When reality overtakes fiction

Heather Cox Richardson

If you are not familiar with Professor Heather Cox Richardson, she teaches at Boston College. Her Letters from an American are daily posts carefully crafted with links to sources. I am reposting what she posted on October 2, 2020 with my own emphasis added to some of her observations.

October 2, 2020

Today’s media was consumed with news of the spread of coronavirus to the president and First Lady, as well as concern over the degree to which it has spread to other people associated with the White House. A number of those who attended the Rose Garden announcement of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have tested positive. That number includes the Trumps, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Also infected are Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and at least three journalists who have attended White House events in the past week.

And tonight, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway reported that she, too, has tested positive.

As I write this, just before midnight, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien has just announced he, too, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Five minutes after midnight (sorry for breaking the midnight rule again), we learned that 11 staffers from the Cleveland debate also tested positive.

We will not learn of infections among the Secret Service.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tested negative, as have Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

This evening, medical professionals transferred the president to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution.” He walked from the helicopter under his own power, and posted a short video to his Twitter account assuring viewers that he is doing “very well.” He remains in charge; power has not transferred to Vice President Mike Pence.

Aside from the personal implications of the spread of this illness—and let’s remember that there are 46,459 other Americans who have contracted the coronavirus in the last day– this major news story has huge implications for the upcoming election. It also illustrates how the administration’s secrecy and lies take away our ability to make informed decisions about our own lives, as well as about the nation.

The Trump entourage has refused to wear masks, social distance, or follow the advice of public health experts for reducing the spread of the virus. Now it appears that White House officials deliberately withheld information about their condition, directly endangering other people who acted on the presumption that the Trump people weren’t infected. The Washington Post reported that Secret Service agents, who risk their lives to protect the president, are angry and frustrated: “He’s never cared about us.” The 30-50 Republican donors who met with Trump Thursday night at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, are “freaking out,” one report noted. Tickets had cost up to $250,000, and Trump met privately with about 19 people for 45 minutes. Trump knew his adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive when he left for the club, but he went anyway. He did not wear a mask.

Reporter Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel, who moderated Tuesday’s debate and so was one of those the Trumps’ entourage endangered, revealed today that Trump arrived too late on Tuesday for a COVID-19 test, as the venue required. Instead, there was an “honor system.” Organizers assumed the people associated with the campaigns would not come unless they had tested negative. Trump’s people arrived wearing masks, which they had to have to enter the auditorium, but then removed them shortly after sitting down, and refused to put them back on. During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for his habit of wearing a mask.

The campaign did not tell the Biden camp that Hicks, who attended the debate, had tested positive for coronavirus the day after the event. The Biden organization learned it from the newspapers. The White House did not even tell former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spent four days in close quarters with Hicks and Trump, helping the president prepare for the debate. He, too, learned the news from the media.

This crisis shows how the administration’s refusal to share information and its insistence on its own version of reality creates confusion that leaves Americans vulnerable and anxious. Its history of secrecy and lies means that few people actually trust anything its spokespeople say. It was striking how many people did not believe the Trumps were actually sick when the news broke; we are so accustomed to Trump’s lies that many people thought he was simply looking for a way out of future debates.

The constant lies—about coronavirus and virtually everything else—destabilize the nation because we cannot know what the truth really is. And if we don’t know what is actually happening, we cannot make good decisions. Today the editorial board of the Washington Post warned that the White House simply must let us know the truth about the president’s health so that we know who is actually running national security, the economy, and the election on our behalf.

That plea did not appear to make much of an impression on the White House: it did not bother to tell Pelosi, who is third in line for the presidency, that Trump was being helicoptered to Walter Reed Hospital.

And so we are facing a pandemic spreading through the upper ranks of the government just before an election with little faith that we will learn the truth about what is happening. That, just as much as the infections in the administration, is a crisis.

To its credit, the Biden campaign has identified this crisis and is doing its best to restore our sense of a shared reality, based in our history and our better principles. Rather than expressing outrage that the Trump camp exposed him and his wife and guests to coronavirus, Biden offered his best wishes for Trump and the First Lady, as did his running mate Kamala Harris. Biden’s campaign pulled all its negative ads out of respect for the president’s illness (the Trump campaign refused to follow suit).

