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Sunday, April 5, 2020
BTRTN: Donald Trump is Finally in Vietnam
Well, I'm not going to point any
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
--Written by Pete Seeger in 1967, “Waist Deep
in the Big Muddy,” was made famous as a Vietnam War protest song by The
58,220 Americans died in Vietnam during that decade-long
Today, the war in Vietnam is nearly universally viewed as a
colossal error, one that led to an ungodly toll of American lives sacrificed
because of the ignorance and arrogance of our leaders, all for no good
reason, and for no justifying accomplishment. In the history of the United
States, never have so many died because of the incompetence of the Federal
The Trump administration now finally acknowledges that
somewhere between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die because of the COVID-19.
Need some context for that number?
146,000 people died in the atomic bomb explosion at
Hiroshima. Yes, COVID-19 is effectively dropping a nuclear bomb on a major
Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Maria, the Iraq War, and 9/11?
Hardly. The combined total of American deaths from those disasters was a grand
total of 13,080… one-sixth of the most conservative estimates of coronavirus
Add in the toll in from Vietnam, and the five largest disasters
of my lifetime do not account for as many deaths as the conservative estimate of
lives lost to COVID-19.
Donald Trump famously dodged the Vietnam war draft when his
rich dad paid a doctor to swear that young Trump had bone spurs.But now he has found his own personal Vietnam.
He is waist-deep in a Mekong Delta of his own making, and he is the same overwhelmed,
ignorant, frightened, coddled coward racing from responsibility now as he was
then. The simple fact is that a very large percentage of the deaths that are being projected could have been avoided if Donald Trump had understood what was happening, had acted on a timely basis, and been honest with the American people.
So, why are Donald Trump’s approval ratings actually going
up, when he and his administration have botched the management of this crisis about
as comprehensively as can be imagined? It is a virtual certainty that historians will review the
events that took place during the outset of the coronavirus and conclude that
the decisions Donald Trump made and did not make determined the scope of the
pandemic, and they will conclude that an enormous number of the deaths that
occurred were avoidable, and indeed had been avoided by other democracies
around the world.
But we cannot wait for historians. There is an election in
November. People must understand the truth now. The small group of people who have given
Donald Trump better grades for managing the coronavirus outbreak than have
given him positive ratings for the remainder of his presidency are simply
unaware of how much Donald Trump exacerbated this catastrophe, and holds
personal responsibility for an untold number of needless deaths.
The parallels to Vietnam actually make this point.
The American debacle in Vietnam began with a misdiagnosis
of the problem (remember the “domino theory?”), was complicated by the failure
to define an objective, was exacerbated by our government’s failures and delays to identify
and commit the resources needed to accomplish any lasting success, and was
prolonged by our government’s unabated hubris in thinking that it was so
powerful that it would be easy to beat the enemy.
Perhaps most significant: the
Vietnam era was plagued by our government's failure to be truthful with the American people, as it instead chanted a constant refrain that victory always lay just around the next bend, if only we “stay the course.” The most powerful nation on earth was humiliated
by its failure overseas and torn in half at home, as one part of America
clearly understood that the United States government had no understanding of
the situation, no clear objective, no plan to achieve it, and was not telling
the truth about its epic failure. The other half? The “silent majority”
meekly accepted the government’s direction and acquiesced as so many lambs were sent to the slaughter. History
Welcome to your very own Vietnam, Donald Trump. You dodged
it when your rich daddy was looking out for you. But this time, you broke it,
so you own it.
Let’s be clear on one point: no one is blaming Donald Trump
for the coronavirus itself. This is a rapidly emerging Republican narrative. In
a desperate attempt to head off the issue of responsibility, Republicans try to
frame the issue as partisan: “You Democrats are trying to politicize this –
Donald Trump did not cause this virus!” That is not our point. The
issue is not with the fact that the coronavirus found its way to our shores. It
is what Trump did, and did not do, about it, that matters. It is the painful
twist on Howard Baker’s question: what didn’t this President know, and
why didn’t he know it?
