‘Nothing is more terrible than to see ignorance in action’ (Goethe)
Readers of Freedom News will be familiar with (and probably sick of hearing) accounts of the Trump administration’s misconduct during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
They were expected; they were worse than predicted.
So this month’s ‘Notes from the US’ contains some of the salient moments, trends and analyses which you may have missed. It’s also much longer than usual.
A global pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people worldwide should be enough of a ‘warning’ to change – or at least to inform – the way people will think and act now… at least in part.
Not so in the USA!
Postmodernism hardly set out to achieve the upper hand by consciously and deliberately sponsoring inexact, crooked and downright unproductive ways of viewing the world. No, all art and ideas are not of equal validity, nor of equal value. Yet now ignorance (a lack of knowledge) and stupidity (an inability or refusal to know) have become valid ‘points of view’. At best that is unproductive. At worst, when people – particularly those who exert a huge influence on others – claim the right to advance opinions and beliefs regardless of rationality and facts, it’s catastrophic.
All lives, though, are not of equal value: the 2019/2020 pandemic always threatened to become the emergency and global crisis which it now is. Such Corona viruses originate in the animal kingdom. Their morbidity and pathology are well known – even though this strain (SARS-CoV-2) is novel. About 300 million animals, birds and fish are murdered daily: that is, by the time you’ve read this paragraph nearly 140,000 cruel, painful deaths will have happened. When animals are abused, sooner or later the fact that they carry the virus themselves (albeit innocuously) means that it will be transmitted to humans. That is just what has happened. It’s called vertical transmission. Horizontal transmission (human to human) has quickly followed – as expected. Further, there are now reports that infected primates and big cats (in zoos) are being infected; the virus is going both ways now. If you really want to be scared (and prepared) watch this video, where a world expert suggests that worse – much worse – could well follow next time.
No, truth is not relative. But in the United States by Spring 2020 that is no longer the case. Truth hardly seems to matter. Trump and his armies of supporters, adorers and propagandists have done (and are doing) whatever they want to make sure of two things.
Firstly, that he looks good enough to be re-elected on November 3. Secondly, that he and his class, race (and members of his gender) make as much money from the crisis as possible.
The public health crisis began as a challenge which could be successfully met. Certain countries in SE Asia appear to be demonstrating as much. When the pandemic first spread to the United States in late January, the challenge appeared primarily medical. But COVID-19 has now spawned two further (and perhaps ultimately more urgent) battle fronts.
The first is to know whether the growing numbers of deniers can be effectively educated or otherwise made selflessly harmless. And, if so, how. Growing are the numbers of those who believe, “It’s just a cold.” Or that “it’s a Democrat/’Liberal’ hoax or plot” to unseat their suave, sage and savvy leader. Such opinions are also held by those who seem prepared to die and kill many others by increasingly vocally asserting that their constitutional rights to assemble, play team sports and go to church etc are more precious than life. They’ll have no “Marxist Communists” like California Governor, Gavin Newsom depriving them of their liberties (One America News Network’s ‘Daily Ledger’ show, 2020-04-09). On a side note, Newsom has just approved two dozen new fracking permits.
The second area of battle is between those on the one hand who rightly see that a health ‘service’ which is based on competition, profit and really on natural selection (who can pay gets treated) has to be demolished quickly and replaced with a system fit for a civilised society: a health service based on need. And on the other those who viciously oppose this as ‘communism’. Theirs are the vested interests in medical ‘insurance’ and social Darwinism. They suggest (albeit implicitly) that it’s the would-be recipients’ fault if they have been careless enough to become poor. The poor and uninsured must – and will – live with the consequences; they should go without care and medicine so as not to be a burden on the rest of us, who have worked hard to get where we now are.
Indeed, early in the pandemic on 11 March many expert economists released an open letter to Trump endorsing the ‘Medicare for All’ healthcare system. Under such a plan health care would be funded centrally through taxation. That is obviously the most appropriate and effective public health solution to the growing crisis, instead of the profit-led, fragmented, corrupt, competitive, declining and inefficient system of ‘insurance’ currently in place. That plea was ignored, of course.
Donald Trump did not cause the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Its origins were very probably in a ‘wet market’ (a particularly vile case of animal abuse in China). It originated – significantly – in attitudes that place the greed and desire of some humans to cause unimaginable suffering to animals (and the wider biosphere) in what is now increasingly and correctly being termed ‘ecocide’ above the intelligent stewardship of our planet and nurturing of its potential to support and sustain life (including humans’ lives).
For instance, a new study released by Harvard University last week convincingly suggests that decades of ever greater air pollution in many parts of the United States may make the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic even more dangerous for people living in the country’s most heavily polluted areas.
