As we brace for the next phase of the COVID-19 virus calamity, moving from containment to mitigation, politicians all over are resorting to warfare metaphors.
President Donald Trump just referred to himself as a “wartime president.” In the mid-18th century, the quotable Samuel Johnson observed “‘Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth …” It’s an old saw: In war, the first casualty is truth.
That’s certainly been borne out since December when the World Health Organization (WHO) first published the genetic sequence of the virus. By mid-January the Secretary of Health and Human Services was warning the president that the contagion arising in China should be closely watched and planned for here.
On Jan. 30, WHO declared a global emergency. As late as Feb. 27, Trump was saying, “It’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” It was this kind of fanciful frittering that hampered us staging a robust containment effort, unlike South Korea, Japan and China.
Many books have been written about pandemics. Medical scholars, east and west, have studied them for centuries. But if the science of the past is not available and never applied how do you prepare for crisis in the present? President Barack Obama had a fully staffed CDC office at hand to study and track disease vectors world-wide. This was established after the Ebola outbreak in 2014 precisely to avert looming, and likely, epidemics.
Trump gutted the project early in 2018, part of a campaign to undo whatever good Obama had achieved. Trump’s science illiteracy and naive wish not to be bothered by something he didn’t understand likely cost us eight weeks lost time gearing up to face the COVID-19 issue.
Casualties might have been avoided. It was only last Saturday that he changed his tune and, after much prodding, got serious and admitted the urgency of the matter.
Neighbors, it’s time to face a cold, hard truth: Trump’s relationship with reality has been steadily eroded by a progressive mental illness, both organic and functional, whose effects have rendered him incapable of tending to any serious business, much less a global health crisis whose first phase saw him, not helping, but getting in the way. Having caught the same malady, his bullied and impotent cabinet and advisors are also to blame for stumbling so badly. If Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet had more sense and backbone, they’d have invoked the 25th amendment by now and certified him too impaired to continue.
In 2013, citizen Trump taunted (tweeted) Obama, saying “Leadership: Whatever happens, you’re responsible.” This past weekend, when asked if he regretted defunding the CDC project, he retorted that the question was “nasty.” Later he added “I take no responsibility…. When you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people. I could ask perhaps my administration… I don’t know anything about it.”
He’s a modern-day Mad King George. And we are at war. God help us.