For what it’s worth.
For what it’s worth.
The coronavirus is referred to as an “invisible enemy” against which we have been forced to take up arms to defeat. Donald Trump calls himself “a wartime president.” And if he had wanted to, he could have fully invoked the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacture and distribution of the “weapons” required to neutralize this invader.
If nothing else, under competent leadership, the United States knows how to wage war. We have both the skilled armed forces and firepower to prevail. But there is a difference between war and military operations. Winning a war requires a commitment, not only by those in uniform, but by the populace writ large. If not for the tragic loss of life and property, armed conflicts in which a small percentage of Americans (i.e. volunteer warriors) are expected to shoulder the burden are more akin to strategic exercises designed to alter a geopolitical equation.
Based on this distinction, the battle against the coronavirus is more closely related to World War II than it is to Vietnam or Iraq. Health and safety first responders are the descendants of WWII draftees and volunteers who put themselves at risk of injury or death each time they engage with this enemy. But they are not the only heroes. As was the case in the fight against the Axis powers, the overwhelming majority of Americans have acknowledged victory is dependent on their actions as much as those on the front lines.
The United States will win this war. Eventually there will be treatment or a vaccine. Think of it as the medical equivalent to the atomic bomb in WWII. It will be a dramatic moment. The virus will surrender. Crowds will gather in Times Square. Two strangers–one a EMT, the other a nurse–will embrace and their hug will be captured on Instagram and broadcast across the nation epitomizing the victory celebration.
But victory in war is only half the story and often the easiest chapter to write. As noted above, we know how to wage war. My question. As we think about a post-COVID world, “Do we know how to wage the peace?” Unfortunately, history tells us the answer is, “No.”
Beginning with the American Revolution, armed conflict has been viewed as a win/lose proposition. Lingering enmity between the newly independent United States and the Crown resulted in a second wave of combat less than 30 years later. The era of reconstruction after the Civil War is still a scab on the psychic of some residents of the states who joined the Confederacy. For 70 years, we have been engaged in an armistice with North Korea instead of a peace agreement. And most recently in Iraq, “mission accomplished” morphed into “mission unknown.”
Certainly, the best example of a failed peace was World War I. The goal of the allies at Versailles to humiliate and punish their adversaries was a major contributing factor to the rise of Nazi Germany and the onset of WWII. According to Michael Neiberg, a professor of history at the U.S. War Army College, the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the forced ceding of pre-war German territory in Europe and Pacific Asia, “made Europe a less stable place.”
The lone exception is the United States response at the end of the second world war. Rather than punish and humiliate the vanquished, the goal was to rebuild Europe and Japan through such efforts as the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan. The message? Those under the rule of the Axis powers were also victims of their governments’ misguided policies. And, what may be the greatest example of counter-intuitive thinking, Italy in 1949 and Germany in 1955 were invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In a variation of Isaiah 2:4, if you cannot turn swords into plowshares, try turning enemies into allies.
Which brings me back to the the war analogy when it comes to the current pandemic. We have only begun to count the casualties from this crisis. On any given day, I wonder if the 100,000+ deaths, as significant as that number seems, may not be most enduring tragedy. The coronavirus has ripped off more than a band-aid that hides the cuts and scrapes on the American body politic. It is more like releasing a tourniquet. We see more than just a scab or abrasion. There is a stream of fresh blood, the result of disparities between the rich and poor, between races, between urban and rural, between ignorance and enlightenment and between nations.
None of these will disappear when we eventually defeat the coronavirus on the medical battlefield. They must be addressed in the peace agreement that follows. Will the “treaty of Wuhan” result in the United States and China creating a new global alliance to fight future pandemics? Will the next administration propose the “Fauci Plan” to reinforce the health care system in rural areas and inner cities, both of which have been stressed to their limits?
Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” This is one of those opportunities. There will be advancements in medicine and science. But those are weapons of battle. Will there also be advancements in our civil discourse which give the peace a chance to make America a more perfect union? Or will the urge to take political advantage of the medical victory over COVID19 make the United States a less stable place?
