Category Archives: Trump

Fox News or Good Government

 

I am not suggesting that all problems created by the prevailing contempt for government in the United State are Donald Trumps responsibility (although in the US the buck stops with him.) In fact it is in part because he tapped into that contempt for government that he got elected. Recall, he was going to drain the swamp!

For 40 years, since Saint Ronald was elected President in the United States in 1980, American conservatives have been on a warpath against all government. They have not wanted good government. That government is best which governs least, is what they keep saying. Many of them wanted to reduce the size of government to such an extent that, as one of those conservatives said, it could be drowned in a bathtub. They believed that good government is impossible. Ronald Reagan was the President who said, “the most scary words in the English language are these: “Hello I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

In Canada members of the Conservative Party have commonly held similar views, though usually not as extreme. Ever since then virtually every Republican or Conservative politician and even many Democratic and Liberal politicians as well, have disparaged government and government employees. American and Canadian publics have soaked up this rhetoric for 30 years. Disparagement of government is the water in which they swim and therefore is invisible to them. As a result trust in government has vanished in America and  Canada is not much different.

Yet, in a crisis good government is crucially important. People have to believe their government is telling them the truth or the system will collapse. This pervasive attitude is the real culprit here. According to Garret Grath in a Politico article, that attitude is responsible for the following outcomes in America:

Someday, reports will be written about how the U.S. government failed in its response to the Covid-19 epidemic—failures that will surely have cost additional thousands of lives, additional millions of lost jobs, and additional billions (perhaps even trillions) in economic damages by the time this virus is behind us. And yet while those reports will surely point out specific management failures and lost opportunities to arrest the spread of Covid-19, the most basic conclusion of those future reports could already be written: Donald Trump’s Apprentice-style staffing bake-offs and his oft-voiced predilection for acting officials kept the U.S. government distracted, off-kilter and understaffed.

Trump is obviously not responsible for the appearance of the novel coronavirus—but he is responsible for the government’s spiralling failure to respond appropriately in a timely manner. He has ignored the hiring practices, protocols, norms and expertise that would have given him and the federal government a better shot at defeating Covid-19. Three years into his administration and with a Republican-controlled Senate ready to move nominees through to confirmation, he didn’t build the national leadership we needed. That inescapable fact is Donald Trump’s fault.

The “next 9/11” is happening right now because Trump ignored the lessons of the last one.

There is a heavy price to pay for mistrust of government. And Americans, and in fact people around the world, are now paying a heavy price for that mistrust.

The fact is America has a President who has no respect for government, no competence to govern, and most importantly, likes dumb! He also has no respect for brains, knowledge, or wisdom. After all who needs that when you have Fox News at your beck and call? And what really bothers me is that America still likes this President! This is what they wanted and boy did they get it.

From this analysis Thomas Friedman of the New York Times  has made the right inferences. We are in trouble. But it goes even beyond that. As Friedman said,

And Trump’s vindictiveness toward any career public servant who challenges his narrative has surely contributed to the weak response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts are afraid to raise their hands to contradict the president.

It is clear that the US and Canada both need strategies for gradually lifting lockdowns in a rational manner. Sadly, particularly in the U.S. it is unlikely to achieve such a plan with so many holes in its government. Instead of good government it has Fox News!

Friedman concluded this way,

In sum, if we are going to save the most lives while getting the most people back to work to prevent an epidemic of unemployment, depression and despair, it is going to require a federally coordinated, democratic version of the China strategy.

But Trump resists that kind of science-based, nationally coordinated approach, because it serves him politically to urge his supporters to resist his own administration’s health guidelines.

Trump seems to think he can bluster, bluff and talk out of both sides of his mouth with Mother Nature — the way he did in real estate and has done on so many issues as president, when his party could always cover for him.

But it doesn’t work that way with Mother Nature. She is not a contestant on “The Apprentice.” She is just chemistry, biology and physics. We’re the contestants on her show. We don’t get to fire her. She gets to fire us.

She throws viruses, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and pandemics at us to sort out who’s the fittest. And the ones who survive have one thing, and one thing only, in common: They are the most adaptive at generating the chemistry, biology and physics needed to meet the challenge.

That’s all that matters. All those who can’t, get fired or, rather, are returned to the manufacturer.

 

Here is my conclusion: there is no time in recent memory where we have needed more reliance on facts, evidence, and thoughtful reasoning both by political leaders and their bureaucracy. We need good government. Sadly, there is no time where we are less likely to get what we need. That is my sorry conclusion.