Here are the undeniable facts: Trump’s administration
gutted our country’s mechanisms for identifying and coping with the threat of
global pandemics, failed to understand the nature and horrific severity of this
threat, were appallingly slow to act, and repeatedly mislead the public about
the danger of the virus, lulling Americans into a complacency that caused them
to be casual about the risks at just the moment they should have been most vigilant.
1.Trump decimated the agencies and personnel that had been
put in place by previous administrations to identify, act on, and minimize the
impact of a global pandemic. Most pointedly, Trump abolished the pandemic
response team that had been appointed by Barack Obama in 2016. Trump removed
and did not replace the individual who worked for the CDC in China to monitor
contagious illnesses. He fired the Homeland Security Advisor assigned to
monitoring the outbreak of epidemics around the world, and this individual was
never replaced. The individual on the National Security Counsel in charge of
medical and bio-defense resigned and was never replaced.
2. The Trump administration was asleep at the wheel during the period from late January through early
March when the die was cast. Given the geometric nature of societal spread, the
coronavirus was seeping well into the population while Trump and his lackeys
made light of the threat and thought they were addressing the problem by
banning international travel to the United States. This was truly a pointless
gesture: the virus was already here and geometrically multiplying, and Trump’s
ban on travel had absolutely no impact on the time bomb that was already
ticking inside the country.
Worst yet, Trump – in what was likely a sloppy wet kiss to
the pharmaceutical industry -- refused to use the already-existent coronavirus
test that had been developed by the World Health Organization and issued to
other nations by January, no doubt thinking that allowing U.S. companies to
develop their own test would be a tasty boon to their profit streams. The
failure to have an adequate testing, monitoring, and tracking mechanism in
place in the earliest days that the virus was found in the United States is the
single reason why our country is now in the worst shape of any nation on earth.
3. Because Donald Trump and his team do not believe in
science, they could not possible fathom thecataclysmic impact the virus would have on our healthcare system. It is
now clear that either no one explained – or Donald Trump simply did not
understand -- exactly how this virus was already spreading at the speed of a
wildfire in other countries. This information was not only readily obvious to
many government agencies, it actually was articulated in its full measure and
magnitude by my brother right here at Born To Run the Numbers on March
14, at a point in time when Donald Trump was suggesting that “gatherings be
limited to ten people.” We knew it! How could the President of the
United States not know it?
Trump utterly ignored all the science, all the math, and all
the evidence pouring in from other countries. His administration failed to foresee
the demand for medical equipment – masks, ventilators, hospital beds – that
could have and should have been ordered in February. And the primary reason
people will die is that we will run out of ventilators just as the number of
infected individuals reaches its apex. Without ventilators, people die. It is
that sad, and that simple.
4. Just as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon attempted to
hide the degree of carnage and failure from the American people, so, too, did
Donald Trump continuously deceive the American people about the gravity of the
coronavirus. Terrified that worries about the virus would weaken his biggest
argument for re-election – a strong economy – Trump consistently downplayed the
threat, causing Americans to relax and not take the warnings seriously.
The examples of this stunning program of disinformation are
legion. To include them all would require a piece solely focused on this point
alone. In late February, Trump said of the number of coronavirus cases, “We had
12, at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are
fully recovered.” In this exact same time frame, Trump said:
“We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially
down, not up.”
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle —
it will disappear.”
“It’s very mild,” on March 4.
Trump accused the media of sensationalizing the story to
hurt his chances at re-election. He constantly sought to assure the American
people that his administration was totally “in control,” and at one point waxed
on about how knowledgeable he is about medicine.
“I like this stuff. I really get it. People are
surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you
know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have
done that instead of running for president.”
5. Ah, but in the blame game… Donald Trump is in a class by
himself. Trump famously grabs credit for anything, everything, and most of all
things that never actually happened, and yet cannot wait to point a finger at
Democrats, the media, Andrew Cuomo, and Barack Obama for his own failures. Earlier
this week, Mike Pence was eager to blame China and the CDC for the
administration’s failure to act urgently on the coronavirus. Trump himself
tried to blame the states and their governors. Blame anybody and everybody but
The essential point is this: if Donald Trump and the hacks
in his White House had been competent at their jobs, they would have been all
over the science of this epidemic back in January.