For what it’s worth.
NOTE: Today’s blog entry marks the 550th post since I created this site in October 2015. Over the past three days, I thought about how I could best celebrate this milestone. First, I went back to the 39 unpublished drafts I never finished. Some were attempts to say something profound. Others were intended simply to make you laugh. As I reread each draft, I encountered a simple truth. They did not meet either objective and deserved to be tossed in that digital round file.
The first image I saw this morning was the front page of the New York Times (below), dedicated to victims of COVID-19, by putting names to the numbers. And there was the topic for today’s post. Not how could this happen, but how did we let this happen?
Thank you to all who have followed this blog from the start and those who have joined the community over the years.
There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.
~George W. Bush
Bush 43 took a lot of grief for this one. We all knew what he was trying to say. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Sadly, this “Bushism” overshadowed the point he was trying to make. The occasion on which he made this gaffe was an appearance at the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee. The topic was the importance of teaching American history and civic responsibility. Thus lies the difference between W. and Trump. On certain occasions, Bush 43’s heart was in the right place.
And as we are just over five months away from the next national election, I hope he was right when he said, “…you can’t get fooled again.” I wish I was more confident. And during the half-century since the time I studied voting behavior, an area of particular interest during my pursuit of degrees in political science, much has changed.
Back in the day, the most noted expert in the field was one of my mentors Richard M. Scammon who co-wrote The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate, published in January 1970. Scammon and co-author Ben Wattenberg predicted the 1968 presidential election was a harbinger of the coming defection of many life-long Democratc to the party of Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes and Trump. And to some extent, it reinforced James Carville’s advice to Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy stupid.” And while such wise counsel was correct when the nation is in recession, what Carville and others in the Democratic party failed to inquire was, “What happens when it’s not the economy?”
Scammon and Wattenberg argued, while the economy dominated politics for most of the 20th century, financial security resulted in a shift among middle Americans toward social issues. In an early warning against identity politics, Scammon wrote, “The typical voter is unyoung, unpoor and unblack.” Therefore, from a counter-intuitive perspective, the Democratic party becomes it own worst enemy ever time a Democratic administration cleans up the economic carnage left behind by their Republican predecessors. Bill Clinton oversees the strongest economy in decades and voters choose “compassionate conservatism” over staying the course. Barack Obama shepherds a seven year recovery from the worst recession in 70 years and the electorate chooses Trump’s “build that wall” and “lock her up” over Hillary Clinton’s “Big Challenges, Real Solutions.”
This explains why, despite his low approval ratings, a majority of analysts and political pundits predicted as late as January 2020, Trump was the odds-on favorite to win re-election. Although Trump’s campaign thought their wildcard was the record high stock market and low unemployment, it was not the state of the economy which offered him a path to four more years in the Oval Office. It was his ability to once again, in the absence of economic concerns, make the election about cultural issues.
Which brings me back to W. and the opening quote. In 2016, Donald Trump fooled just enough people to carry the electoral college. Without the benefit of a post-pandemic economic boom, Trump and his surrogates struggle for a different rationale. The latest ploy, as reported by the Associated Press this morning, is “Trust me. We built the greatest economy in the world. I’ll do it a second time.”
Fool me once? For many Trump supporters, once is a quantum understatement. Consider the following.
And yet 42.9 percent of voters say they will vote for Trump in November and 8.7 percent are still undecided. (Source: Real Clear Politics Average of Polls) Which is why November 3rd is not about Trump. Imagine your doctor asked for your trust after being wrong so many times. Or your financial advisor. Or your lawyer. Or your pastor/rabbi lied to you constantly. Or your therapist. Or your boss. Or one of your employees. How long would you maintain that personal or professional relationship? And if you did, how long before a friend or family member asked, “Are YOU insane?”