 

Contempt for Government

 

Relying on an article by Garret Graff I have pointed out some astonishing vacancies in the Trump administration before and during the pandemic. Some of the critical vacancies occurred in positions directly related to the health pandemic we are now facing. As Graff said,

Last year, the top job at the Food and Drug Administration, the role overseeing the nation’s pharmaceuticals, sat vacant for nearly eight months; the latest occupant, Stephen Hahn, took over in December, nearly a month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees a massive health care network and legally serves to supplement the civilian health care system in an emergency like the current epidemic, there’s no deputy secretary, general counsel or undersecretary for health.

 

All of this is not just a mess. It’s a scandal! And that scandal has been authored by none other than the President of the United States who likes the flexibility of acting appointments!

Graff also reported how the Office of Personnel Management (‘OPM’) which is in effect the government’s HR department at a time when the 2 million employees of the federal government face the incredible challenge of working from home while they carry on essential duties, also has an acting Director. Of course it does. Not only that but the acting director of OPM, Michael Rigas took over the position in late March after the OPM director who had been there for only 6 months quit just as the pandemic spilled over. He was also acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’). He has both positions at once. As Graff said, “Wondering how someone can effectively lead one mission-critical organization while simultaneously working as the deputy of another? The answer is you can’t.”

Remember that Trump is already on his 4th White House chief of staff, his 5th homeland security secretary and his 4th defense secretary. That is in 3 years of his administration! This is a record of incompetent appointments that has likely never been matched in the history of American government. And Trump knows the best people!

I know some people get annoyed when I criticize Trump, but I am not really trying to criticize Trump. He is too easy a target. I am criticizing a very common attitude in both the United States and Canada. This is the assumption that governments are incompetent and unimportant and all that counts is the private sector. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic.

From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude is shared by millions of Americans and Canadians too, but it has had disastrous consequences, that we can now see clearly. There are many reasons that the Trump administration has failed in its response to the pandemic. Many countries have done a much better job of fighting the pandemic than the United States. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker put is well:

The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration has, from its start, waged a war on science, and expertise, and on what Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon called ‘the administration state.’ The results are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”

The failure to respond to a pandemic is just one of the problems created by this contempt, but it is a serious one. And we are learning that.

Remember the vacancies are only part of the problem. The other problem, perhaps even more important is the poor quality of the appointments. For example, appointing Grenell as acting Director of National Intelligence, the most important position in American intelligence when he has never worked in intelligence before is heinous. His predecessors were admirals, generals, and head of various intelligence agencies. This is who is in charge of national intelligence!

According to garret Graff, who wrote an article about this for Politico, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, the few leaders who do exist badly lack experience in crisis response, as the department’s inspector general reported in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.”

According to the New York Times, “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, workers are scrambling to order medical supplies on Amazon after its leaders, lacking experience in disaster responses, failed to prepare for the onslaught of patients at its medical centers.”

Perhaps the lack of appointments and poor quality of those appointed can be explained by the fact that, according to Graff, “The new head of the Office of Presidential Personnel, which is in charge of choosing appointees across the government, was fired earlier in the administration over allegations of financial crimes, and one of its top deputies is still a college student.”

Imagine that a top deputy position filled by a college student. Sounds weird to me.

As I have said this is all as a result of Trumps contempt for government. Americans are paying a heavy price for that contempt. Actually, the world is paying a heavy price for that contempt because almost everything he does in the US affects us here too. And that is a pity.

 

Vacancies in Health

 

Relying on an article by Garret Graff in Politico,  I have pointed out some astonishing vacancies in the Trump administration before and during the pandemic. Some of the critical vacancies occurred in positions directly related to the health pandemic we are now facing. As Graff said,

“Last year, the top job at the Food and Drug Administration, the role overseeing the nation’s pharmaceuticals, sat vacant for nearly eight months; the latest occupant, Stephen Hahn, took over in December, nearly a month after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wuhan, China. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which oversees a massive health care network and legally serves to supplement the civilian health care system in an emergency like the current epidemic, there’s no deputy secretary, general counsel or undersecretary for health.”

 

All of this is not just a mess. It’s a scandal! And that scandal has been authored by none other than the President of the United States who likes the flexibility of acting appointments!

Graff also reported how the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management (‘OPM’) which is in effect the government’s HR department at a time when the 2 million employees of the federal government face the incredible challenge of working from home while they carry on essential duties, also has an acting Director. Of course it does. Not only that but the acting director of OPM, Michael Rigas took over the position in late March after the OPM director who had been there for only 6 months quit just as the pandemic spilled over. He was also acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’). He has both positions at once. As Graff said, “Wondering how someone can effectively lead one mission-critical organization while simultaneously working as the deputy of another? The answer is you can’t.”