It is also the USA more generally and its mania for profit and commercial dominance which are responsible for huge subsidies of the production of junk food and of the destruction of animals. For decades such crimes have consistently and systematically impoverished the Global South by, for instance, directly blocking their exports at worst; and at ‘best’ by diminishing the ability of poorer countries to trade foodstuffs and healthier agriculture with the rich north.
Now, specifically, let’s look at what has driven Trump and his administration in the last three months.
“I am ignorant…”
Despite what the media, his coterie of liars and Trump himself say, the president did consistently and vehemently deny that the SARS-CoV-2 virus represented anything of a threat (to the United States). It would magically disappear (“I hope”) in April with the warmer weather. Anyone who suggests otherwise has – from the beginning – been a (political) enemy with the potential to make Trump look bad.
He was actually told quite unambiguously as early as at the beginning of January that the outbreak in Wuhan, China, had the makings of a pandemic. And was told repeatedly that this could (and probably would) adversely affect the health (indeed the very survival) of people in the country which he was sworn to protect and serve – not just the poor, non-whites and the well-informed, for whom Trump has no time. And could have untold negative effects – as it has done – on the economy.
Yet he ignored the threat. Sources vary. It’s hard to know the inner (and secretive) workings of Trump’s chaotic, back-stabbing White House. But more than one credible account has the CIA itself hammering on Trump’s door ‘begging’ him to take the intelligence coming in from South East Asia very seriously. He didn’t.
Indeed, a couple of days ago the New York Times published what looks like hard, incontrovertible proof not only of the warnings given to Trump, but also of his responses.
On the right, such sources are discarded and discounted – not because of any flaw in their substance. But because the discounters hate the source. Truth is utterly irrelevant.
Almost certainly Trump was, and still is, quite unable to understand disease, illness and pandemics – except at the most basic level. Even six weeks after national news coverage was concerned with virtually nothing else, Trump was continuing to refer – wrongly – to the Spanish Flu of “1917” (it was in 1918/19). Almost with the same breath, he says how well up in all matters epidemiological he has become. Then spouts all sorts of nonsense about the virus’ aetiology and likely impact. In public. To millions. With qualified experts standing next to him. He often talks over them, interrupts and intercepts questions intended for the specialists; and on at least one occasion has physically pushed a doctor away from the microphone.
On 6 April and again 12 April, for example, he likened SARS-CoVid-2 to the Bubonic plague of the 14th to 18th centuries. The aetiology, behaviour, pathology, results and methods of treatments of the two pandemics are entirely different.
As late as the end of last month, audio of a conversation with state governors was made public in which Trump persisted in denying that there was (and still is) a need for ventilators. He was being told there and then the contrary by folk on the ground. Yet continued to refute it. Doctor Ming Lin in an ER (A&E department) in Bellingham, Washington, publicly drew attention to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center’s (his own hospital) lack of protection for workers by not following appropriate testing protocols and so exposing healthcare workers and patients to unnecessary risks. He was sacked.
When the new quick tests for the virus were announced, at one of his ‘briefings’, Trump held the prototype he’d be given upside down as he bellowed about how wonderful he’d been to produce it; and put it on display incorrectly.
These ‘briefings’, it should be noted, are really miniature campaign rallies designed to aggrandise Trump politically. The starting times for these got later and later so as to force his loutish presence into more and more people’s prime time viewing… most networks feel obliged to carry the events. Trump provides next to no substance and usually merely repeats just two stock ‘messages’: such and such (a governor or official of whom he approves) is “…doing a great job…”. Then “…no-one could have seen this coming…”. Even some members of his own party have apparently advised him to leave these briefings to people who know what they are talking about.
There are other members of the élite – many in prominent positions, governors, mayors, even some health carers – whose reactions show immense ignorance and stupidity. One recent example from a few days ago concerns Republican lawmakers in Kansas: they reversed an order limiting the size of church services. More deaths after Easter seem inevitable… all it takes is one (even perhaps asymptomatic) carrier to exhale, breath, cough or otherwise expel a single particle. With an R0 of between 1.5 and 3.5, it’s not hard to see how quickly one such gathering (however well-intentioned) can cause many deaths. Many services are online now.
“…yet I know better than the experts”
So Trump is guilty of turning his back on warnings, of denying and minimising the threat. As pressure and evidence built, though, he had to make some sort of about-turn. It finally came (several weeks or a couple of months late) at the very end of March. Specifically, he reversed his position – reluctantly – at his ‘briefing’ on 31 March. To change his stance needed a massive string of lies which would suggest that non-one else could see the pandemic coming (not at all the case) and that he (Trump) of all people wanted it taken more seriously than those dirty foreigners (not true of course). Even when presented with transcripts of his own Tweets and radio and TV pronouncements, he denied that he’d ever written or spoken as he had. More of this later.