In an effort to expose Trump’s character and its impact on America, people including former First Lady Michelle Obama often quote Maya Angelo. “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.” If, on November 3rd, the voters give Donald Trump four more years as president, chief executive and commander-in-chief, all jobs for which he has demonstrated incompetence and a lack of basic understanding, it will prove Angelo’s words were directed at the wrong audience. A more accurate interpretation would be, “When we see ourselves for who we are, believe it.”
For what it’s worth.
One of the most creative occupations in the world is defense lawyer. On how many occasions has a defendant’s counsel been asked to implicitly address the question, “When is an action which normally would constitute a crime, not a crime?” Many television courtroom dramas, most notably Boston Legal, owe their ratings to this premise. How could Alan Shore (James Spader), Denny Crane (Willam Shatner) or Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) possibly argue a client’s innocence despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary? And yet, they did and won most of the time.
This morning we are confronted with the opposite hypothesis. When does a technically legal action become a crime? The incident which triggered this topic was the shooting at 7:25 p.m. last night at the Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale, Arizona. A man wearing a camouflage mask opened fire with an AR-15, wounding three individuals. The suspect was taken into custody by local police. State Senator Martin Quezada witnessed the shooting and tweeted, “I just witnessed an armed terrorist with an AR-15 shoot up Westgate. There are multiple victims.”
Should anyone be surprised? Earlier this week a friend drafted an op-ed piece for our local paper about the increased probability of violence when a president of the United States describes individuals brandishing assault weapons as “good people.” My response, “I think we may be only one beer too many away from a Kent State moment.” Although we, as yet, have no idea of the assailant’s alcohol level at the time of the shooting nor his motivation, the incident in Glendale is exactly what my friend and I feared would happen.
The Arizona shooter will be charged with a crime and have his day in court. And we should not be shocked when his defense counsel argues he was provoked while exercising his First Amendment right to assembly and, since Arizona has no law restricting assault weapons, he was within his Second Amendment rights to bring the AR-15 to the shopping complex. And the lawyer will remind the judge his positions have been regularly upheld by justices who favor a strict construction of the language in the Constitution. Forget the First Amendment only guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” or the shooter was not acting as a member of a well-regulated militia” as required under the Second Amendment. Only in what has become the darkest corners of American does peaceable equal armed to the hilt with an assault weapon and petition includes intimidation under threat of violence.
Equally important, these armed “patriots” forget thirteen years before there was a First and Second Amendment, the country was founded on the principle that everyone had an unalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To protect that right which theists attribute to their Creator, not a mere assembly of their peers, it is time for legislators and prosecutors to be as creative as defense attorneys.
Which brings me back to Senator Quezada’s use of the word “terrorist.” Can anyone imagine law enforcement authorities standing by if a person of color carried a pressure cooker into a mall? Or an associate of El Chapo approached the Colorado prison, where the drug lord is being held, wearing a bullet proof vest and carrying an AK-47. Would either be allowed to claim immunity because they were peaceably assembling or petitioning the government?
Many states have laws which make the presence of a lethal weapon during the commission of a lesser crime (e.g. robbery) illegal even if the perpetrator never intended to use the weapon. Why isn’t obstruction of official government business a crime? You or I can be arrested for disrupting a session of Congress from the gallery. Should not the use of a deadly weapon to obstruct official government business be equally worthy of punishment, if not more so?
On a broader scale, perhaps it is time to rethink the entire penal code related to crimes involving firearms, even if the purpose for brandishing the weapon is only to threaten or intimidate. For example, manslaughter is defined as “unlawful killing that doesn’t involve malice aforethought—intent to seriously harm or kill, or extreme, reckless disregard for life.” (NOLO.COM) Remember that innovative defense lawyer? He or she will argue, if the charge is voluntary manslaughter, the client was strongly provoked and acted in “the heat of passion.” Yet, it is still a crime.
