Tuesday, October 6, 2020

AN INSANE LACK OF EMPATHY

 

 If anyone, including myself, held out hope that US President Donald Trump might grow an empathy chromosome while he was briefly in hospital with coronavirus, we saw our hopes swiftly dashed when he checked himself out of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center—bolstered by experimental drugs and pumped up on steroids—and went back to the White House for a victory lap and photo op. The president put on a display of machismo by snapping a salute at a Marine guard as he descended under his own power from his helicopter and strode unassisted across the White House lawn and up a flight of stairs to one of the residence’s balconies. Although he couldn’t hide the fact that the brief bit of exercise had left him winded, he defiantly stripped off his mask and saluted the cameras before walking through the balcony doors into the White House, without putting his mask back on, despite the fact that he is very likely still shedding virus like crazy and that several members of his staff were waiting for him inside.

This wasn’t the first time in the last several days that he had endangered those around him. Even during his brief stay at Walter Reed, he got bored and couldn’t bear the temptation to go AWOL from the medical center and gallivant around in an official SUV with part of his security detail, waving at passers-by and making sure images of him up and about and out and around were caught by the mainstream media. Like the mad dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, for whom the president has expressed admiration and even “love”, former reality star Trump seems bent on the puerile goal of painting a picture of himself as somehow super-human, equating, like only the most insecure of immature males can do, not only illness but also kindness, politeness, gentleness, sensitivity, empathy and generosity with unacceptable weakness.

We (who are indeed empathic) understand from Trump’s niece, Mary, and from other reliable sources, that these insecurities are the result of the horrific upbringing that young Donald had under the tutelage of a ruthless father. But no matter how much we might weep for the president’s inner child, the American public shouldn’t be expected to pay the price for Trump’s childhood psychological trauma or his continuing childish pranks. While his behavior throughout the nearly four years of his presidency has been consistently recalcitrant and often questionable, his comportment over the past few days has been socially—almost criminally—unacceptable. And more and more people appear to be noticing.

By leaving the hospital, first to go for a spin in his car and then to return home in the midst of intensive experimental treatment for a deadly and highly contagious illness, and once again refusing to wear a mask when he knows full well that he is infectious, Trump has endangered everyone around him, from drivers and security agents to hospital, household and military staff, to say nothing of his adding to concerns about the plague that is spreading through the White House staff like wildfire after a super-spreader event held without social distancing or masks in the garden of the residence for the nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. So blatant has been the attempt by the president to foster a White House reality show about his victory over COVID-19, that an anti-Trump conspiracy theory went viral that his infection with the disease was—as Trump might very well posit if it had happened to an opponent—“fake news”, a hoax, a sham.

But knowing how adamant Trump is about never wanting to appear weak, why would he make up such a story? Some conspiracy theorists said it was to arouse a “sympathy vote” in the upcoming presidential election, since the latest polls place former Obama Vice President Joe Biden at a fifteen point lead over the president for voter intention. Others claimed a more Kim Jong Un scenario in which Trump would go into the hospital apparently stricken, only to emerge resurrected and stronger than ever to try and persuade the public to believe his “superman” reality-show narrative.

At the other end of the political spectrum, several stars of far-right talk radio and TV oozed once more like pond scum to the surface of their swamp with yet another conspiracy theory—that if Trump had managed to dodge the virus up to now, wasn’t it strange that he’d gotten it just a month before elections? And didn’t the nefarious Democrats perhaps have something to do with it?

Despite the president’s latest performance, however, none of these theories seems likely. And the ostensible facts would appear to be far worse: namely, that President Trump is indeed ill with COVID-19. That he fell ill as a result of his repeated flouting of the science and his utter disregard for scientifically proven protocols. That he is too unaware to realize that the only reason he is feeling substantially better is because, for several days he has been, around the clock, in the hands of some of the United States’ finest physicians. That those physicians have, medically speaking, thrown everything but the kitchen sink at him to make him feel better and get him through his bout with the plague as painlessly as possible. And that the euphoria that he is feeling and that he credits—and this comes as no surprise to anyone—to himself and his “amazing powers of recovery”, is very likely the result of the powerful doses of steroids that doctors are reported to have been administering to him.

Worse still, the president continues to make it “all about him” and to flagrantly and indifferently ignore those around him. The fact is that if he were a socially responsible person, he would remain in isolation until he is no longer a threat to others, since, right now, wherever goes, he is irresponsibly infecting other people and endangering their families. On top of all of this, Trump tweeted on leaving the hospital that he felt “better than twenty years ago” and told his followers: “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

At a time when there are at least forty thousand new infections a day in the US and when American coronavirus deaths have already topped two hundred nine thousand, no message from the nation’s leader could have been more reckless or un-presidential. A caring, responsible leader would have said, If I can get it, anyone can and although, for the moment, I may be doing exceptionally well, many others won’t. In fact, many others may very well die. Nor am I out of the woods yet, either. So be responsible. Wear masks. Wash your hands. Socially distance. And whenever you can, stay at home.

