Terry H. Schwadron
May 18, 2020
There is a clear pattern in the news from the White House. And it is why I find this president dangerous.
Whether it is an idiotic remark about coronavirus testing leading to higher disease numbers or another dismissal of another inspector general, Donald Trump’s insistence on seeking to distance himself from bad news really reflects a general desire to avoid incoming facts.
There is nothing new for Trump watchers here. The Trump White House’s continuous attempts to rewrite three years of administration history to make itself look good is expected as part of politics, of course, but the denial of pandemic altogether or of whatever particular events have led an inspector general or FBI to open an investigation are equal measure targets for a magic-like dismissal.
The events never happened. There was no weird series of contacts with Russians. Former Gen. Michael T. Flynn never lied to authorities, including the Vice President, about reaching out to the Russian ambassador or representing another country while advising Trump. The call to the Ukraine president was “perfect” and not a bald attempt over months to draw out dirt on Joe Biden.
In such a world, of course, there is no such thing as Truth, and therefore, no meaning for the word “accountability.” There is just the winning of the moment. Any statement is as good as another. What disease? What testing? What do you mean, oversight?
What is surprising about all this is simply that if Trump has confidence in what he says and promotes, you would think that he, like any political, business, military or social services leader, would embrace the facts at hand and point a direction.
That’s what we think any leader actually does — take in the facts, invite a range of opinions about what to do about them and organize an efficient and effective response.
Every leader for whom I have worked had to start with some kind of truths, sift the alternatives, and decide on a path, even at the risk of being wrong. The good ones were those who quickly could get to the heart of an issue, listen, and lean on good hires to recommend a way forward.
Trump seems to act the opposite way. Or ways.
Clearly, the facts of any situation don’t matter. He can always make those up in the retelling.
Rather, he starts from the end he seeks, and works backward.
So, as Trump does not want to see continuing rise of coronavirus cases, he simply states, as he did repeatedly on Thursday and Friday, that more testing simply turns up more virus cases. We don’t have a pandemic problem here, he suggests, but a problem that testing simply makes worse. “When you test, you have a case,” Trump said. “When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
You don’t have to be a never-Trumper to find that, well, idiotic. Starting from the end and working logic backward, there is no reason for the widespread testing that scientists insist is needed to get out of contagion.
Likewise, if Trump does not questions asked about how federal money is being spent, or on his inappropriate use of politics in policy, or, as this weekend, on protecting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from unwanted questions about using an employee for personal services for him and his wife, well, then, the right thing to do is simply remove anyone asking the questions.
Trump has done the same with impeachment, with ethics questions, with overly harsh environmental deregulation, health policies and all-things-Russia.
Some scientists telling Congress that there were unneeded delays and obstinance in government pandemic response? Dump the scientists. Shoot the messenger.
I don’t mind at all disagreeing with this president about what to do — he and I seem to favor completely different responses to a whole range of social problems. But I do believe we should be starting from a shared understanding of reality. We have a pandemic spreading. If Trump wants to open the country despite this fact and put millions at risk, then stand up and say it straight, as that nutty Texas official did: We value profit over lives. I disagree wildly, but at least we’re both responding to the same real problems.
All of which brings us to the prospects of a vaccine, something that we can all agree does not yet exist.
Parading once more in the Rose Garden with yet more drug manufacturers who may or may not be able to deliver, Trump again promised there will be a virus in the hundreds of millions of doses by year’s end. I hope he is right, but right now, that is a promise built on sand.
There are about 100 approaches to this question, and we have no idea of efficacy of any, to say nothing of safety issues involved. Beyond that, we see zillions of questions about whether appropriate supply line questions are being resolved in time for widespread manufacture, and no tangible plans in place for distribution, for payments involved, for medical interactions with other drugs.
Mostly, in a country with decidedly awakened views about individual freedoms from government directives, there is absolutely no assurance that everyone will take a vaccine — or multiple vaccines as some experts are suggesting it will take to achieve immunity.
So, a vaccine, too, should not just be an expression of Trump “hope,” but a realistic plan on how to get there.
Without it, Trump is simply a danger to public health.