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Trump's Handling of COVID Was Worse Than You Thought.
Someone ought to go to jail.
1. Early COVID
First things first: This report is not what America needs. The report is overly partisan and at times reads like a combination of score-settling against the Trump administration and justification of the Biden administration.
What we need is a comprehensive, non-partisan excavation of the American government’s response to COVID. Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. Because what we saw in 2020 and 2021 amounts to the greatest failure of the federal government in our lifetimes. The people responsible for this failure must be held accountable, on the record. And we must not be repeat this failure in the future.
All of that said, the factual material in this short report is . . . I don’t even know the right word for it.
Here are some highlights, in timeline form.
February 25, 2020: No Americans have died of COVID yet.
[T]he Trump White House blocked CDC’s requests to conduct public briefings for more than three months following a February 25, 2020, CDC briefing in which then-CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier accurately warned the public about the risks posed by the coronavirus. Dr. Messonnier confirmed that this briefing “angered” then-President Trump.
February 29, 2020: The first American dies of COVID.
Total U.S. dead: 1
On February 29, advisers to the president send a memo warning about what is about to happen. From the report:
[A] '“first wave” of infections in the United States was imminent and that the federal government needed to “be honest about the situation and show it is undertaking major decisive actions” to combat the coronavirus. A memo to then-President Trump dated one day later warned that the country was facing “a very serious public health emergency” and recommended “Industrial Mobilization of Supply Chains,” while emphasizing that the Administration’s “movement is NOT fast enough.”
In response, the president and his surrogates attempted to publicly deny that there was any problem at all. For instance, here is Trump on March 10: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
May 24, 2020: 620 Americans die.
Total U.S. dead: 97,690
Jay Butler, the Deputy Director CDC Infectious Diseases, sends an email to the White House protesting that they have altered CDC guidelines by deleting suggestions for wearing masks and for limiting in-person church services:
August 25, 2020: 1,043 Americans die.
Total U.S. dead: 177,197
On August 24, 2020, the White House staff secretary sent out a copy of Trump’s remarks for the following day at an event with a group of herd-immunity quacks. Among the people copied on the email were Kayleigh McEnany, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Scott Atlas, and Larry Kudlow.
At 7:03 a.m. on August 25, 2020, Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response coordinator, replied to this email saying it was “Best if this proceeds without my presence.” Less than an hour later, she sent a second response, which went to Marc Short:
And a few hours after that, she forwarded the draft remarks to Fauci, Redfield, and Hahn with a one sentence note:
There’s more. From the report:
Trump Administration officials purposefully weakened CDC’s coronavirus testing guidance in August 2020 to obscure how rapidly the virus was spreading across the country. . . . Dr. Birx stated that these changes were made specifically to reduce the amount of testing being conducted.
This is consistent with Trump’s own statements on testing:
Consistent with evidence previously obtained by the Select Subcommittee, a CDC official confirmed in a transcribed interview that she was instructed to destroy evidence of political interference by a Trump Administration political appointee.
I’m not sure people truly the magnitude of all of this. The president of the United States and his subordinates intentionally took actions which directly contributed to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a mistake. Everyone around him knew what the outcome was going to be.
And they didn’t say anything about it to the public. They just complained to each other in emails.
What we experienced was a total system failure: The leadership was corrupt. The institutions were unable to check the corruption. Even the supposedly non-partisan grownups became complicit.
And if we don’t create accountability and consequences, then other systems will fail, too.
2. A Play in Three Acts
Speaking of which, here’s an unusually clear and perfect object lesson in how systems fail. The answer is: The bad guys do not break the system by themselves. When the bad guys win, it’s always because they are enabled by the weakness and wishful thinking of people in a position to stop them.
Weakness is a provocation. And when weak people delude themselves into thinking that the bad guys are just buffoons, or that they’re too incompetent to do anything dangerous, or that this time they’ve learned their lessons—that’s how the bad guys win. That’s how authoritarians flourish.
You get people like Susan Collins who would never consider herself a MAGA person and believes that she’s on the side of democracy. But she’s always been a Good Republican. She doesn’t want to rock the boat. And so she tells herself that everything will be fine. No need to do anything drastic or uncomfortable. Tomorrow will be just like yesterday. Everything is fine.