Remember that Trump is already on his 4th White House chief of staff, his 5th homeland security secretary and his 4th defense secretary. That is in 3 years of his administration! This is a record of incompetent appointments that has likely never been matched in the history of American government. But Trump knows the best people!

I know some people get annoyed when I criticize Trump, but I am not really trying to criticize Trump. He is too easy a target. I am criticizing a very common attitude in both the United States and Canada. This is the assumption that governments are incompetent and unimportant and all that counts is the private sector. It has been the platform for mockery of the government for decades. Particularly since Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney were elected heads of their respective governments. That is a dangerous attitude and its warts are revealed in an emergency—such as a pandemic. I think it is time we deep-six that convenient attitude. It really is not that convenient in the long run.

From the start of his administration Trump made clear his contempt for government. That attitude has had disastrous consequences. There are many reasons that the Trump administration has failed in its response to the pandemic. Many countries have done a much better job of fighting the pandemic than the United States. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker put is well:

“The reasons for the American failing include a lack of preparation, delayed mobilization, insufficient testing, and a reluctance to halt travel. The Administration has, from its start, waged a war on science, and expertise, and on what Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon called ‘the administration state.’ The result are all around us. Trump has made sure that a great nation is peculiarly vulnerable to a foreseeable public health calamity.”

We are learning how costly and dangerous contempt for government can be.

 

Critical Importance of Government vacancies

 

Government vacancies in the U.S. , have become critically important for those positions that would have been expected to deal with the coronavirus emergency. Yet,  since Trump was elected an astonishing number of governmental posts, many of them crucial in defending the country against a pandemic, have remained unfilled. Garret Graff wrote a detailed article in Politico setting out those posts that have been left vacant.

For example, the Deputy overseeing the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) whose job it was to oversee preparedness was vacant. So was its chief medical officer, the physician designated to advise the Secretary (Head) of DHS and the head of FEMA responsible to co-ordinate the federal response to emergencies, like Hurricane Katrina, and of course, Covid-19. In fact DHS itself had 600 infections in its own workforce. These are the people whose job it is to protect the public!

 

Often Trump moves one government official from one post to another. But this creates problems too when the position of the replacement must be filled. This can cascade down the government leading to ever greater governmental incompetence; not a good state of affairs during a health and economic crisis. And this is all a self-inflicted wound! This is Trump’s baby. Even Obama can’t be blamed for this one.

As Graff said,

“The effect of these vacancies ripple further than most people realize. Since vacant roles awaiting either an official appointment or a Senate-confirmed nominee are always filled by “acting” officials pulled from other parts of the organization or broader government, even more offices are understaffed as people do double-duty and as their own positions are filled with other “actings” behind them. Grenell, even as he fills in as director of National Intelligence, continues technically to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany, meaning that amid the huge economic uncertainty around Covid-19 epidemic the U.S. is without a high-level envoy to the largest economy in Europe. For the 14 months he was “acting” White House chief of staff, up until March 31—another horse Trump changed midstream in the epidemic—Mick Mulvaney was still technically serving as the director of Office of Management and Budget, a normally critical role itself overseeing the nation’s spending. In Mulvaney’s absence, Russell Vought, OMB’s deputy, filled in as the acting director—leaving his own job, normally its own full-time role, to be filled in by others, and so on.”

A number of these vacancies involved “deputies.” This may seem innocuous or insignificant to those not familiar with government. To sum up, Deputies are important! They are not sidekicks. They are the permanent officials that can guide the political appointees who are often not really familiar with the job they have to perform. Graff put it this way:

“In government agencies, deputies are not like the vice president—a spare role kept around, if needed. Often, the “deputy” role is the most important figure in the day-to-day operations of the department or agency—the person who runs the bureaucracy and organization while the principal (the secretary or director) attends to the policy and the politics. Robbing an agency or department of a principal and forcing the deputy to fill in means the organization will be running at reduced effectiveness, with less guidance, direction and oversight.”

 

Crucially he left open as well the position of Office of Director of National intelligence. Remember these positions deal with much more than terrorism or military matters, They also deal with intelligence and health related matters. After 9/11 George W. Bush emphasized how these two positions would make sure the US was never hit by a surprise attack again. As we all know by now, it was surprised again, this time by a virus.

 

Perhaps the most important and egregious vacancy was the National Security Council’s pandemic unit. Trump disbanded that shortly before the pandemic! nI am surprised this has not caused a great uproar.