This snip from a TV programme admittedly highly critical of Trump, but whose host is a Republican, sets out the sequence of ignored warnings. It’s worth watching if you are unfamiliar with the timeline. This table goes into more detail. Some highlights:
January 22: “We have it totally under control”
February 11: “We’re in great shape in our country. We have 11, and the 11 are getting better.”
February 25: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country.”
February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”
March 6: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
Harsh and stark warnings were ignored, then. Worse, by 2018 Trump had already dismissed the US Pandemic Response Team and eliminated the position held by one Timothy Ziemer leading it. Trump replaced neither, although he later denied this. Nor did the administration take even the most basic steps to rectify a healthcare system based on greed for the businesses which control it, rather than on patient care. Indeed, in their antipathy to Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) and attempts to reduce its effectiveness, (members of) Trump’s administration made matters worse for the vast majority of people living in the United States. Probably millions were deprived of access to care, which would have helped them in the past – and certainly could now.
Trump and the officials and the many sycophantic lawmakers surrounding him were and are consequently entirely unprepared to cope with anything like a global pandemic in the way in which many other countries appear to have been. Fairly casual reporting from a variety of sources in the US makes it plain that successive administrations have known, for example, of the acute shortfall in ventilators for many years. And done nothing.
Again, no blame can sensibly be attached to Trump for the outbreak itself. But his presidency has done nothing to help the earth’s ecosystem. The same goes for previous US administrations. Trump rarely addresses the environment. Although at a recent ‘briefing’ when alluding to the wider economy and measures to ‘open it up’ again, he took the trouble to deride and ridicule the foremost plan from the left of the Democratic party, which, if implemented (unlikely), might have a mildly positive effect: the Green New Deal.
The environment, of course, is being systematically destroyed, plundered and significantly weakened. This has reduced our ability to mitigate the effects of a natural disaster such as SARS-CoV-2. Most scientists see such pandemics as SARS as environmental issues. They originate in humans’ insistence on abusing, torturing and then murdering creatures other than homo sapiens. They originate in habitat destruction. They originate in atmospheric destruction. They originate in pollution. The treatment and spread of pandemics are exacerbated by the massive environmental degradation to which the leaders of such countries as the United States actively and aggressively contribute.
For the first few weeks, Trump characterised the epidemics in other countries (particularly SE Asia, where his racism and xenophobia raged) as a hoax. Trump’s narcissism prevented him from seeing that this was a worldwide danger, and not a local one designed to remove him from office. Far-right (Fox) and proto-fascist (OAN) propaganda outlets still suggest day and night after day and night after day and night that the reactions and mitigating measures which informed medical experts and those (state) officials wise enough to heed them are now taking are in fact communist plots to remove American ‘freedoms’. One wonders whether those ‘freedoms’ really ought to allow American vehicle drivers to randomly drive on the left – for freedom’s sake. Or to kill off the weaker of the species. Actually, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, did effectively argue along those lines when he said in an interview on Fox ‘News’ on 23 March that his generation (grandparents) should be prepared to die in order for the corporations to become profitable again.
Although Trump did not refuse to accept the test developed by the WHO, as has been claimed; he did refuse to ask for it, and the Organization only offers when invited. This cannot but be seen as another example of his hubris, narcissism and hog-cum-infant attitude to common sense. America first… which really means very little – except to the deluded.
For weeks now, Trump – presumably so that he can look like a ‘saviour’ – has mistakenly touted two drugs. Azithromycin (brand name: Zithromax) is an antibiotic which works on bacteria and so is entirely ineffective against viruses. And Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, neither of which – despite his lies – has been approved for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) except in rare supervised cases when doctors might choose to use them under emergency conditions in hospitals. Never at home. What’s more, amongst the known side effects of hydroxychloroquine is cardiac arrest. Fox ‘News’ claimed that hydroxychloroquine has a ‘100% cure rate’ although four of the 42 people treated with the drug in France died. But Trump knows better. His ‘advice’ has already led to deaths in the USA and Africa, and may well lead to many more.
Just as interesting is Trump’s probable source of this insider knowledge. There is growing evidence that it’s Fox ‘News’ again. It’s well known that Trump watches a lot, a great deal, of Fox ‘News’ daily. Indeed, staff at the White House who have (earlier in his presidency) described his day said that he does little else with his spare time. Now a well-known proto-fascist commentator, Laura Ingraham, a true Trump supporter (although formerly highly critical), has a segment on her show called ‘Ingraham’s “Medicine Cabinet”‘. It seems possible – even likely – that Trump caught an episode of this, had Ingraham explain it to him, although she’s no doctor, has no training, no real knowledge or expertise, and fell for it. Then began to tout it as the cure (which would assure him of victory in the election) against all the evidence.
