Archives for category: Ignorance

My favorite Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank summarizes where our “leaders” are in responding to the global pandemic. No wonder the EU won’t allow Americans to enter its borders.

Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t much care what Anthony Fauci has to say. The Kentucky Republican gets his public health advice from Friedrich Hayek.

Hayek, the Austrian-born economist and libertarian hero, died in 1992. But Paul, an ophthalmologist before he took up politics, still takes medical guidance from the 20th-century philosopher.

“Hayek had it right!” Paul proclaimed at Tuesday’s Senate health committee hearing on the coronavirus pandemic.

“Only decentralized power and decision-making based on millions of individualized situations can arrive at what risks and behaviors each individual should choose.”

Paul focused his wrath on Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease official. “Virtually every day we seem to hear from you things we can’t do,” Paul complained. “All I hear is, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, we can’t play baseball.”

Fauci assured Paul that “I never said we can’t play a certain sport.”

Unsatisfied, Paul demanded: “We just need more optimism.”

So that’s what we need. The United States is hitting new records for infection, largely because President Trump and allied governors across the South and Southwest ignored public health guidance. While other countries beat back the virus, we’re on course to have 100,000 new cases a day, Fauci said, and doing little about it. But we just need to be more upbeat!

Not for the first time, it feels as though 21st-century America is 14th-century Europe, reacting with all manner of useless countermeasures to the plague: balancing ill “humors” and dispelling evil “vapors” caused by planetary misalignment, religious marches and public self-flagellation, cures involving live chickens and unicorns, and the wearing of amulets and reciting of “abracadabra.”

Now, we have science to tell us how to beat the coronavirus — with face masks and social distancing. Yet our response is resolutely medieval.

The president ridicules mask wearing as politically correct and unmanly. His campaign staff tears down social distancing signs at his mass rally. Governors of hard-hit states tamper with data, sideline public health experts and blame the spread on Latino farmworkers, civil rights demonstrations and increased testing — anything but their reckless and premature relaxing of restrictions.

And then there’s Vice President Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force. “I’d just encourage every American to continue to pray,” he said at Friday’s task force briefing.

I’m all for prayer. But prayer without face masks won’t defeat the virus.

“The attitude of pushing back from authority and pushing back on scientific data is very concerning,” Fauci told senators Tuesday, bemoaning a “lack of trust” in government. “We’re in the middle of a catastrophic outbreak and we really do need to be guided by scientific principles.”

A lack of urgency about the virus caused the testing debacle. A lack of regard for science caused the hydroxychloroquine debacle. A contempt for public health advice caused the reopening debacle. A president’s vanity caused the anti-face-mask debacle. An immunology debacle likely comes next: If Trump rushes out a vaccine before the election, would anybody believe it’s safe?

Belatedly, more than a dozen states have paused or scaled back their rash plans to reopen without heeding public health guidance. But we still have the White House proclaiming “remarkable progress” against the pandemic because the latest victims are younger — as though they won’t infect the old and the sick. Trump insists he wasn’t joking when he said he told health officials to “slow the testing down” to suppress the number of reported cases. He’s proceeding with plans for an in-person, mask-optional convention in Florida, now a virus hot spot.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blames street protests (even though New York, Washington and Minneapolis experienced no such surge in cases) and “overwhelmingly Hispanic” workers, and as cases spiked last week, he claimed that “nothing has changed.” Like other GOP governors and the Trump administration, he also blames an increase in testing — which doesn’t explain the higher rate of positive tests.

Pence, too, rejects the obvious conclusion that “the reopening has to do with what we’re seeing” in the viral spread. (It’s the evil vapors!) He said Sunday that it’s a “good idea” to wear face masks — just after attending a church event at which half the 2,200 people, including the choir, eschewed masks.

At Tuesday’s committee hearing, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring, urged Trump to “occasionally wear a mask” so his admirers “would follow his lead and help end this political debate.”

But neither Alexander’s pleadings, nor those of the various health officials testifying, are likely to break down America’s medieval resistance to science. Paul, citing the successful reopening of schools in Europe, demanded U.S. schools reopen (ignoring that Europe has contained the virus). Invoking the superiority of Hayek’s theories to the findings of public health officials, Paul said “we shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best.”

I invited Paul Horton, a history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, to write on the topic, “Why study history?” He wrote this essay.

Betsy Devos’ War on History is Just Another Trip to Fantasyland

Without history we are lost. Without history we are disconnected, thrown into limitless space and time that has no ground or purpose. Learning history is central to learning individual identity and how that individual identity fits into a larger picture or purpose.