 

Added to that, as Graff reported,

“Another key post-9/11 reform was the creation of a White House homeland security adviser, a domestic equal to the national security adviser, a post created just days after 9/11 by President George W. Bush and filled at first by Tom Ridge, who would go on to be the first Homeland Security secretary. Presidents Bush and Obama for years had at their beck and call senior, sober homeland security advisers like Fran Townsend, Ken Wainstein, John Brennan and Lisa Monaco; Monaco helped oversee the nation’s response to Ebola and led the incoming Trump administration through a pandemic response exercise in the days before the inauguration to highlight how critical such an incident could be.”

 The Obama administration after the Ebola outbreak created a “Playbook” on how to deal with pandemics. This was a detailed plan created thoughtfully. That, of course has remained unused on the shelf, because nothing good could come from the Obama administration. Instead the Trump administration relied on plans made in the middle of a health emergency.

People have to realize that government is important. The leader of the country must show some interest in it. It is not enough to say tear it down or drain the swamp.  The people should learn, ‘Never again,”  Never again allow someone to lead a government who doesn’t care about it. That is asking for trouble.

 

Disdain for Government has a Price

In April the role of the American Homeland Security Secretary was vacant for an entire year! Remember Trump fired her because he felt she was not tough enough in enforcing his border security policies. She was reluctant to support separating young children from their parents at the border as Trump’s immigration Czar, Steven Miller had required. Imagine that. Remember that the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) has many crucial roles in any domestic crisis, not just military ones. They were created to fight terrorism but a lot more than that. Pandemics are part of their jurisdiction too. That makes sense, as we are all finding out now, pandemics are a much bigger threat than terrorists or even wars. More Americans have already been killed in this pandemic than the Vietnam War! In her place the Acting secretary Chad Wolf, according to Graff “ fumbled through the epidemic.” As Garret Graff reported in Politico ,

Wolf couldn’t answer seemingly straightforward questions on Capitol Hill from Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana about the nation’s preparedness—what models were predicting about the outbreak, how many respirators the government had stockpiled, even how Covid-19 was transmitted. “You’re supposed to keep us safe. And you need to know the answers to these questions,” Kennedy finally snapped at Wolf. Wolf has been notably absent ever since from the White House podium during briefings about the nation’s epidemic response.

Wolfe was a fairly typical Trump appointment. He picks his appointments because they think like him. That is a scary thought. Now imagine that! Obama used to pick appointments because they were smart, even if they would think differently than him. After some of Trump’s nominees for appointment to various government posts met with scorn even by his usually loyal Republican Senators, Trump deliberately moved to appointing “acting” appointments. Those don’t need Senatorial approval, thus eliminating potential embarrassment when their weaknesses are exposed. But there are problems with this approach. As Graff reported,

“Actings” often struggle to be successful precisely because they’re temporary—their word carries less weight with their own workforce, with other government agencies or on Capitol Hill—and they rarely have the opportunity to set and drive their own agenda, push for broad organizational change or even learn the ropes of how to be successful in the job given the usually brief period of their tenure. Anyone who has ever changed jobs or companies knows how long it can take to feel like you understand a new organization, a new culture or shape a new role.

And yet up and down the org chart at DHS, there are people still learning the ropes. DHS is riddled with critical vacancies; according to the Washington Post’s appointment tracker, just 35 percent of its top roles are filled. Its chief of staff, executive secretary and general counsel are all acting officials, and there’s no Senate-confirmed deputy secretary, no undersecretary for management, no chief financial officer, no chief information officer, no undersecretary for science and technology, nor a deputy undersecretary for science and technology.

 

Graff outlined numerous positions with DHS that have had acting appointments or none at all. That is the other way Trump avoids embarrassment. Don’t appoint anyone! Then Trump won’t be embarrassed as his appointees fail or flounder.

Disdain for government in some circles is very popular.  But disdain for government has a price. A high one.

 

Government with Big Holes

 

The pandemic is playing out in the United States at a time when the country was stripped of vast amounts of administrative leadership as a result of Donald Trump’s failure to appoint people to fill an astonishing array of important governmental posts. He blames it on the Democrats—of course—but the real failure is caused by his lack of appreciation for government. Trump thinks government is all part of a nasty Deep State that should be shredded. So why fill holes?

 

Trump has been soaked in the right wing ideology of extolling the virtues of small government. To give one example, where many could be given, as soon as he got elected he announced a new policy for regulations. For every new regulation proposed his bureaucrats would have to suggest 2 that could be dropped. That sounds good no doubt to his base, but such arbitrary rules can and did hamstring government. Trump does not realize that there is such a thing as good government and does not appreciate that we need it. At few times do we need it more than during a pandemic. As a result many critical posts have been filled with temporary replacements or none at all.