This exchange nicely encapsulates the extent of Trump’s medical preparedness for global pandemics. It’s an extract of something which Trump said when asked by a reporter what he could explain to his children at a ‘briefing’ as late as 27 March: “… say that you are a citizen of the greatest country anywhere in the world and we were attacked like nothing that’s happened possibly since 1917 [sic]… And I would say that they have a duty to sit back… we’ve literally had no problem… You call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus. You know, you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is…”
“I will put my own image first”
One of his biggest crimes – for this conduct must be counted criminal – was to tout an early reversal of the only mitigating measure obviously successful worldwide: physical distancing. This idiotic suggestion was made at a time of what was so far the biggest spike in numbers. It was made without apparently any understanding that viruses know not class, administrative boundaries or political party. But Donald J Trump is president and has the power and wisdom to do what he wants. And he has been very popular (his approval rating rose to almost 50%) in so acting.
Not for nothing did a council representing 800,000 doctors sign a letter on 27 March imploring Trump to reconsider. Fortunately, he did – for a while: as this is being prepared for publication, Trump and his crew are again seriously considering ‘opening up’ the country against the advice of the specialists, who warn that many more will become infected and die if – as is likely – the virus is once more transmitted to millions going back to work and to socialise again. But the fact that the ‘economy’ would be active again (despite the newly increased number of its workers incapacitated and deceased) ought to make Trump look good to his supporters, who have come to see him as some sort of prophet (a word increasingly used in such circles). He shall lead them past hoaxes and plots, conspiracies and exaggerations to the good times. Just like the miracle he recently promised to allow America to win the war against the plague.
There are other examples of Trump’s dangerous self-promotion and narcissism. He insisted that he put his own personal signature on the relief cheques from the US government which are to be distributed to many people (though by no means all, and nowhere near the number first promised). He threw little tantrums at his ‘briefings’ whenever those to whom he seemed to think he was doling out his own money for the relief efforts (“I gave him…”) pointed out snags in distribution or condition of what was received.
According to insiders, Trump frequently snouts his way into meetings at which he can be expected to make no useful contribution. He insisted that the CDC’s official online and printed guidelines for families’ responses to the pandemic must be headed and described such that the recommendations appear to be his and carry his name and rubric, not those of scientists.
In times of such (global) emergencies, it’s surely wise that a balance be struck between conveying the bare truth at briefings on the one hand; and on the other risking statements by leaders which could foment panic. Trump’s conduct has consistently failed to achieve either. There was, and is, next to no balance: all the rhetoric has been about how well he has done in the face of something (again) which “No-one knew was coming”. He lied from start to finish. And he has made matters so much worse by causing alarm through that very conduct.
For sure, Trump has acted consistently in the way that an immature narcissist acts: on 7 April the model by the IHME used by his task force not unexpectedly revised downwards the likely impact of SARS-CoV-2 based on updated information. But only provided that physical distancing is kept up. The science of this was, and is, way beyond the man who is in charge of the fate of 350+ million people in the United States. Trump feared that this revision might be perceived by his followers as ‘indecision’, and might make him look bad – especially since many of his followers resent the extent to which he has taken the (totally inadequate) steps which he has; more on that later.
Almost his first reaction to this amendment of the IHME model was to question the probity of the World Health Organization (WHO). He accused it of being ‘China-centric’ and of having politicised the pandemic (!). On 7 April he said: “We’ll be looking into that very carefully. And we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see.” He then withdrew funding altogether. The US contribution to the WHO was US$513 (£416) million in 2017; that’s barely 0.07% of what is spent annually on American terrorism via its military overseas.
On the very same day as this exhibition of stupidity, the Supreme Court took its latest step to try and ensure that Trump is re-elected in November. It overturned common sense rulings by lower court judges in Wisconsin to postpone the Primary election in that state, or implement compulsory postal voting. This was done to assist Republican Supreme Court nominee Daniel Kelly to victory. Many thousands of voters were obliged to abandon physical distancing to vote. It will be interesting to see the consequent rise in the death toll there.
Yes, it’s all about Trump’s image and his claims to ‘success’. At the height of the pandemic, he was still tweeting about his ratings on TV, and profile on Facebook. He continually insults his political rivals, reporters whom he dislikes, and even medical specialists in public. Indeed, in an extraordinary development on 9 April vice president Mike Pence’s office attempted to block public health officials such as Dr.s Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx from appearing on CNN, which is consistently critical of Trump. Earlier, Pence’s office said that – only if the network televised those parts of the White House ‘briefings’ which include the (vice) president and certain other task force members, rather than breaking in for questions – would they allow Birx and Fauci to appear on CNN. Sweetheart ‘reporters’ from the proto-fascist One America News, on the other hand, have been repeatedly called upon by Trump to ensure that his mendacious messages get full airings… that is until being banned for flouting physical distance rules on the White House premises.
