Behind Trump’s Decisions, Unfathomable to the Left, Lies a Deep Reserve of Tribute on the Right

Suiting up to deal with a pandemic. (Photo/U.S. Army)

Three days ago, March 23, President Trump signaled his intent to relax guidelines on self-quarantining, saying “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.” Health authorities and citizens all over the country (including me) reacted with profound dismay at such a precipitous and apparently dangerous decision.

But across a separate civic and political landscape — call it The Great Divide — the president’s decision to open the economy and tilt away from public safety is evidence of why Trump is revered. His public opinion poll numbers on performance are inching up and Gallup this week said that 60 percent of Americans they polled give him high marks for managing the crisis.

I spent several days this week trying to understand that surprising finding by studying reporting and commentary across the Trump-supporting on-line media community.

I occasionally read and view popular arch-conservative media, and have a working knowledge of its message and rancor. But following what looks to be the most consequential presidential decision of our lifetimes, I wanted to know more about what led to it. I wanted to develop deeper insight into why the president was so confident about the March 23 announcement.

Some of this may be familiar to you in the abstract. A good bit was new to me. My conclusion is that even if the virus really gets out of hand and kills thousands more Americans, Trump could win the 2020 election. His supporters are mobilized and energized to vote in droves. The lapses and insults and erratic behavior that make Trump a loathed figure on the left are precisely the personality traits that solidify his popularity on the right. Democrats are going to need to get ‘way down in the muck and fight as never before to inspire and motivate their supporters to turn out in record numbers to beat him.

One reason, according to billions of words written and hours of video broadcast by Trump-supporting media, is that in their eyes, and through their eyes to the hearts and minds of their faithful audiences, Donald Trump can do no wrong. The president’s supporters, roughly half of voting age Americans, adore him. Not only is he seen as a once-in-a-generation leader, he is superbly adept at commanding the moment just the way they think it ought to be dominated. His supporters see Trump as prepared and capable of not only making the right decisions, but also doing so with joyful acid attacks on people and institutions they loathe – Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN, Democrats, liberals, and most especially Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Drive through Covid-19 testing. (Photo: National Guard)

A second reason for Trump’s staying power is that his supporters see an attack on him as an insult to them, a hostile misguided rocket strike on their principles and values. Criticism of Trump produces measures of angry, stinging bitterness I’ve never before encountered when reporting on political figures.

“These globalist vultures hate the American worker more than anyone,” Wayne Dupree, a columnist widely distributed on Trump-supporting blogs and web sites, wrote on March 23. “That’s why these ghouls want open borders, migrants, illegal aliens, and things like NAFTA—all of the things that have put us in this vulnerable place with the coronavirus. Globalism kills, and Pelosi and Schumer are the faces of it.”

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, added this the same day: “One of the responses he shut down is another deep state attempted coup, coordinated with their international puppet partners to attack the economy in grand scale of illusion, counting on The People not to look at comparative statistics (tested negative, positive, recovered, dead, total population).”

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Trump’s Reckless Bid For History and Re-Election

Bodies of coronavirus victims from Bergamo, Italy, arrive at a cemetery in Ferrara for cremation. (Photo Massimo Paolone/LAPRESSE

At this point the Covid-19 peril is well understood.

The metrics are plain. On March 15, two days after President Trump declared a national emergency,  the United States counted 3,100 cases and over 50 deaths. Today: 49,594 cases and 662 deaths.

The economic menace also is crystal clear. Tens of millions of Americans shelter inside, shops and restaurants are closed, city streets and airports lie vacant. A ‘closed until further notice’ sign appears on the door of at least 40 percent of American commerce.

In the confrontation between medical experts intent on safeguarding Americans from a diabolical virus, and industrialists and financiers worried about securing the national economy, the doctors until now held their own. Governors, mayors, and sports league commissioners followed their counsel. Large events shut down. People were ordered out of offices and into their homes. The president, who’s been episodically disinterested, then erratically concerned, buoyed medical opinion with his emergency declaration.

That uneasy parity between safety and economy is about to radically change.

On Monday, the president displayed another familiar dimension of his personality and public style: his precipitous decision-making. He signaled his intent to confront governors and mayors and relax or end restrictions on businesses and personal movement. “America will again — and soon — be open for business,” the president said on Monday. “Very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner.”

Today he wanted the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” and added that as early as Monday he is going to make the most consequential presidential decision of our lifetimes. Trump indicates he is prepared to shove public safety to the side and throw the federal government’s weight to protecting the stock market, jobs, business income, and corporate profits. The consequences for Americans are both fairly simple to predict and beyond measure to calculate.

First let’s address the president’s perspective. Trapped in a crisis that is killing Americans that he was far too late to acknowledge or address, the decision to relax social distancing is a last-ditch effort to preserve his presidency and re-election. He’s convinced himself that the mortality risks of Covid-19 are as acceptable as those from the flu and gun homicides, and that sufficient numbers of Americans will believe him. They’ll return to their goods-consuming, full-bodied, entertainment-rich, travel-oriented lives.