Garret Graff reported on this issue in depth in Politico. He pointed out that just when we desperately need good, efficient, and compassionate bureaucracy that bureaucracy is in a shambles of Trump’s making. In fact much of it was done deliberately because Trump wanted flexibility. I suspect he likes this so he can fire personnel without going through the embarrassing process of Senate approval for a replacement, even though the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Graff started with a reference to a concerning statement by the Surgeon General in April of 2020:

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams promised that we’re entering the darkest days of the Covid-19 epidemic: “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only, it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that,” Adams told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Adams’ metaphor, evoking the two deadliest—and most shocking—moments of modern American history, came on the fourth consecutive day that U.S. deaths from Covid-19 crossed the 1,000 mark. Across Saturday, Sunday and Monday, more Americans were killed by the novel coronavirus than in either Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks or the Civil War battle of Antietam. The days ahead surely will include an even grimmer toll.

 

Yet Adams’ metaphor of this as our new “9/11 moment” is more apt than he likely intended: Comparing the events is about more than just a story of casualties—it is also a story about government’s failure. Both Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks occurred, in part, because the U.S. government and intelligence failed to see the attacks looming. We were caught unprepared, and Americans paid for that mistake with their lives.

 

After 9/11, we swore to never let that happen again. “Never again” was the mantra handed down to the nation’s leaders by George W. Bush in the White House on September 12. We devoted billions—trillions, even—of dollars after 2001 to fixing the intelligence and information-gathering problems identified by the 9/11 Commission, and Congress and George W. Bush worked through the biggest reorganization of the government since 1947 to create two entirely new entities to help prevent “the next 9/11”: The Department of Homeland Security, an attempt to bring together all the agencies tasked with protecting the country at home, and the Office of Director of National Intelligence, a coordinator for the nation’s 17 disparate intelligence agencies to ensure that the country better understood both the big picture and the small picture of what was happening around the world.

 

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s routine, day-to-day mismanagement of the government has left both organizations—the very entities we tasked as a nation to prevent the next 9/11—riddled with vacancies and temporary officials as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread from a small blip in China to a global health and economic catastrophe. In fact, the four top jobs at DHS and ODNI have all been filled with temporary acting officials for literally every day that Covid-19 has been on the world stage.

 

Those positions were created by George W. Bush—not Obama. As a result Trump’s disdain is less understandable. Nothing Obama did could be good. And they are very important positions and they are not just military or counter terrorist positions either. Intelligence, which Trump has often mocked in favor of getting intelligence from his buddy Putin, is vitally important in many respects, including preparedness for pandemics! Intelligence is broad. And in both senses of the word “intelligence” Trump lacks respect for it, and America, and in fact the world, are paying a heavy price for that disdain. As Graff reported:

While we often think of those jobs as focused on protecting against terrorism, both agencies have critical public health roles, too; U.S. intelligence spent the winter racing to understand how serious a threat Covid-19 truly was and deciphering the extent of China’s cover-up of its epidemic. Just last week, news broke about a special report prepared by U.S. intelligence documenting China’s deception about the disease’s spread—information that, had it been more accurately captured and understood, might have caused a faster, harder response and lessened the economic and personal toll of the epidemic at home.

 

Yet Trump has churned through officials overseeing the very intelligence that might have helped understand the looming crisis. At Liberty Crossing, the headquarters of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the government will have been without a Senate-confirmed director for eight months as of next week; last summer, Trump accepted the resignation of Dan Coats and forced out the career principal deputy of national intelligence, Sue Gordon. Coats’ temporary stand-in, career intelligence official Joseph Maguire, then served so long that he was coming close to timing out of his role—federal law usually lets officials serve only 210 days before relinquishing the acting post—when Trump ousted him too, as well as the acting career principal deputy. In their place, at the end of February—weeks after the U.S. already recorded its first Covid-19 case—Trump installed U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as his latest acting director, the role that by law is meant to be the president’s top intelligence adviser. Grenell has the least intelligence experience of any official ever to occupy director’s suite.

Graff reached the following conclusion in his investigation into this crucial issue: “The government agencies designed to protect us are riddled with vacancies and temporary officials. No wonder we’re facing a catastrophe.”

And we know what that is the case.

Savagery Exposed: Empathy Shredded

 

I already commented how America has abandoned reason. By that I mean to include much of the west, but not always as excessively as America, who seems particularly susceptible to dumbed down politics.