In a recent interview with Fox ‘News’s Sean Hannity, he mocked (Democrat) governors (for whining). He lambasted those who wanted a national response; as opposed to the current fragmented one. This is strongly advocated by most public health experts who know that the virus almost always forgets when it crosses state lines, alas. Trump and his cronies would rather that control of resources be kept in their hands to profit from (see below). And on the day when the USA’s numbers passed those of China, Trump called San Francisco a ‘slum’, most likely because it’s in California, where he has never been electorally popular and where Nancy Pelosi is a representative.
What’s more, at the ‘briefing’ on 27 March, Trump insulted those governors who had asked for resources and who suggested courses of action which were either contrary to what Trump has done or improvements on them. He then suggested that their ‘complaining’ could jeopardise the attention and even the likelihood that they will get (federal) aid. He implicitly directed that members of his team withdraw co-operation with those whom he identified them as his opponents. He would deny them help! Indeed, it wasn’t long before governors from states with Democrat governors began to report that incomplete, faulty or wrong equipment was being sent to them. In Michigan, for example, orders for medical supplies were cancelled by federal suppliers – despite Trump’s insistence that states (at least the ones he doesn’t like) will be on their own.
Instead of adopting even a semi-serious tone, Trump continued to mock his political rivals like Republican senator Mitt Romney, the only member of his party to find Trump guilty in the recent senate show trial. Trump’s reaction to Romney’s recovery was sarcastic.
In fact, Trump and his gang are promoting what amounts to a corporate coup along the lines of Disaster Capitalism outlined by Naomi Klein. This includes license for corporations to disregard environmental legislation: on 27 March the EPA (Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency) announced the indefinite suspension of environmental rules explaining that there will be no penalties for infractions and that they can self-regulate. Under the new rules, polluters will no longer be fined for failing to comply with reporting rules and other requirements. Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s former head of enforcement under President Obama, commented on the move: “[this…] tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ’caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.”
“I will revise the past and lie to deflect attention from my crimes”
At his Task Force ‘Briefings’ Trump has consistently, but incorrectly, maintained that “No-one could have seen this coming”. Yet, of course, it was all foreseeable: the 69-page document embedded on this site was (independently) available to him for just this eventuality.
As noted, Trump did away with the government’s pandemic response team, and cut funding for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); this meant that the CDC had to cancel its help to countries to prevent threats from infectious diseases increasing to become epidemics in 39 of 49 countries in 2018. Yet Trump subsequently denied all these facts. And continues vehemently and relentlessly to lie about all aspects of this side of the pandemic.
One of the most stunning lies was a recent one: Trump is never ever – EVER – to blame for anything. When asked about his poor response to the need to provide testing equipment for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he blamed Obama for having let the store of testing kits run down. That’s an interesting idea. Such tests can only ever first have been developed this year (three years after Obama left office, in 2017) because the SARS-CoV-2 virus is… ‘novel’. The strain was not active during Obama’s presidency. There was no such store. Again, as disturbing to rational people as is such a lie is the fact that Trump expects to get away with it. And does. Indeed, is lauded by the ignorant for his swiftness of foot.
For what it’s worth, Obama is on record as having foreseen just such a pandemic and urged that it be prepared for.
In February and March Trump inaccurately likened the coronavirus to the flu… “It’s like the flu. A regular flu.” Despite what he’d been told repeatedly by health experts and security specialists, Trump is on record (on 26 February, for example) as saying: “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner. The flu, in our country, kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year.” He was repeatedly challenged subsequently on these misstatements. Despite being presented with the existence of and watching the video of this, Trump both denied ever saying so and tried to defend himself by accusing those who put the questions to him as ‘nasty’ and ‘unpatriotic’ and as purveyors of ‘fake news’.
Even more stark was the ‘briefing’ on 7 April. Trump dislikes taking help from anyone who may appear more powerful or knowledgeable than he is. In front of the cameras, just 16 minutes after he had threatened the WHO (see above, “… we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it …” etc) he was asked whether a pandemic is a good time to freeze funding for WHO. Trump said, “No I didn’t [… say I would put a hold on the WHO]”.
On the day when deaths in the United States reached a new high, the Trump gang chose to return to impeachment: Trump sacked the Intelligence Community Inspector General, Michael Atkinson, who told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. Then Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, suggested that the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump was responsible for preventing Trump from addressing the growing health crisis in China. The two spells of time (impeachment and Trump’s refusal to act on SARS-CoV-2) did not overlap. By the way, Donald Trump remains – and will always remain – and impeached president.