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Dangerous Work For Virus Truthtellers in the Trump Realm; Tony Fauci Navigated It and Rescued America

Dr. Tony Fauci, who’s directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since the mid-1980s, managed the government’s response to AIDS, EBOLA, SARS, and now COVID-19.

SOMERSET, KY — On Tuesday, February 25, when there were just 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases , a unit of the Centers for Disease Control, participated in a news conference during which she delivered an accurate and disturbing projection about what was occurring.

The consequences of the virus’s spread, she said, “may seem overwhelming and disruption to everyday life may be severe.” She added, “It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.” She talked to her children about the virus that morning. “While I didn’t think they were at risk right now, we as a family ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives.”

President Trump was in India that week, avoiding the coming calamity in his home country and furious with the CDC’s candor. Trump assessed the coronavirus as “very well under control” in the United States and that “the situation will start working itself out.”

After TV newsrooms and the great American newspapers disseminated Dr. Messonnier‘s warning, the president ordered White House spokesman Judd Deere to issue this statement: “Unfortunately what we are seeing today is a political effort by the left and some in the media to distract and disturb the American people with fearful rhetoric and palace intrigue.”

Trump also dispatched financial analyst and former Fox News host Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, to issue this statement: “We have contained this. We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight. I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all. ”

Nancy Messonnier has not been heard from again.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who’s become the lead scientist mapping and explaining the administration’s strategy on COVID-19, has not been silenced nor sidelined. And because Dr. Fauci possessed the political skills and finesse, along with the scientific expertise to understand the dimensions of the threat, the country is likely to eventually recognize him as one of the foremost heroes in U.S. history.

A world-class researcher who’s directed NIAID since the mid-1980s, Dr. Fauci led the government’s work on AIDS, SARS, Anthrax, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He manages to command the director’s office of a $5-plus billion federal health research agency because he also understands Washington.

He clearly received the message about dealing with the self-absorbed, ticklish, child president that America elected almost four years ago. Think of all the career professionals inside the White House and in federal agencies who got bounced out of government for getting sideways with Trump. Lord, he replaced his chief of staff on March 7, as the vector of COVID-19 cases began its precipitous climb.

Two days after Dr. Messonnier’s warning, Dr. Fauci attended a meeting of the coronavirus task force chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. Alarmed by the president’s scientifically inaccurate assertions that the virus was no more dangerous than the flu and that the country had the disease contained — “I think it’s an incredible achievement what our country’s done,” the president said — Dr. Fauci described for reporters how seriously he viewed the threat, but in language that did not directly challenge Trump. He said, “This virus has adapted extremely well to the human species” and that it appeared to have a higher mortality rate than influenza.

Yet even with those carefully chosen words, Dr. Fauci informed his colleagues that he received a call from the White House not to say another word without “clearance.” Though he was plainly being muzzled, he denied that fact when the New York Times called. He later explained that, “You should never destroy your own credibility. And you don’t want to go to war with a president. But you’ve got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”

“I don’t think that we are going to get out of this completely unscathed,” he told Politico on March 3. “I think that this is going to be one of those things we look back on and say boy, that was bad.”

Today is March 17, and 5,702 Americans have tested positive; 94 have lost their fight against the deadly virus. Dr. Fauci is the visible, calming, trusted scientific voice on COVID-19, called on by Congress to deliver candid assessments, invited to stand by the president at every news conference now to offer insights and perspective on the crisis. Dr. Fauci and his colleagues at the CDC this week finally broke through to project that COVID-19 cases and deaths will peak in mid-May, and not subside until August.

Americans alive today have never been in this place.

The president’s fabricating, insane dithering, and political calculations hurt us badly. Always remember that on February 28, in a signature Trump cult rally in South Carolina he called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax.” Always remember that Fox News, Senate and House Republicans, and Trump’s administration toadies backed that terrible lie. Always remember that the first COVID-19 American death occurred the next day, February 29.

Dr. Fauci understood that a credible scientific voice had to navigate the hazardous and bizarre messages coming from the president and his minions, and elevate to a senior post in the country’s management of the most serious assault on the United States in our lifetime. There are so many heroes in this challenge — doctors, nurses, medical personnel, frontline security people, airline pilots and flight attendants, transportation workers, supermarket stockers, delivery people, cooks and shopkeepers, sports league commissioners and mayors and governors.

Tony Fauci is one of the courageous people. He told the truth. More to the point, he got the president and the country to listen.

— Keith Schneider

FEBRUARY 29 — Anthony Fauci with the president at news conference on the day of the first American COVID-19 death. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

COVID-19 and 9/11 — Catastrophes of Leadership

President Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech Wednesday, March, 11, 2020: “The virus will not have a chance against us.” (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

SOMERSET, KY — An editor in New York who is a good friend and one of the great newsroom leaders of our time remarked to me four days ago, “Honestly, I think this is going to be far bigger than 9/11 in its impact on Americans’ lives.”