The president’s break-out from the hospital and his blatant disregard for the health and welfare of those around him isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, heroic, as he seems to think it is. It is, rather, sociopathic, as has been his administration’s basic denial of the health crisis up to the present. Trump’s horrendous handling of the pandemic in his own “household”—where more and more infections are being reported by the day—is a clear reflection of his mismanagement of it at a national level. And if the incumbent candidate should win another term and roughly half of the people of the United States continue to follow the leader and wantonly ignore the health protocols dictated by science and common sense, Americans can expect, in incredibly short order, to see the COVID death toll climb from an already shocking hundreds of thousands into the millions.

 

Friday, October 2, 2020

THE "FAKE EPIDEMIC" INFECTS THE US PRESIDENT

There has been a lot to take in this week and at week’s end it has been capped by the announcement (tweeted by the US president himself) that both Donald Trump and his wife have COVID-19. The fact that Trump is the sort of president he is—dismissive of even his closest advisers and with a tendency to unilaterally change course on policies publicly espoused by his own cabinet secretaries—tends to paint a picture of an entire administration thrown into a state of rudderless frenzy with the possibility of internal power struggles erupting in the West Wing. Vice President Pence, who has pretty much limited himself to being yet another yes-man in the president’s entourage, inspires little if any confidence in the public or the markets and this only adds to the problem of bringing reassurance to Americans.

It is too early to tell what will happen—how the modern-day plague will affect Trump, since COVID-19 is an entirely unpredictable disease that affects different people in a variety of ways, ranging from hardly any symptoms at all to deathly illness requiring intensive care and assisted breathing. Nor can we count on learning what the president’s real state of health is as his illness progresses, since we have yet to find out why he made an emergency trip to the Walter Reed Army Hospital a few months back and which was dismissed as “routine”, despite taking place off-schedule and in a context that was anything but.

Like some of the authoritarian leaders that he admires—Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jiping and Vladimir Putin spring to mind—the president treats his health as a matter of national security and guards this information beyond any sort of normal procedure, having in the past, for example, written his own bill of health saying, essentially, that he was one of the most healthy men on earth and then having a doctor sign it, or prompting the surgeon general to say that he was even healthier than the doctor himself—a naval officer three decades Trump’s junior.

What we do know is that, despite what he says or pressures others to say, the president is not a particularly healthy specimen. The fact that he’s in his mid-seventies, clinically obese, subject to major stress factors and, by all accounts, has horrendous eating habits place him at high risk. We learned on Friday that he had been checked into Walter Reed “for a few days out of an abundance of caution” and were told that he was “working out of the presidential offices” there. But it seemed telling that his usual unbroken flow of Twitter garrulity was conspicuous by its absence, even as the White House issued a report saying that the president was “fatigued” but in good spirits, while the first lady was suffering from “a mild cough” and headache.

The problem with any reports coming from the White House is that this administration has completely undermined the trustworthiness of anything said in the president’s name. While most Americans might contend that “all politicians lie” the current occupant of the White House is arguably the most habitually and consistently prevaricating president in the history of the United States, lying even when there is no apparent reason to and often lying the exact opposite of what he has previously lied about as if the public were too stupid to notice. So the question is, why would the majority of Americans, or world leaders, for that matter, believe a single word that comes out of the White House regarding Trump’s state of health?

And this lack of trustworthiness is bound to raise a great deal of nervous uncertainty across the United States and around the globe. This is especially true considering how the Trump administration has flagrantly denied the science regarding COVID-19 (and regarding just about everything else from evolution to climate change), scoffing at the repeated pleas of even the internationally recognized physicians and medical researchers inside of his own administration, for people to socially distance and to wear masks any time they are in contact with other people, explaining that following these simple steps could reduce coronavirus deaths six-fold.

Trump, through his most fanatical aides, has bullied people within his own cadre, making it known that those who persist in wearing masks will be looked on with suspicion and disfavor. And this sort of anti-mask herd pressure has been particularly strong over the course of the US summer months, when the president was pushing his agenda for a rapid re-opening of the economy and public schools. The president has even suggested that the virus will just magically disappear from one day to another, when experts, including his own beleaguered men and women of science, say just the opposite. 

Largely following the president’s lead and his encouragement of individual rebellion against protocols and against business and public event shutdowns to halt the spread of the virus and to thus be able to get back to some reasonable facsimile of normalcy in the near future, the US now finds itself in first place as the country which has worst handled the pandemic, racking up over twenty percent of worldwide COVID-19 deaths, while boasting only four percent of the world’s population. It seemed almost ludicrous, then, when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—still not wearing a mask—told reporters this Friday, “This news was shocking—if this disease can reach the White House, it can reach anyone, anywhere, in any house.”