Yes, folks, we are back in Vietnam, only the body counts
are coming faster, and they are not happening half a world away to young
soldiers who were called to duty. Now, it is friends, neighbors, teachers, and
family members who never got the message about the danger and were never told how they could protect themselves.
Now all Donald Trump can do is watch the bodies pile up at
the make-shift morgues and try to convince people that he did a terrific job.
An amazing job. But the truth is, by this time next month, he will have caused
more American deaths than Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong did in the entire
Why, then, are Trump’s approval ratings going up?
The explanation is pretty simple.
1. In times of war and crisis, Americans generally rally
around their President. There is nothing mysterious here. George Dubya Bush
enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity after 9/11, even though his
administration ignored the warnings that such an attack might happen, and he
appeared in those early days to many to be a deer in the headlights,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the events, and outsourcing his job to Dick
2. Most Americans were not paying serious attention to the
coronavirus until very recently – probably in no small measure because Trump
himself was categorizing it as no big deal. As a result, they only began to pay
attention at a point when Trump began doing daily press briefings in which he
wildly exaggerated his accomplishments and lashed out at any reporter who challenged
his narrative. Trump now claims that he was all over this from the beginning
and that he is the one who is providing all the solutions. Because most
Americans do not know the real background, many simply buy Trump’s act at face
3. Most people want to hear the best possible spin on
horrific circumstances. They want to be comforted that everything is going to
be ok. However grossly misleading it has been, Trump has been feeding that
Americans need to know the truth.
If Donald Trump was a competent President, the death toll
from coronavirus in the United States would be dramatically
less than the carnage we will witness. Perhaps half. Perhaps far less.
On what basis do I support that assertion?
All the usual suspects: Math. Science. Evidence from other
countries like South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. These are all free-market, strong business-oriented democracies
led by people who knew what they were doing. They studied what was happening in
Wuhan. They developed centralized game plans to enforce social isolation. Their
rates of contagion are dramatically lower that what we see in the United
States. Their infections per capita (given the same number of days after the first
documented case) are far lower that the United States. They will be less likely
to have the acute shortages of medical equipment, staff, and hospital beds that
we will have. Dramatically fewer people will die.
It is of course irony’s keen justice that the Trump
administration is being brought to its knees by the one thing it could not
bluff, could not spin, could not blame on Obama, and could not force to exist
in an alternate reality. A malignant virus cannot be conjured away by Fox News anchors. Trump is going to be crushed by science. By reality.
In the Vietnam era, families were torn to shreds when some
World War II era fathers who retained a blind faith in their government turned
in rage on sons who sought ways to avoid being shipped to a far-off war that
appeared to have no justification, no point, and no purpose. Sons left homes,
many abandoning their country to find safety in Canada. In the years that
followed, those fifty-something fathers in the United States lived broken, crushed lives,
having lost sons to death in Vietnam, or to permanent alienation in Canada.
Those men ultimately realized that their faith in their government was foolish,
naïve, and cost them their families. They ultimately came to understand that
their children were right, and they were wrong.
There are still millions of people in the United States who
cling to their faith in Donald Trump because they applaud his racism, his misogyny,
his xenophobia, or simply because they felt that he would be the best servant
of their personal greed.
Those people will soon pay for that allegiance with the
death of a mother, a father, a grandfather, a favorite teacher, an admired
celebrity, a favorite minister, a son, or a daughter. When nearly a quarter of
a million people die in a country of 350 million, the math tells you that we
will all know someone who dies.
Yes, it’s that darn math again.
And when that happens – when we all know someone who died
needlessly, alone, separated from their family by a walled-off hospital -- only
then will the parallels to Vietnam being fully realized in America.
It will be when people know people who died from a
President’s incompetence and deceit.
Then, perhaps, Donald Trump’s grip on the ignorant, the
selfish, the unintelligent, and the naïve will ultimately be broken.
Donald Trump, it took you fifty years to get here, but you
are finally in Vietnam.
The rest of us? We’re waist deep in the big muddy, and the
big fool says to go on.
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