In a brief sentence he tied together the two national catastrophes of this century, and projected the COVID-19 pandemic will be worse. There is one more way the 9/11 attack and the virus are joined. They both display the indefensible negligence of the presidents in charge during those times. Both President George W. Bush and President Donald J. Trump failed to pay attention to readily apparent evidence of impending calamity. And both neglected the advice of their expert staff or disbanded White House directorates charged with tracking events outside our borders that posed grave threats to the United States.

The result of 9/11 was 2,996 deaths, 25,000 injured, and wearying, still-ongoing, expensive alterations in security precautions at airports and in public buildings .

As of today 4,100 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the U.S. since the first case on January 20 in Seattle; 71 people have died from it. The most optimistic predictions by medical experts is that tens of thousands more Americans will contract the virus over the next month and thousands will die.

The lapses in Oval Office oversight of the nation’s safety in the leadup to both calamities is striking and dispiriting. Before getting into the particulars let me just state plainly that on a personal level my family was put directly in harm’s way by 9/11 and by COVID-19. On a political level it’s hard for me to fathom how voters see Republican presidents as safe-keepers of our nation. The last two have been disasters.

You may recall that in his second term, President Bill Clinton escalated anti-terrorist directorates at the CIA and the FBI and formed the Counterterrorism Security Group in the National Security Council in the White House. The program and policy change came in response to the August 7, 1998 Al Qaeda truck bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania that killed 224 people. They gained added traction late in 2000 following the bombing of the USS Cole while the warship refueled in Yemen. The attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 40, and caused $250 million in damage.

President Bush retained the Counterterrorism Security Group in the White House after his inauguration in January 2001. But its credibility and stature steadily waned in the following months even though its director, Richard Clarke, a Clinton Administration appointee and the national counterterrorism director, was delivering accurate projections about the capability of Al Qaeda and its deadly intent.

President Bush and his team received regular warnings from the Clarke Counterterrorism Security Group and the CIA counter terrorism office. In a classfied briefing on August 6, 2001 the president was warned, according to the headline “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” about an imminent attack.

On September 4, 2001, a week before the attack, senior Bush administration officials met to discuss terrorism following weeks of intelligence about odd movements of terrorist cells and closing of terrorist training camps. According to the 9/11 Commission report, before the meeting Clarke sent Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice “an impassioned personal note.” He criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present. The ‘real question’ before the principals, he wrote, was ‘are we serious about dealing with the al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US,” Clarke wrote. “What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That future day could happen at any time.”

Fast forward to the new era of deadly pathogens killing lots of people. In March 2014 an outbreak of Ebola occurred in West Africa. President Barack Obama and his medical and health agencies responded almost immediately, leading the global response to quell sickness and death. On November 4, 2016 President Obama signed an executive order to establish a global health security directorate in the National Security Council to coordinate US government activities and fill an international leadership and collaboration role to “achieve a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.”

In May 2018, as the Trump administration was busy limiting funding for federal health and science agencies, John Bolton, then national security advisor, dismantled the global health security directorate.

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Alien Nation In Time of Virus

Iconic picture of the time. Hoarding toilet paper in Kroger market in Somerset, KY. (Photo: Keith Schneider)

SOMERSET, KY — On February 29, 2020, a day after President Trump headlined one of his cult rallies in South Carolina and called the coronavirus the Democrat’s “new hoax,” I was in New York City with my wife, Gabrielle Gray, celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday.

The timeline, as you’ll see, is crucial to understanding the dimensions of an emergency that has unfolded in New York and the United States in the 15 days since, and is quickly getting worse.

First a word about the party, which was a lovely, joyous gathering at a restaurant on Madison Avenue highlighted by toasts and Jo-Anne Schneider’s grace and energy — and by the attendance of her children, grandsons and granddaughters, a niece and nephew, cousins, and in-laws who arrived from five states and both coasts. We are a family that enjoys gathering for big events and as Anne Schneider, my sister-in-law, noted, this was another “Schneider state occasion.”

In the weeks before the party we asked everybody to send 10 words that best described my mother’s values. Assembled in a word cloud by my younger brother, the three most notable values that define my mother are loyalty, family, discipline. From my perspective: Perfect

Jo-Anne Schneider’s virtues as defined by her family on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

It is March 15 today, more than two weeks later, and for Americans who regard their own health and the safety of their family, friends, and colleagues with any degree of maturity, nothing is quite the same.

Hoarding of food and supplies — particularly toilet paper — is occurring around the country. Tens of thousands of schools closed. Colleges and universities closed. The NBA, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball postponed play. The NCAA cancelled March Madness. Airports and airplanes emptied. Elbow bumps replaced handshakes and hugs. Millions of people, including me and Gabrielle, hunkered down in their homes preparing themselves for a kind of determined self-isolation that could last weeks. Maybe months. Everybody I know is inspecting themselves and anyone near them for signs of a dry cough, headache, sore throat, fatigue, and fever — the telltale early symptoms of COVID19.

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