Biden spoke in Michigan today, assuring the audience that “We can get this pandemic under control so we can get our economy working again for everyone.” But, he emphasized, “this cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation.” He promised to get rid of the toxic partisanship that is keeping us all off balance. “I’m running as a Democrat,” he said, “but I will… govern as an American president. Whether you voted for me or against me, I will represent you… and those who see each other as fellow Americans who just don’t live in red states or blue states but who live in and love the United States of America. That’s who we are.”

To an increasingly weary country, he offered hope that we really can heal the nation’s ills. “There’s never been a single solitary thing America’s been unable to do. Think of this. Not once. Not a single thing we’ve not been able to overcome when we’ve done it together. So let’s get the heck up. Remember who in God’s name we are. This is the United States of America,” he said. “There’s nothing beyond our capacity.”

Notes:

Pelosi informed:

Secret Service: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-seemed-to-defy-the-laws-of-science-and-disease-then-the-coronavirus-caught-up-with-him/2020/10/02/5b4c5232-04bf-11eb-897d-3a6201d6643f_story.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/politics/president-donald-trump-walter-reed-coronavirus/index.html

https://www.thedailybeast.com/chris-wallace-says-trump-arrived-at-debate-too-late-for-coronavirus-test

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/02/gop-donors-panic-after-coming-close-to-trump-at-fundraiser-hours-before-positive-covid-19-test.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/us/notre-dame-president-covid-trnd/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-virus-spread-white-house/2020/10/02/38c5b354-04cc-11eb-b7ed-141dd88560ea_story.html

Biden:

Earpiece ad: https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/02/politics/fact-check-trump-facebook-biden-earpiece/index.html

https://www.cleveland.com/coronavirus/2020/10/president-trump-first-lady-and-hope-hicks-may-have-spread-coronavirus-at-cleveland-presidential-debate.html

didn’t tell Biden camp: https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/trump-coronavirus-positive/h_378e07069dded1b1f71539db60bcdae5

Honor system:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/02/trump-campaign-manager-tests-positive-for-covid-19-425722

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/02/trump-campaign-manager-tests-positive-for-covid-19-425722

11 staffers:

Christie:

Public schools are stonewalling their communities on Covid-19

Earlier this week the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s article Families press schools to show  virus data  proved me wrong in thinking that I am the only person bothered by the lack of information being provided to parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers from their local school boards. The lead feature coverage focused on a rural county not too far from Washington County, Georgia, where I am invested in the success of the public schools as a taxpayer and grandparent.

Last month I emailed the Washington County School Board members and Superintendent about where they are providing updates to the community on exposure to the Coronavirus and any confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the schools. To date, all the board office has said is that they have “fluid” benchmarks and are working with the state’s Department of Community Health.

Among their responses to my questions about informing the community about virus exposure, the Board Chair, Chris Hutchings, asked if I might be able to identify and help secure funding for internet connectivity in the rural areas of the county. Currently the system is sending out buses with internet connectivity to serve as hot spots in rural parts of the county lacking broadband service.

Hutchings wasn’t aware of the state’s assessment of internet access published in June of this year. Thirty-seven (37) percent of Washington County residents do not have broadband access to the internet. Many areas in the county lack decent cell phone service, making the use of hot spots for access also unreliable.

I told Hutchings that while I am not well-connected to groups focused on education, I would think about where funding might be available. Having been connected to foundations through nonprofit healthcare and environmental justice work, I do know some funders who might consider a well-crafted request.

The following day I sent these questions to the Board and the Superintendent, Dr. Rickey Edmond, so that I would know where to start and best help. Options B and C encompass online learning options for families.

In making an ask, I think you need to have at hand:

    • Number of students total, and per school
    • Number of students learning remotely- Option B and Option C
    • Number of students who chose option
    • Number of students in class because they don’t have internet access
    • Number of students without internet who are doing options B or C
    • Number of students with internet
    • Number of teachers without internet
    • Number of computers loaned to students
    • Number of computers loaned to teachers
    • Number of students who didn’t turn in final packets in the spring
    • Number of students who simply disappeared in the spring

I received this reply from Dr. Edmond:

Hi.

We have this data and monitor it yearly to assess functional levels, operations, and effectiveness. We are one-to-one with our devices for our students. We have a great IT Team and support staff to address parents’ needs when there is an issue with connectivity. I recommend you and your organization take on the task of helping the rural schools get state and federal funding for connectivity in rural America.