And then you wake up one morning and things aren’t fine.
3. Gina. Roseanne. Guy.
This New York Magazine piece is a deep dive profile into three of the January 6 insurrectionists. It looks at who they are. How they got to that point. And what happened to them afterward.
I cannot encourage you enough to read this, and to do it through a lens of compassion.
Hundreds of people caught on-camera committing what was arguably sedition went home to families that feared them, strangers who admired them, federal agents already setting up surveillance. Over a year’s time, many of their lives would be transformed. They would discover the dark state of American prisons. They would be fired and divorced and bankrupt and subject to extraordinary kindness from strangers. They would become fodder for the kind of conspiracies that had summoned them to D.C. in the first place. They would become a price paid for the right to stand on a dais and say You’ll never take back our country with weakness.
Gina Bisignano would lose her salon, Guy Reffitt would lose his freedom, and Rosanne Boyland would lose her life. None of them would be difficult to find. . . .
Rosanne was 34, a former addict stuck in her parents’ low-slung yellow home in Kennesaw, Georgia, under a copse of tall, straight trees, in a bedroom she had painted bright colors and filled with rare stones. In April 2020, the month President Trump said There will be a lot of death, unfortunately, Rosanne met a woman in the vast parking lot of the Kennesaw Publix who was inconsolable because the store had sold out of toilet paper. Rosanne drove home, picked up six rolls, drove past the Papa John’s and the Great Clips, and brought them back to the woman. Rosie to her friends, Roro to her nieces, Rosanne saved people. She was the kind of friend who would sleep on your floor for three months if she thought you might hurt yourself. The kind of former addict of whom other former addicts will say She saved my life. The kind of person who would get the idea to collect all the coats in the house and drive through Atlanta handing them out. She loved hugs and hated crowds.
Rosanne loved the outdoors, the sense of wide-open exploration in a big country rich with treasure. She and her father went far afield in his RV, rockhounding, which is to say they drove to quarries in Georgia and the Carolinas, got on their knees, and whacked at the earth until they loosed lustrous iridescent rocks. Rosanne loved conspiracy theories: JFK, Sasquatch, the moon landing. On a cross-country trip with her family, Rosanne made them stop at Roswell. She bought some socks.
The BEAUTIFUL DISASTER chest tattoo was a reference to the band 311 and not inapt; Rosanne had spent a period of her life getting arrested and rearrested on a long list of drug charges, but the year she discovered her sister, Lonna, was pregnant was the year she quit heroin. She could not have her own children because she’d had cervical cancer, and so she would, over the following six years, dedicate herself to one niece and then two.
Once, Rosanne’s mother walked into a room as Rosanne was being choked by an angry boyfriend. Once, Rosanne discovered by reading texts sent to a friend’s 12-year-old daughter that the girl was being sexually abused. Once, a close friend of Rosanne’s was imprisoned and tortured over several days in front of her newborn in a series of attacks that left the friend temporarily blind and deaf. The attacker was the baby’s father. Rosanne’s universe was one in which women and children were existentially vulnerable to violent men.
By mid-2020, social life had stopped, and Rosanne no longer had the sobriety meetings that sustained her, and Lonna’s little girls did not need to be picked up from school. Instead, Rosanne had the internet. On the internet, she learned that Wayfair was using its shipping containers to send children to pedophiles. I’m in deep, she said to Lonna one July morning. I’ve been up all night researching. By October, Rosanne’s sister was doing her own research, on what one should do when a family member has been sucked into a cult.
Read the whole thing. And think about compassion. Scott Atlas and Deborah Birx and Donald Trump and Susan Collins all knew exactly what they were doing. And none of them will ever pay a price for it. The accountability always falls on the people with the fewest advantages and the least amount of power.
Sorry for going so dark today.
So here’s my deal: Tomorrow’s Triad will be glowing with Christmas cheer.
It’ll be the feel-good newsletter of the year. Just for you. I promise.
But only for members of Bulwark+.