Of course, we have abandoned more than reason. We have also abandoned compassion. Nowhere is that more evident than in America, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. In that country compassion has been shredded. That has become sickeningly obvious in 2020 with the Covid-19 crisis.

As New York Times commentator, Charles Blow, put it: “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” So far, during this crisis the power elite have showed no compunction about putting the poor at the leading edge of danger.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times quoted a 75-year old retiree from his home state of Minnesota who decried this evolution. This is what she said to the Washington Post:

“We were the leading country in everything when I was young…And what are we now? We’re mean. We’re selfish. We’re stubborn and sometimes even incompetent. … It seems like some of these other countries almost feel sorry for us. … We can’t get out of our own way. … There’s no leadership and no solidarity, so everybody’s doing whatever they want … which means everyone who’s vulnerable is losing big.”

 

Friedman blamed the Republican Party and its erratic leader:

This erosion of our collective societal immunity has been fed by many sources over the years, but none more than a Republican Party that has simply jumped the tracks. Donald Trump’s election was a byproduct of our lost immunity, but his leadership has now become a giant accelerant of it.

At a time when we desperately need to be guided by the best science, Trump’s daily fire hose of lies, and his denunciations of anything he doesn’t like as “fake news,” has contributed mightily to the loss of our “cognitive immunity” — our ability to sort out truth from lies and science from science fiction.

At a time when we need a globally coordinated response to a pandemic, Trump has wrecked every alliance we have.

At a time when we need high social trust in order to have a coordinated response at home, Trump’s political strategy of dividing us and playing everything both ways — even telling people both to rise up against their governors and to lock down according to his guidelines — is the opposite of the “all in this together” approach we need to win this battle.

Sometimes the current administration in the U.S. is doing everything it can do to make things even worse during a pandemic. As this plays out Trump is quietly working to leave many of the front line workers, health care workers high and dry when it comes to health care. At least he is trying to do that. It seems incomprehensible but he is trying to take health care away from millions of Americans who started receiving health care insurance as a result of President Obama’s Affordable Care by challenging it in court. Trump’s administration has brought a case asking the court to through out Obama care entirely and That case is about to go to the Supreme Court this year.

As Friedman said,

At a time when access to affordable health care is extra-important — when frontline workers need to know that if they go to work and fall ill, they will have some safety net to protect them — Trump has been trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act enacted by President Barack Obama without even thinking through an alternative.

It seems crazy but all of this is playing out right now during a pandemic.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be

 

As we watch America flounder from afar some of us have pity for them. They are led by a President who is the least qualified President in history. He is a man who makes decisions on the basis of “hunches” and “instincts.” He has never given any indication that he ever read a book. He has said that his favorite book is the Art of the Deal which he wrote (with the help of a ghost of course.) He has no respect for science or expertise. He ignores the advice of his best advisors, such as the leaders of the various intelligence services. Instead he relies on people like Vladimir Putin because Putin tells him things “strongly.” That is good enough for Trump. It doesn’t hurt that Putin has no regard for truth either. Added to that, this is a President who has nothing but disdain for government so places no importance to having it run well. He has no respect for career bureaucrats who are often exactly what we need, particularly at times like this when the world faces an economic crisis and health crisis at the same time. He dismisses them as members of something called” the Deep State.”

But this post is not about Trump. Everyone knows what he is like. More importantly the American people knew before they elected him that this is how he was. The American people, even though not a majority of them, voted him in to power. About 55 million people voted for him nearly as many as voted for a much more obviously qualified candidate. Many of those people still support him.

That is the issue. The American people don’t care about science or expertise. They too are content to rely on hunches, instincts, feelings, and above all faith. That is what matters. They have faith in Trump and in fact have religious devotion to him. Trump said, truthfully for a change, that he could stand in Times Square and murder someone and his supporters would still support him. If that is not religious devotion what is?

Ignoring facts, reason, data/evidence, and science can only go so far. I think the United States is nearing the end. And Canada is not that far behind.

Thomas Friedman author and columnist for the New York Times, characterized this attitude as “Dumb as we wanna be.” Then he said the following:

This pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the fact that over the last 20 years we as a country have weakened so many sources of our strength. We’ve simultaneously eroded our cognitive, ecological, economic, social, governance, public health and personal health immune systems — all the sources of resilience we need to get through this pandemic with the least damage to lives and livelihoods.