Really??? What, as if the White House or the president had some god-like immunity? What has the science been telling this administration since February? Why does it come as a shock that the president is ill when he has scorned every precaution not only in his administration but also by holding indoor political rallies at which both social-distancing and mask-wearing were discouraged, almost criminally exposing his most avid supporters to this modern-day plague? Once known as a germaphobe, Trump would appear to have bought his own image of god-like power and believed himself to be above catching a highly infectious disease, since his COVID promiscuity has been almost tantamount to licking the handrails aboard public transport.

What is incredible then, rather than a shock, considering that the president has tempted fate endangering himself, his campaign staff, and his most fanatical supporters, is that he hasn’t fallen ill sooner. And this, combined with the reportedly unprotected close contact maintained in advance of last Tuesday’s debate with former Vice-President Joe Biden between Trump and his closest aides and advisers means that it will almost be a miracle if more cases of coronavirus don’t emerge in the White House over the course of the coming days.

With the 2020 presidential election a month away, this couldn’t come at a worse time for Trump. Average recovery time for COVID-19 patients is usually counted in weeks rather than days, and even relatively young and healthy patients often suffer severe after-effects in terms of their oxygen absorption and energy levels. In terms of his most fanatical supporters, who have followed the leader in ridiculing masks, dubbing coronavirus a “fake epidemic” and disregarding the need for drastic public health measures, accepting their hero’s view of the science as a deep state plot to make Trump look bad, perhaps the president’s illness will provide a public service by convincing his followers that if even The Donald can get it, maybe it’s real after all.   

For the sake of the country’s political and economic stability—which has already been sufficiently shaken by the uncommonly divisive and impromptu nature of the Trump presidency—we can only wish the president and first lady a speedy recovery. But as part of his COVID experience, we should also hope that the president emerges sufficiently enlightened as to start taking seriously, for a change, the worst threat to public health since the Spanish flu pandemic of a hundred years ago. So far he has ignored and sought to minimize it, placing the entire country at risk through his words and actions. But perhaps having suffered the disease himself he will, finally and belatedly, discover a modicum of empathy for others and realize that it falls to him to be a true leader rather than a demagogue in seeking solutions that will ultimately bring the pandemic under control before it brings the United States to its knees.  


Saturday, September 19, 2020

OPINIONS AND BELIEFS

On a friend's timeline today, someone asked her, in response to a negative comment to a Trump supporter, why we couldn't just “respect each other's opinions and beliefs.” My response was, and is, this:

I suppose it depends on the opinions and beliefs. If I "believe" that the moon is made out of green cheese, or that the stork brings babies, my beliefs aren't worthy of respect. Nor are they if I believe that the forest fires out west are caused by Democrats not raking their leaves, or that COVID-19 will magically go away if I ignore it. If my "opinion" is that the Holocaust was a hoax, that it's okay to separate migrant children from their parents and put them in cages, or that Creationism is as valid as provable scientific evidence, then my "opinions" aren't worthy of respect either.

If we've learned one thing recently, it's that taking a live and let live attitude toward those who seek to deny facts and impose, as officially accepted policy, conspiracy theories and blatant ignorance celebrated as viable "opinions" and "beliefs" it is a dangerous trend that leads to the bullying and silencing of those who are genuinely in possession of the hard facts and undeniable truth of any situation. And the consequences are potentially disastrous.

 

Friday, August 28, 2020

AWOL FROM THE RNC CONVENTION



As a former newsman, old habits die hard and I always think I have an obligation to watch both conventions, but at this age I no longer have any time or patience to waste and try as I might, I'd watch a little bit of the RNC Convention and, as a writer friend of mine said, "feel like I'd just had a lobotomy," and have to turn it over. Why watch when there was absolutely nothing of substance?

It was hard enough just getting through the intro by that flag-waving, self-righteous, Bible-thumping sycophant Jon Voight. But then to have to watch hours of fawning, mindless king-worship, continual lies, blatant hypocrisy from people like Nikki Haley, who in 2016 said Trump was a racist and unfit for office, and public self-congratulatory political masturbation with no policy revelations (because there aren't any), no mention of how to repair failed pandemic efforts, no attention to the most devastating hurricane in recent memory that was happening in real time, blaming the violence that his administration has spawned for the past four years on Biden (WTF!), and a GOP mob-fest (sans masks or social-distancing) at the White House—supposedly home to the leader of ALL Americans now converted into yet another piece of pro-Trump-only real estate—complete with red, white and blue fireworks to "celebrate" 181,000 COVID deaths and the devastation of parts of the deep South by a monster storm was just more than my septuagenarian heart could take. I preferred to read about it after the fact so I at least didn't have to listen to Trump's disdainful, mocking, conceited, unsympathetic voice.