Party political life and the upcoming election have been thrown very much into the shade as the pandemic has been so widely reported. But Trump (and his party) did let slip one little nugget during an interview on the ‘Fox & Friends’ TV show on 30 March. He extolled the fact that the recent financial stimulus package failed to include provisions proposed by the Democrats in earlier versions of the bill which would have increased access to voting. He said, “If you look at before and after, the things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Nevertheless, Trump found time to deflect attention from his criminality by raising the false claim – yet again – that he was a victim of voter fraud in elections. In a ‘briefing’ earlier this month, he said: “Mail ballots, they cheat, people cheat… Mail ballots are very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases… the mail ballots are corrupt, in my opinion… you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room signing ballots all over the place.” Apart from the fact that few people in the United States have a living room large enough to accommodate a hundred – let alone “thousands and thousands” of – people, there is no evidence that mail ballots for elections promote fraud. In fact, the opposite is generally accepted to be the case.
Trump repeatedly claimed that (cloth) scarves work better than masks; and that passengers on trains and planes were “being given ‘very strong’ tests for the virus”. Both false. He lied repeatedly about the ‘success’ of some of the government bailouts for businesses. In fact, there have been more failures than successes in the way this was all bungled. Trump also claimed – in front of the rest of the world, remember – that the US is testing the highest number of people per capita in the world. False. After three months fewer than 1% of the population in the US had been tested.
On the day when the US experienced its highest number of deaths by then, 7 April, Trump decided to replace his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham. She had the distinction of failing to hold a single press conference at all during the year in which she held the post. Trump chose one Kayleigh McEnany for the job. She too has distinguished herself. She re-assured the public by saying as recently as March, “…we will not see diseases like the coronavirus [sic] come here…” and that the ‘coronavirus’ was like the Russia and Ukraine scandals and being used to take down Trump.
“I will not isolate”
A study six years ago by the US Department of Education found that 14% of adults in the country cannot read; and that 21% cannot read beyond the level of a ten-year-old. These voters and citizens will almost inevitably struggle with some of the more sophisticated aspects of virology. It’s advisable to understand what is the best course of action when a pandemic sweeps their communities.
Several states with Republican governors want to show their support of the great statesman and Prophet (that word has actually been used) Donald Trump above everything else. So they downplay the pandemic. This increasingly puts them at odds with cities whose administrations are largely Democrat. In those states, cities and communities officials are finding it more and more difficult to enforce the only measure so far available to attenuate the virus’ spread: social distancing.
Many states are still refusing to act because they believe that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a communist hoax. And people are dying in their thousands as a result. Typical is Trump-supporting state Florida: as the pandemic was declared, many tens or hundreds of thousands of young people congregated on beaches to celebrate their spring break from college… the results are now being seen.
Florida’s Republican governor (Ron DeSantis, who – like so many other Trumpites – has always “…been doing a great job…”) only reluctantly acted to take the necessary measures to protect the rest of the country by half-heartedly announcing Stay-At-Home orders very late in the day; even then they were only partial. Churches and other places of worship are exempted, though, so the pandemic is sure to spread more violently amongst those who go to churches, mosques and synagogues. So far at least 633 people have died of SARS-CoV-2 in Florida, which has one of the nation’s largest populations of residents 65 and older.
It’s hard not to see the reaction of Trump and his administration as a corporate coup – making huge amounts of money available to businesses – especially those who support him. More disturbingly, corrupt Attorney General Bill Barr asked Congress at the end of March for sweeping powers to detain people ‘indefinitely without trial’ during emergencies.a
One of the more chilling – yet all too common – examples of refusal to follow such common-sense guidelines (other than thorough hand-washing) was captured by CNN in this interview: I’m OK because I have God’s protection; if I infect you, I’ll be OK; I don’t care about anyone else. The pastor of the church in Ohio took the same line. Maybe he can use the video to help him choose the most loving Christian-of-the-month from his congregation. Other examples continue to be reported throughout the country. Exempting religious services is one of the most common, particularly in the south. No epidemiologist has so far met a virus which is aware of the purpose of gatherings and said that it promises to pass churches by.
One particularly pernicious source is a trashy little tinpot TV station located in San Diego in California. One America News Network (OAN) is small but growing fast. There were reports recently that it has now become Trump’s favourite ‘news’ outlet; and that he wants to buy it.
