America: Rudderless in the Face of a Storm

“When you have fifteen people, and when the fifteen within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”—President Donald Trump, February 26, 2020.

Robert Ingersoll was a 19th Century preacher, philosopher, and politician from upstate New York. After service as an officer in the Civil War, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

One of his most famous quotes goes as follows: “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.” I often found that quote useful during my days as a university president.

Throughout the first week of March, President Trump downplayed the coronavirus, saying, “the tests are there, the tests are beautiful,” and “anyone who wants a test can get one.”

Then, this past Wednesday, as I watched President Trump deliver a speech that will live in infamy, I found myself in need of Ingersoll’s advice on more than one occasion. (Spirited Reasoners—if they value the unbiased nature of their logical conclusions—need to keep their emotions under control.)

The point in the speech which put my spirits to their greatest challenge was the moment when a travel ban was imposed upon Europe but excluded the United Kingdom.

“What?” I said aloud. “Does the coronavirus not speak English?”

Then I felt another unholy question rearing its ugly head in my mind.

“Doesn’t President Trump own resort properties in Scotland and Ireland?”

So, I looked it up. And, sure enough, he does. Two in Scotland, one in Ireland. Which is one reason why full disclosure of his income tax returns might be useful to taxpayers from time to time, if only to understand the logic underpinning his toughest decisions.

More troublesome, however, were his rose-colored remarks in the face of impending disaster.

“This virus will not have a chance against us,” he said, ignoring the fact that there is no known cure for the virus, not to mention the grief felt by those whose loved ones had died and the fear felt by those whose parents and/or grandparents resided in nursing homes across the country.

Finally, and most telling, was his omission of a key fact that must have played a role in last week’s stock market roller coaster response to his address: President Donald Trump made the momentous decision in 2018 to dismantle the National Security Council’s directorate charged with preparing the United States for the next pandemic. “I’m a businessman,” he told a reporter yesterday, justifying that decision on the grounds that it saved taxpayers millions of dollars, because all those scientists would just sit around and do nothing if there were no pandemics in sight.

Funny how a politician who has criticized increased funding for public health and universal healthcare as “too expensive,” and who promised that the fifteen cases diagnosed in February would soon be down to zero, is now willing to throw 50 billion dollars at the havoc wreaked by a single disease.