19 virus.

But that’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Trump Ignored Specific Warnings

Trump claims nobody could have known such a pandemic could arise. But the Obama administration warned him of just such a threat during the transition.

In those days, the outgoing president’s team walked Trump’s incoming team through exactly the situation we face now. Along with all the necessary steps to take to defeat it.

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, downplayed the exercise. “There’s no briefing,” Spicer said, “that can prepare you for a worldwide pandemic.” At least two Trump cabinet members – Wilber Ross and Rick Perry – attended the exercise.

Yup. Nobody could have foreseen exactly what you were warned about.

Then in January and February of 2020, the Trump administration was warned of the severity – and potential – of the coronavirus pandemic. By their own national security team. They chose to ignore those warnings.

Trump’s own intelligence agencies were warning of the severity of COVID-19. And Trump chose to ignore the warnings.

According to one Trump administration official, “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were – they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”

Could the U.S. have reacted more quickly? It’s clear the answer is yes. Could we have saved lives? Unquestionably. Was the Trump administration part of the problem? That’s pretty hard to deny.

Should we give a second term to a man who deliberately and actively led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds – if not thousands – of Americans?

Not in our wildest dreams.

Donald Trump’s actions – or lack thereof – clearly led to many deaths. He should not be rewarded for this travesty. He should be relegated to the dumpster of history… A fate he richly deserves.

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Sources:

Casiano, L., “Trump, asked about coronavirus response, gives himself a 10 out of 10,” Fox News. Mar 16, 2020.

Dilanian, K., et al, “Timeline: Trump administration’s response to coronavirus,” NBC News. March 17, 2020.

Spiering, C., “Donald Trump on Coronavirus Restrictions: ‘We Cannot Let the Cure Be Worse than the Problem’,” Breitbart News. Mar 23, 2020.

Greenberg, J., “President Donald Trump delivers a prime-time address to the nation about the coronavirus from the Oval Office on March 11,” Politifact(dot)com. March 20, 2020.

Toosi, N., et. Al., “Before Trump’s inauguration, a warning: ‘The worst influenza pandemic since 1918’,” Politico(dot)com. Mar 16, 2020.

Harris, S., et al, “U.S. intelligence reports from January and February warned about a likely pandemic,” MSN(dot)com. Mar 22, 2020.

Trump Creates Greater Chaos in Chaotic Situation

President Trump put V.P. Mike Pence in charge of the coronavirus response, right? Right.

So, does the Task Force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, work for him? Or is it the other way around?

And how does presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and his “shadow task force” fit into the mix?

As usual, Trump has taken a chaotic situation, and turned the chaos up to 11. Because nobody seems to know what anyone’s doing.

Confusion Reigns in White House Response

Dr. Birx is highly qualified to “coordinate” the coronavirus task force. She’s a long-time physician with military experience who retired to work on an HIV/AIDS vaccine. She currently holds the rank of Ambassador within the administration.

V.P. Pence, on the other hand, has somewhat less stellar creds. In fact, his one serious challenge with a health crisis was an HIV outbreak in Indiana during his tenure as governor. His early refusal to okay needle swaps is credited with worsening the situation and costing lives.

According to CSBN News, the White House hasn’t clarified the exact relationship between Birx and Pence. Or between Birx and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. (Who brings his own set of controversies.)

Add Jared into the mix, and you have maximum chaos. Because nobody seems to know where Jared’s team of business execs and admin allies fit in.

Insiders say some of Jared’s “team” are sending e-mails through unsecured channels. And sending “requests” to administration employees who don’t know who they are… or what authority they have.

Coordination between the task force and Jared’s team appears to be close to nil. But some administration employees are reportedly taking e-mails from Jared’s private sector partners as marching orders.

Where’s the CDC When You Need It?

Amidst this chaos, you’d hope the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could stand as a beacon of hope. But Trump has done what he can to gut their funding.

Trump has cut – or reduced – funding for 39 of the 49 CDC programs helping other countries deal with major disease outbreaks. His 2020 budget recommends $750M in additional cuts to CDC funding – about 10% of the department’s total. And some cuts specifically target programs aimed at epidemics/pandemics.

Under John Bolton, the Trump administration essentially erased our top-level ability to respond to a pandemic. Bolton’s NSC (National Security Council) reorganization eliminated the agency President Obama created to handle pandemic response.

Simply put, the actions of Trump’s administration in 2018 guaranteed our nation would be screwed in 2020. In spite of all the warning signs.