Thank you for sharing,

RE

So to recap, the Superintendent, whose Board chair asked for my help to  secure badly needed funding for internet access, gave me and my “organization” marching orders to secure what they said they need, but without any data. I belong to some environmental groups, and a homeowner’s association, but those aren’t the organizations that are going to pony up to help a rural school system provide web connectivity for the schools.

All of this data should be easily at hand if the system has such a solid grasp on all of its IT needs. I sent my questions to a journalist  beyond the confines of Washington County who has covered issues in the area, and access to school data in other Georgia school systems, to see if they had difficulty securing information. My hunch was right-this data should be easy to compile and readily available.

A few weeks ago I sent a Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) with the same questions I had raised when I was asked to help, with data points from August 7, 2020, the first day of in-class instruction, and September 8, 2020 for comparison. If they wouldn’t voluntarily provide the data Edmond has assured me they have at hand since the pandemic began, I could press the issue with a GORA request.

Edmond replied, “The cost will be an hourly rate of $46.33, minus the first quarter hour. It will take 16 hours to complete all the requested task and total cost will be $729.70. We are requesting the payment be made in advance before the retrieval process is activated because the total amount will exceed $500.”

Do the custodial staff, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and teachers make anything close to $46.33 an hour, even with benefits? And why would it take 16 hours to put this information together if they are consistently monitoring these things?

I’m steadily losing confidence in what the Washington County School Board knows about how their students are learning, how teachers can support students and parents if/when the schools have to be closed this year, and how they are going to ensure that students receive the materials and instruction they need to stay or exceed their grade level.

My property tax bill is on my desk now, $737.34 of which goes directly to the school system’s maintenance and operations funds. The data I am requesting should guide the system’s budgeting and expectations of taxpayers’ dollar. The system should be making a case for their funding by sharing the data without reservation.

Check the dictionary

The Friday Photo
January 13, 2017

I did some checking on definitions last night. Carl Bernstein, who, with fellow reporter Bob Woodward, earned a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post after uncovering and reporting the Watergate break-in and resulting coverup, tagged Donald Trump’s campaign manager and staffer Kellyanne Conway, as the incoming administration’s Propaganda Minister. Bernstein bestowed that title following her complex and unsuccessful verbal gymnastic routine with Anderson Cooper over Trump’s media event on Wednesday.

I googled Propaganda Minister and the second listing was:

Jospeh Goebbels

Jospeh Goebbels served Adolf Hitler as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich.

Kellyanne Conway, staffer for Donald Trump (photo posted on RawStory credited to CNN)

Another word getting lots of use in recent months is gaslighting. Wikipedia definition: Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. The online resource goes on to offer examples: Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically are also convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions. Some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners by flatly denying that they have been violent.

Gaslighting may occur in parent–child relationships, with either parent, child, or both, lying to each other and attempting to undermine perceptions. Gaslighting also occurs in examples of school bullying. The word gaslighting is often used to describe the tactics of the President-elect. Teenvogue, of all places, had an excellent editorial on Trump’s tactics.

Donald Trump, photo credit The Politics
Forum

Odds and ends

Trumps cuts the diplomatic corps loose
Last night a report from the The New York Times was making the rounds about an edict from the incoming Trump administration that all politically appointed ambassadors are to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day. This directive runs counter to previous administrations of both parties.

Trump didn’t understand until he met with President Obama after the election that the incoming administration has to staff the West Wing. Now he is rushing to have our country’s representatives to allies like Japan, Britain, and Germany vacate their offices on January 20th.  While it can take months to get ambassadors confirmed, I’ll venture that Trump gets someone cherry-picked by Vladimir Putin in place right away.

On the other hand, this positions the Democratic Party and voters to hold the Trump Administration responsible from day one on diplomatic actions.

In the mean time, or worse, for the long run, does Trump plan to handle our diplomatic relations with late-night Tweets?

White House Press Briefings
Last week Trump staffers said they didn’t like having White House press briefings broadcast live. Instead, they want the media to report out on the briefings.

In a world of fake news, and Trumpsters’ proclivity to gaslight, that makes sense- why let the public hear the briefing for ourselves when the Trump administration can hope that the media simply parrots whatever was said by his staffer? I enjoy listening to the questions and hearing the answers myself. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s first press secretary, had a good sense of humor and enjoyed word play. His briefings were interesting and sometimes entertaining. Trump doesn’t seem to enjoy the company of people who are witty, or use big words. But I’ll still listen.