Both its ‘Daily Ledger’ and ‘Tipping Point’ programmes (masquerading as primetime ‘news’) consistently challenge the findings of the world’s most respected public health experts and medical publications. The network employs somewhat monolithic coverage of the pandemic, playing it down, increasing the xenophobia and pushing untruths and distortions at every opportunity. Its presenters imply that the medics have been bribed and – like the officials who have followed informed advice – are part of a conspiracy, which has been decades in the making, to deprive all right-thinking Americans of their liberty. There is a useful exposé here.
For OAN, ‘stay-at-home’ orders are a permanent subversion of the constitution and scupper any chances of Trump’s re-election. So OAN’s presenters and ‘news’casters incite viewers to ignore, flout and actively resist them.
Freedom readers may find this more of a joke, and something hard to take seriously. Yet, as the morgues fill up, OAN is (albeit according to its own data) ‘…ranked as the fourth-highest service in that genre, behind Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. OAN outperformed CNN Headline News, Fox Business Channel, CNBC, BBC World News, Fusion, Bloomberg and others…’. More plausible statistics do nevertheless suggest a nightly audience of many millions – especially given the fact that OAN is increasingly widely syndicated. Indeed, the founder of OAN apparently made his fortune by inventing and marketing a (set-top?) electronic device which would allow such stations to be received in areas where cable companies do not take them.
Such a current of denial seems to be on the increase – and is probably more rampant at the moment than the rubbish pushed by climate catastrophe deniers: in California, for example, a train driver deliberately derailed a train at the start of the month. He then crashed it near the hospital ship Mercy, which is docked in Los Angeles to relieve hospitals treating patients with SARS-CoV-2. Forty-four-year-old Eduardo Moreno apparently gave as his reason, when arrested and charged, the allegation that the ship was sent as part of a ‘government takeover.’ At the start of this month, it emerged that security around Dr Anthony Fauci has had to be increased because he (and possibly other members of his team) have begun to receive death threats.
There is interesting psychological pathology to this kind of thing. A mix, surely, of how the aggressors would like things to be, of fear, and of how they have been ‘encouraged’ to think by the likes of Fox and OAN. Over the Easter weekend, for instance, the staff at a hospital in Westchester County (New York) came off their night shift to find that nearly two dozen of their cars had had their tyres slashed in what local police described as ‘an act of criminal mischief’. At the time, over 1% of the town was confirmed as having SARS-CoV-2
“I will exploit the disaster”
Jared Kushner is Trump’s senior ‘adviser’ and son-in-law. Yet he has been given the leading role in (re)directing the flow of vital medical equipment (through private companies) in theory to government and hospitals. Yet Kushner (who contradicted himself at his first attempt to announce and discuss his new role at a ‘briefing’) has clear conflicts of interests in such a position with personal stakes in some of the companies to whom his Project Airbridge will turn for ‘assistance’.
For instance, Apollo Global Management, a major investment giant, apparently sent an email last week to Kushner asking his father-in-law’s administration to ‘relax rules on coronavirus relief money in a way that would benefit the company’. Apollo, however, is not just any old ‘giant’. No, in 2017 Apollo lent US$184 (£148) million to Kushner Companies, one of his real estate companies.
There have been – and continue to be – loud and credible calls for greater transparency in the way this money is being allocated. The relief effort appears, at best, chaotic. In many quarters in hospitals where help is most needed, the operation is clearly thunderingly inadequate.
The Defense Production Act (DPA) was established in 1950 in response to production needs during the Korean War. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) describes the Act as ‘the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base to support the military, energy, space and homeland security programs’. The DPA is the prime route in an emergency such as a pandemic like this. Yet Trump long resisted enforcing it because to use national resources for the good of the people by centralising and coordinating the supply of much needed medical equipment smacked of communism – despite advice from many informed sources.
When the DPA was finally invoked on 18 March, criticism was immediately voiced that certain companies were being favoured, contracts were going to (potential) campaign contributors and to Trump allies. Delays in taking the necessary measures to ensure efficient distribution to where it is needed most undoubtedly occurred.
It quickly became obvious that Trump personally was going to punish states where there was high-profile criticism of any aspect of his life, presidency and handling of the crisis. They appear to be deprived of, and/or to experience delayed distribution of, resources. ‘Blue’ (those usually voting Democrat) states have had to be particularly careful as their governors have been insulted, mocked, criticised and lied about by Trump at his public events since the crisis began.
The administration spoke inconsistently about where the responsibility lay for payment and sourcing of what limited supplies of Personal Protective Equipment, masks, ventilators and even (surgical) gowns were available: with the states and governors, or with the federal agencies? Such equivocation has added to the confusion and surely elevated suffering.
Ten days or so ago Trump abolished two government watchdogs and/or senior officials therefrom. In addition to dismissing those who had blown the whistle on Trump’s misdemeanours with Ukraine resulting in his impeachment, he did away with the body which was supposed to oversee the distribution of supplies to tackle the pandemic.