 

All these immune deficiencies are the logical outcome of how we’ve let ourselves go as a country, how we’ve let ourselves be dumb-as-we-wanna-be for so many years — devaluing science and reading, bashing public servants for political sport, turning politics into entertainment, not to mention adopting horrible eating habits that have left 40 percent of Americans obese.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be is epitomized by the guy in Austin, Texas, who last week shoved a “park ranger into the water while the ranger was explaining to a crowd the need for social distancing,” as CNN reported.

Warren Buffett was right: When the tide goes out you see who’s swimming naked. And now it’s us. We are still exceptional, but now it’s in the fact that we lead the world in total coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19.

 

It seems remarkable that a country that has so many of the best universities in the world should have turned its back on them. How did that happen? It’s an interesting story. It didn’t happen over night. Kurt Anderson in his book Fantasyland described how that happened over about 500 years from the time of the arrival of Puritans on the shores of North America. It came gradually, very gradually, as a result of 5 centuries of the disparagement of reason in favour of faith and feelings and an array of temptations away from reason. It is an incredible story and all of us are now in 2020 suffering the consequences of that as we face a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time . This is not a good time to discover that we have abandoned reason.

 

I agree with Donald Trump about the “Wuhan Flu.”

I find some sympathy for Donald Trump on one issue (among others actually). When it comes to China he gets conflicting advice.  Some of his advisors want him to be tough on China and others urge him not rock the economic boat.  The hawks wanted Trump to take a public critical stance against China and to  start calling the virus the “Wuhan Virus.

I must admit at first I thought this was nuts. Childish and nuts. I called it an attempt to deflect blame from himself to China. No doubt that was part of his rationale for starting to do that. But there is more to the issue than that. I changed my mind after listening to a very unlikely source for a contrary view—Bill Maher. Maher has a weekly rant on his TV show and for the first time ever, by my recollection, he ranted in favor of Trump. This is his rant in full with a couple of editorial interruptions by me.

I am not sure what the cause of the Coronavirus is, but if (and as far as I know that is a pretty big if), if it is established that the cause was in fact the wet markets of China I agree with this illiberal rant by Bill Maher in response to a poll that showed Americans are split on whether or it’s racist to call COVID-19 the Chinese virus. Here is Maher’s rant in full:

“You can’t yell at someone for breaking a rule you just made up. Scientists–yes scientists who are usually pretty liberal, have been naming diseases after the places they came from for a very long time. Zika virus is from the Zika forest. Ebola from the Ebola River. Hantavirus from the Hantan River. There’s the West Nile virus, And Guinea worm, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and of course the Spanish flu. (although that one did not originate there) MERS stands for Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome. It’s plastered all over airports and no one blogs about it. So why should China get a pass?

Congressman Ted Lieu tweeted: “The virus is not constrained by country or race. Be just as stupid to call it the Milan Virus.” No, that would be way stupider because it didn’t come from Milan. And if it did, I guarantee, we’d be calling it the Milan virus… Can’t we even have a pandemic without getting offended? When they named Lyme disease after a town in Connecticut the locals didn’t get all ticked off.

Seriously it scares me that there are people out there who would rather die form the virus than call it by the wrong name. This isn’t about vilifying a culture. This is about facts. It’s about life and death. We’re barely 4 months into this pandemic, and the wet markets in China, the one’s where exotic are sold and consumed, are already starting to re-open. The P.C police say it’s racist to attack any cultural practice that is different than our own.

I say liberalism lost its way when it started thinking like that and pretending that forcing a woman to wear this (he showed an image of total body niqab ) was a just a different way, instead of an abhorrent human rights violation. (Again, I only agree with this to the extent that women are forced to dress like that. To the extent they freely chose to dress like that, I am OK with that). It’s not racist to point out that eating bats is bat-shit crazy. In 2007 researchers at the University of Hong Kong wrote: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.”

Dr. Fauci says, we should force a global closure of the wet markets because the current crisis “is a direct result of them.” On Monday the acting head of the UN’s biodiversity said the same thing.

So when someone says, “what if people hear  ‘Chinese virus’ and blames China, the answer is we should blame China. Not Chinese Americans, (or Canadian) but we can’t stop telling the truth just because racists get the wrong idea. There are always going to be idiots out there who want to indulge their prejudices, but this is an emergency. Don’t we have bigger tainted fish to fry? Jesus, if the sun was exploding, the Twitter would pile up against the first person who called it a ‘dwarf star.’

Sorry Americans we’re going to have to ask you to keep 2 ideas in your head at the same time. This has nothing to do with Asian-Americans, and it has everything to do with China. We can’t afford the luxury anymore of non-judginess towards a country with habits that kill millions of people everywhere, because this isn’t the first time. SARS came from China. And the bird flu. And the Hong Kong flu. The Asian flu. Viruses come from China like short stops come from the Dominican Republic.