Now we have a crisis we’re not ready to face. Not because the government didn’t see it coming. But because Donald Trump chose to cut taxes on the rich rather than ensure we were prepared for disaster.

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Sources:

“Who’s on the U.S. Coronavirus Task,” CSBN. Feb 29, 2020.

Lahut, J., “Trump coronavirus task force coordinator says millennials ‘are the core group that will stop this virus’,” Business Insider. Mar 16, 2020.

Borger, J., “US underprepared for coronavirus due to Trump cuts, say health experts,” The Guardian. Jan 31, 2020.

Is This Our Best Defense Against COVID-19?

For weeks after a new, mysterious virus emerged in China, the President of the United States downplayed the threat. Even as the first cases cropped up in the U.S., Trump brushed off the seriousness of COVID-19.

It will just disappear miraculously, he claimed. It won’t stand up against April’s heat, he told us. Everything’s under control, he said. We have it contained. His surrogates – the Kellyanne Conways and Larry Kudlows – reinforced this demonstrably false view.

Meanwhile, the conservative media – led by Fox – spread the same story. One Fox host even claimed fear of COVID-19 was drummed up by the mainstream media and the Democrats as another impeachment attempt against the President.

As of this week, they’re all singing a different song. The hero Trump has acted swiftly to stem the tide of the pandemic. In spite of stumbling blocks left over from a certain previous administration.

Fortunately, most of the U.S. had access to real information the whole time. And lots of it. Thanks to our remaining independent newspapers.

Unparalleled Coverage – Right When We Need It

Sure, we have news programming on local TV stations. And a half-hour of news on the major networks. But the independence of these news sources was lost long ago.

You see, TV news was once treated as a public service. The FCC granted you a license, and you took a financial hit to report actual news to your viewers. Today, network and local news programming is expected to generate revenue. So more and more of those precious 22 – 44 minutes (after ad time is subtracted) are devoted to appealing fluff pieces.

Broadcast news carries less and less actual news every year. So, there’s little time to go in-depth on any key issues. And when they do, ratings concerns dictate a degree of sensationalism.

Cable channels like MSNBC and CNN fare a little better. But they’re still driven by advertising revenue. Which means you’ll see plenty of fluff on these channels, too. And lots of “infotainment.”

Blogs and news sites on the Internet generally get their news from more traditional sources. They’re really commentary sites. Most just parrot what they’ve read on network news or newspaper websites. Without their sources they’d dry up.

But newspapers have a tradition of in-depth coverage. Of digging into stories that are important – not just sensational. And of even-handed coverage.

That tradition has held on during the current health crisis. I get more – and more in-depth  – coverage of the COVID-19 story from my newspaper subscription than from any other source.

America’s struggling newspapers are still doing their job better than anyone else.

Freedom Isn’t Free

You know what’s interesting? How often network TV and cable news shows quote newspapers… and how rarely the opposite happens. If I had a nickel for every time CNN quoted the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bill Gates would be my pool boy.

In a world where newspapers are dropping like flies, they’re still ahead of the curve. If we let them die, our world will nearly go dark. And – make no mistake about it – far too many good papers are on life support.

Every time a local paper dies, Americans get a little less free. Because freedom isn’t free.

Do you want someone keeping your legislators honest? That requires oversight. There are plenty of folks eager to do it… But they have bills to pay. That’s why journalism is a profession… and not a hobby. That includes on the local level.

Do you want your children to inherit a democracy? Then you’d better be ready to pony up. Because defending against tyranny has a price. In this case, it’s the price of a daily paper. And, believe me, folks in countries without a free press can tell you freedom is worth it.

How Much Is Your Freedom Worth?

I pay $100 a year – less than $2 a week – for my freedom. That’s the cost of my online newspaper subscription. My wife pays a similar amount for her subscription to a second paper.

Is our democracy worth $200 a year to you? Or even $100? Chances are that’s a lot less than you spend on coffee or donuts each year. But it’s enough to keep scores of journalists holding the government’s feet to the fire day after day.

At least it is if enough of us care about freedom. Including freedom from disease. Because lies and misinformation about COVID-19 abound.

  • Wearing a mask will not protect you.
  • Drinking bleach will not cure you.
  • Colloidal silver has no effect on this virus.

And, for goodness sake, hoarding toilet paper does nothing… Beyond pissing off your neighbors.

Of course, you’d already know all this if you subscribed to a newspaper.

[Full disclosure: This writer once worked for a newspaper – the now-defunct Haverhill Gazette. He probably qualifies as the worst paperboy in history. But even he couldn’t sink a decent paper in the 1960s.]