Now consider what might be called “premeditated provocation.” A disgruntled citizen reads a tweet from the chief executive of the United States urging him to LIBERATE his home state. And as an added touch suggests those looking out for public health have an ulterior motive to restrict his non-existent Second Amendment rights. Does he email his state representative or the governor? Does he draft an op-ed for the local newspaper? Does he put a sign in his front yard?
NO! Instead he decides to put on camouflage clothing and a bullet proof vest and chooses the most ominous looking weapon from his arms cabinet. He makes a sign which reads, “Live Free or Die” or what must be the new definition of irony, “Favor Liberty over Arbitrary Power.” Are we expected to believe he goes through all these gyrations because he thinks it is how one peaceably assembles or petitions the government? Or is it more likely he is intentionally creating a situation which is consistent with what has become the ethos of the right, “owning the libs?” And unfortunately when a shot is fired, he will argue, “I didn’t shoot anyone. That was the guy standing next me. And he only fired because that liberal snowflake said our long-rifles were compensation for our small penises. Why are you blaming me?”
And how does that unidentified president of the United States respond? He offers to cover these “good people’s” legal bills. Which, of course, he never actually does.
For what it’s worth.
Recent movies such as The Irishman have demonstrated how CGI can be employed to alter the actors’ facial features. What if that same technology provided a low-cost means of updating classic films? Rather than recast roles, the special effects team would need only alter appearances and re-record the soundtrack. Consider the following example. A coronavirus era re-release of the Harold Ramis hit Ghostbusters. In this excerpt, the Virusbusters try to convince Donald Trump to take the pandemic seriously.
AN AIDE (Tommy Hollis)
(entering with the Virusbusters)
The Virusbusters are here, Mr. President.
DONALD TRUMP (David Marguiles)
(looking them over)
Okay, the Virusbusters. And where’s Jared?
JARED (William Atherton)
(Jared shoulders his way forward.)
Here I am, sir. And I’m prepared to make a full report. These men are complete hoaxsters. Someone has a fever or a slight cough and calls these bozos, who conveniently show up to get rid of the problem by suggesting they get tested, isolate themselves and wear masks.
You’d think they’d recommend Hydroxychloroquine or Clorox.
Dr. Fauci (Bill Murray)
I know he’s your son-in-law, but that man is a psychopath, Mr. President.
Or a mixture of gases, no doubt the army has a surplus.
(Trump looks for help from his advisors.)
HHS SECRETARY AZAR (Norman Matlock)
All I know is, this isn’t your typical seasonal flu reality show. I’ve seen every form of contagion known to man, but this beats me.
(Trump turns to Franklin Graham.)
GRAHAM (Tom McDermott)
Officially, the Church will not take a position on the religious implications of this phenomena. However, since it started, people have been lining up at every church in the city. We’ve had to put out additional collection plates. Personally, I think it’s a sign from God but don’t quote me on that.
(shaking his head)
I can’t call a press conference and tell everyone to just start praying. I’d have to go to church to set an example.
(Ben Carson steps forward. Trump looks at him quizzically.)
CARSON (Ernie Hudson)
Mr. President, you may not remember me. I’m Ben Carson, your secretary of HUD. I’m not usually welcome in the oval office, but I had to come and tell you – this thing is real. Since I joined the task force, I have seen shit that would turn you white.
(He rubs his eyes wearily.)
So what do I do now?
Mr. President, it’s a pretty simple choice. You can believe Jared here … or you can accept the fact that this country is heading for a disaster of really Biblical proportions.
What do you mean “Biblical?”
Old Testament, Mr. President. “Wrath of God”-type stuff. The beaches will close, people won’t be able to get a haircut or their nails done …
BIRX (Dan Akroyd)
… no political rallies, no golf, mass unemployment, inspectors general sacrificed …
Enough! I get the point. But what if you’re wrong?
If I’m wrong then nothing happens and you toss us in the can like you want to do with Biden and Obama. But if I’m right, and if we can stop this thing … well, let’s just say that you could save the lives of a lot of registered voters.
VIRUSBUSTERS! Not coming to a theater near you this spring.
For what it’s worth.