Navigating, disentangling and understanding the measures taken by Congress (nearly 900 pages long) to alleviate the crisis financially is no easy task. Although the Democratic party claims to have mitigated the most egregious attempts to use the pandemic to shovel yet more money by the billion into the hands of corporations as a ‘stimulus’ or ‘bailout’, as happened in 2008/2009, it’s still not clear who will be receiving the most of the trillions of dollars so allocated. And who will get the least.
To pick just one source of dissent at this process, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), said, “We oppose the Senate’s looting of America by big corporations. Over and over, the American people are told there is ‘no money’-for student debt relief, for Medicare for All, for a Green New Deal, to create millions of jobs and save our planet. And now, at the moment when the American people are most in need, our coffers are being looted by the wealthy and well-connected.”
War and destruction, though, continue: a group of lawmakers is urging Congress approve the purchase of 19 more F-35 fighter aircraft than the Pentagon itself actually requested. As people are dying in their tens of thousands from a pandemic, lawmakers wrote, “It is essential that we continue to increase production of our nation’s only 5th generation stealth fighter in order to ensure the United States maintains air dominance and to further reduce overall program costs”.
Profit still drives the polity in the United States. Several public figures, including members of Congress, sold vast amounts of their personal stocks to avoid losses on Wall Street once they had been told of the threat which the pandemic would probably cause to the US economy. There have even been allegations that somehow bets were placed and won on the severity of the death toll as part of this sell-off.
“I will use the pandemic to advance violence and xenophobia”
During these weeks, Trump promoted the racist terms ‘Chinese Flu’ and ‘Chinese Virus’. Indeed, a photographer from the Washington Post captured the use of Trump’s famous felt-tip pen (Sharpie) alterations: he actually substituted ‘Chinese’ for the preferred ‘Corona’ provided by his script-writers for a ‘briefing’ on 19 March. Yes, viruses do acquire ‘snappy’ names, as do hurricanes and wildfires in the United States, for example. But to push the national origin of SARS-CoV-2 over its more accurate epidemiology deliberately focuses attention on race – and implies racial blame. The right-leaning media loves it; presenters on OAN continue to go out of their way to use such racist language whenever they can. The respected publication, ‘The Hill’, reported at the end of March that attacks on Asian Americans had dramatically increased.
Amongst the most disturbing developments to which Trump’s behaviour undoubtedly contributed were threats by white supremacists to use the virus against non-whites. In mid-March, the FBI in New York, for example, issued an alert to police in the area explaining that extremists have been urging their groups to use spray bottles which will spread the disease to Jews by going to ‘any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.’
Deniers parties (technically illegal gatherings with ‘booze and pizza’ at which deniers sit and spit as closely together as they like) have also sprung up: My constitutional rights are more important than this exaggerated hoax. I will gather if I want to and damn the consequences.
Although as Freedom publishes this month’s ‘Notes From the US’, details are still sketchy – but there have been credible reports that Trump’s United States has been blocking – and continues to do block – shipments of US-made medical equipment, so preventing them from reaching overseas buyers. For example, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, said last week that the US blocked delivery of three million face masks to Canada; Ontario’s stock of personal protective equipment is set to run out in just one week. Over that weekend, Germany accused the US of ‘modern piracy’ after a shipment of 200,000 protective face masks en route to that country were diverted; and Barbados said that the US had seized a shipment of 20 ventilators heading for the island. Reports equally difficult for us to confirm independently suggest that sanctions imposed by the US on those countries of which its élite (unilaterally) disapproves are consequently being deprived of resources (medical, equipment, therapeutic etc) which they need now.
At the borders, too, Trump is active: since 21 March the United States has expelled over 6,000 migrants according to new Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data. Once again, none of the experts consulted for the preparation of these Notes has yet spoken to a virus (or at least had been able to speak to one of the microscopic little blighters prepared to go on the record) who preferred to infect non-US citizens.
Some states classified gun stores as non-essential and so to be closed. Trump and pressure from the right reversed this – so people can now kill one another again in more conventional ways. Various workers (at Amazon in New York, and a hospital in Seattle) were sacked for protesting and drawing attention to dangers in their places of work.
Let’s end this coverage of stupidity with a laugh: a week ago, ignoring – and in contravention of – international treaties, Trump announced by executive order that he is now encouraging American companies to explore the opportunities for mineral extraction on… the Moon.
Let’s end with some good news: on 23 March Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty since it was re-introduced in 1976. If only four more states do the same, lawyers will be able to argue that judicial murder has become ‘unusual’ (where ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments can be outlawed) because statistically more than 50% of states no longer allow the practice.
Stay Well and Stay safe!