If they were selling nuclear suitcases at these wet markets would we be so non-judgmental? And isn’t this pretty close to what they are selling? And the next one could be even worse. If the Chinese military had purposely infected this country with coronavirus  as a bio-weapon, we’d be at war with them. We are always griping about how China manipulates their currency. Well I’m not monetary expert but I think you would agree this one hurt our economy a little more than currency manipulation. And China can do this. China once built a 57-story skyscraper in 19 days. There’s been a pothole on my street for 19 years. They’re not like us. They can actually get shit done. This is a dictatorship that for decades enforced a one child per family under penalty of forced sterilization. But you can’t close down the farmer’s market from hell?

They need to use that iron fist and pound it down because it kind of does. And I hope that if Americans were told that eating hot pockets could cause a world- wide pandemic that we would have the good sense to stop doing it. Although I wouldn’t bet on it.”

That’s what Maher said and I think I agree with that. I hope you appreciate, this is hard for me to do. I have to publicly admit Donald Trump was right and I was wrong!

In Canada, we have had cases where Jehovah Witnesses who were parents of children, were refusing on their children’s behalf to take life-saving blood transfusions when the science was clear the transfusions were medically necessary to save their lives. The court held, and I agreed, that the state had the right to interfere to protect the children who were too young to decide for themselves. Parents are entitled to make such unwise decisions for themselves, but not for children too young to decide for themselves. This was a severe interference with their right of religious freedom, but I agreed with the court that it was a reasonable limit on freedom of religion, a Charter right, which is justified in a free and democratic society.

If religious or cultural beliefs are scientifically proven to a reasonable certainty to cause harm to others, we have a right to interfere to stop it. Even if that looks culturally insensitive.

In a much less serious, case, on classic liberal principles that it is permitted to call COVID-17 the Wuhan Flu, or shut down a wet market, if that will save the lives of others.

As well, in my opinion, we have the right to interfere with Muslims when they interfere with the rights of others or cause them harm without their consent even though that looks like we are trying to impose our cultural views on others. For example, if Muslim father tries to inflict an honour killing on his daughter for disgracing the family, that should not be permitted. I think that one is pretty clear.

The same holds for China. We have the right to try to stop them from harming us even if it might appear that we are culturally insensitive. Other we have allowed political correctness run amok.

Basing public health decisions on hunches can be a dangerous business

 

Today, I  read some startling statistics in our local Winnipeg Free Press.  Trump has admitted that the United States will likely suffer between 100,000 and 2000, deaths. Assuming the lower of those two amounts, Gwynne Dyer said the following:

“One hundred American deaths is a toll 30 times higher than the 3,331 reported Chinese deaths, but that still leaves one important number out. The population of China is four times larger than that of the United States. So in proportion to its population COVID-19 will kill Americans at  120 times the rate its is reported to have killed Chines people.”

There are a number of countries that have about the same proportion of deaths. And they seem surprising—Italy, Spain, U.K. and of course the U.S. What is happening? It is usually the rich countries that avoid pandemics while the poor countries suffer.

But there is a common denominator. As Dyer said,

“All theses countries moved very late to act against the virus, so late their only remaining option was lockdown. Whereas all the East Asian countries reacted at once.

China, where the coronavirus originated, was blind-sided by the wave of deaths in Wuhan, but as soon as the virus had been identified, Beijing locked the city down, and soon after the whole country. A week or two were lost to the Chinese regimes denial and its reluctance to damage the economy. But the reaction was still fast enough. The lockdown worked, and most Chinese citizens are now back to work.”

In the U.S. when CVOD-19 arrived, Trump did not act right away because he was getting “expert” advice from the television pundits on Fox News who were scorning the disease as a hoax or a second attempt at impeachment. As a result Trump  delayed taking it seriously and the U.S. lost valuable time.

As Dyer said,

“Western countries did no use the ample time they had to put a similar system in place. They didn’t even stock up on masks, ventilators and protective clothing. They let the infection spread so widely that only a long, full lockdown could contain it. Why? Arrogance, wishful thinking, and a determination not to harm economic growth.”

Now that is also just one man’s opinion but is sure makes more sense than the wild conspiracy theories going around.

Of course, that will likely lead to a more prolonged affect on the economy. Exactly what some western leaders wanted to avoid. Of course, much more important than the effect on the economy is the effect on the health of people in those countries. Making public health decisions on the basis of hunches, rather than science can be a dangerous business.