Prevent Deaths? The Trump Administration Will Just Try to Erase Them.

Jack Holmes
Photo credit: Doug Mills - Getty Images
Photo credit: Doug Mills - Getty Images

From Esquire

Germany is restarting its soccer league on Saturday, albeit without fans in attendance. Its businesses have reopened, and 75 percent of them never closed. That country of 83 million people has had fewer than 8,000 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. South Korea, population 51 million, had its first case the same day the United States did on January 21. It's had 10,000 cases and 259 deaths. These countries are smaller than the U.S., and South Korea has experience with outbreaks of respiratory disease, but these are not totalitarian states with some built-in capability to respond to a pandemic more decisively than we have. They are liberal democracies that simply did a better job. They've experienced setbacks, but the gap in performance is titanic.

Here in the world's most exceptional nation, we've had 1.4 million cases and 83,000 deaths. As Alexander Nazaryan put it on Twitter, we have 4.2 percent of the world's population but 28 percent of the world's reported fatalities. This is simply a terrible record, a dismal national failure. It is another stain on the fabric of America, and it is growing by the day. Many states are beginning to reopen without adequate testing in place to contain potential outbreaks. The federal government did not use the two months the vast majority of us have sat at home to ramp up our testing capacity to requisite levels, which has been key to both Germany and South Korea's success. Some states are reopening while their case numbers are still growing. And all the while, the federal government has failed to adequately respond to the economic dimension of this, too, as Congress and the Fed look out for the same people they always look out for.


But while Democrats have so far failed to win—or even fight—many battles on behalf of working people, and you can't expect much of anything from their Republican colleagues in Congress, it's hard to look beyond the Executive Branch here. The president may maintain that the buck stops that-a-way—"I don't take responsibility at all."—but the rest of us are not obligated to stomach this crap. They played down the threat, they failed to act, and it cost American lives and livelihoods.

This has gotten so obvious that Donald J. Trump, whom the nation saw fit to make the president through a quirk of our electoral system three years ago, has turned to the most desperate Distraction Objects in an attempt to change the subject. (If you spend more than 15 seconds pondering "Obamagate" when the president himself will basically tell you it's not real, I'm not sure what to tell you.) It has gotten so unequivocal that a reporter from The New York Times—that bastion of obsessive Objectivism—feels free to jump on CNN and rightfully call for the resignation of the head of the Centers for Disease Control. In the process, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. laid out a frankly damning timeline.

We should be calling for these people's resignations more frequently. The president should be continually asked to resign on the basis of gross incompetence. He doesn't read his briefing reports, he rarely attends meetings of his pandemic task force. He doesn't know what's going on in the world. He doesn't care. All that matters is what's on TV. We are a nation whose politics are in severe decline, and it is quite literally killing us. The man now tasked with leading the national response is a trust-fund baby whose dad bought his way into Harvard, and who was given this assignment because he married the president's daughter. Who among us can stop this plague? Get me the Son-in-Law-in-Chief.

That's why the administration's reaction to this emerging state of affairs, wherein the United States has more than double the next nation's deaths and is careening towards 20 percent unemployment, is to fudge the numbers. These are people who have spent a lifetime cutting corners. They don't want to do the job, they want to be seen as doing the job. They want good press. They want praise and adulation (and also money). Everything is a PR battle, because nothing is real. The truth is whatever you can get enough people to believe. It's all fungible. The contours of reality can be bent for your own purposes, even if it means erasing the death of someone's mother or father in the process. As The Daily Beast reports, this is literally underway.

President Donald Trump and members of his coronavirus task force are pushing officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change how the agency works with states to count coronavirus-related deaths. And they’re pushing for revisions that could lead to far fewer deaths being counted than originally reported, according to five administration officials working on the government’s response to the pandemic.

This echoes previous reporting from Axios, which also found Trump is upset at the death numbers so he's started complaining they're not real. Some of his advisers feed this because they are pilot fish with no discernible ethics. But as the Beast reports, this is now a full-fledged White House initiative. They are going to drive the numbers down to make themselves look better, even if it means erasing—rather than preventing—the deaths of human beings.

The White House has pressed the CDC, in particular, to work with states to change how they count coronavirus deaths and report them back to the federal government, according to two officials with knowledge of those conversations. And Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the administration’s coronavirus task force, has urged CDC officials to exclude from coronavirus death count reporting some of those individuals who either do not have confirmed lab results and are presumed positive or who have the virus and may not have died as a direct result of it, according to three senior administration officials.

Dr. Birx has been mortgaging her reputation and her credibility for some time now, and it looks like she's now under water. It's understandable to some extent that she and Dr. Anthony Fauci must walk on eggshells around a president who has the disposition and intellectual capacity of a non-adult. They must appease some of his more batshit tendencies to keep their jobs and, they presumably believe, do what's right for the country. But this is way over the line, not least because, as Birx surely knows, it's far more likely we're undercounting deaths related to the pandemic.

Forcing bureaucrats to fudge the numbers to make the ruling regime look better in spite of the reality outside is some Chernobyl shit, the kind of thing we used to ridicule the corrupt Soviet regimes for doing. Now we might do it. And if we do, it will only make the reality worse. Distorting the numbers will make it harder for states and localities to open safely, leading to more death and suffering. It is a heinous act, and also a self-destructive one. This will only prolong the crisis. But the president is such a prisoner of his own impulse, and so lacks the patience and critical thinking skills to act strategically, that he is unable to truly pursue his own long-term self-interest. He's just fighting and lying to get to the end of each day. This is a corollary, of course, to the larger plan to declare victory no matter how many people die.

Since none of these people, from the president on down to his lowest apparatchiks, will do what's needed and resign, the only choice is to defenestrate them in November. They simply must be removed from any position of power in our society. The president's lawyers are currently arguing before the Supreme Court that there is no institution in America that is permitted to hold him accountable or provide oversight of what he is doing. This is an argument for tyranny, full stop, and they've been making it for months. Meanwhile, he is completely unable to do the actual job and spends most of his time monetizing it when his mind is not on Twitter or television. He must be removed, or we will truly reap the whirlwind.

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