Up until the “age of mechanical reproduction,” to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase, history was passed from generation to generation in the form of face to face storytelling. The griot, the elder, or grandma and grandpa, wove meaning into the telling of family and human history. The storyteller wove the individual, family, and human stories together into a fabric or pattern of meaning, into a place and a purpose. The teleology of the individual became a part of a fabric of a larger human story that had beginning and ending points with a purpose.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as storytelling has been largely lost in an endless sea of competing narratives and digital noise, we are losing our sense of the past. To be sure, academic and popular historians continue to pen compelling narratives, insisting that narrative storytelling is not a lost art. But, as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has demonstrated, fewer and fewer students read books, and the required history books that they do read are neither compelling narratives nor accurate depictions of national or global pasts.

In the United States, history texts are censored to cut objectionable social and political history at the behest of conservative state school boards in the South who seek to restrict “critical thinking.” As more and more Americans become more concerned with their “white identity,”(Jardina, White Identity Politics, 2019) Western Civilization and European History courses are making a big comeback to seize ground in curricula, displacing recently added World or Global History courses that make use of the best contemporary research.

History has been demoted in the curriculum to a step-cousin of literacy, standardized testing, the so-called “Advanced” Placement course, and, in its most current iteration, an instrument of propaganda designed to promote a whitewashed American exceptionalism that folds neatly into Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Dutch Reformed version of providential history, a history dominated by those like her who have received grace and have been rewarded as “visible saints” and who see themselves charged with rebuilding the great Puritan “city upon a hill.”

DeVos has used the decline in History and Civics scores on the 2019 NAEP to discredit public education and “government schools,” but she does not know what she is talking about as usual. (see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/23/betsy-devos-calls-low-history-civics-marks-stark-inexcusable-are-naep-scores-worth-fretting/ )

As the NAEP has also made abundantly clear, students are reading less and they are not reading books and narratives. If DeVos or her predecessor, Arne Duncan for that matter, were to ask history teachers what the problem was, the history teachers would point to the problem of digital learning or the coming of the “igeneration.” Students who have grown up with iphones have shorter attention spans, give less attention to detail and context, as reading degenerates into scanning. The prevalence of scanning rather than has made students more resistant to reading for understanding and analysis. According to studies conducted by Sam Wineburg and his colleagues at Stanford History Education Geoup, the average students’ ability to critically analyze historical texts is abysmal (see article linked above).

Secondly, as popular historian David McCullough has long contended, most history textbooks are so dull and watered down that students hate to read them. Because much of what students want to learn is deleted by conservative state schoolboard watchdogs, students correctly liken reading these books to eating a thin, tasteless gruel. The compelling narrative histories of Joy Hakim offer an exemplar of history writing that should be used at every grade level.

Thirdly, standardized testing has effectively consigned the acquisition of meaningful and enriching historical narratives to the dustbin of history. With the coming of the punitive No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Child Succeeds Acts under Bush II and Obama, narrative histories have been pulverized into standardized test item data points that are separated from meaningful context. The Common Core Standards, as implemented during the Obama administration, emphasize basic reading literacy skills measured by multiple choice tests or basic regurgitation short essays that repeat the same words and phrases that are graded by algorithms.

Rather than reading narrative histories and novels, students read selected historical documents. The problem with this emphasis is that it borrows from the outdated New Criticism approach that fails to connect documents to broader contexts. Historical thinking requires a constant analysis of the connection between the document and context. This is where Sam Wineburg and his Stanford History Education group fall short. For example, Common Core lessons developed as a model of how the Gettysburg Address should be taught does not consider the broader contexts during the Civil War and American society when the address was penned. (see Horton, “Common Core and the Gettysburg Address,” Education Week, Nov. 21, 2013)

Moreover, The Common Core revision of the American Social Studies curriculum, C3, makes a similar mistake. The curriculum deemphasizes history in favor of the social sciences (History makes up 70% of the required high school curriculum), and it emphasizes the Document based question. This is not in itself bad, but DBQs need to be done right. Here the DBQ Project that originated in Evanston, Illinois High School, is far superior to the materials produced by the Stanford History Education group in providing narrative contexts for the analysis of documents. Again, what is missing from C3 is the vital importance of narrative reading research papers of varying lengths. Any historian will tell you that analysis of documents must be pieced together into a sustained and coherent argument that connects documents to broader contexts and interpretations. Critical analytical thinking is the product of this process. (see, Paul Horton, “History Matters: The C3 Social Studies Standards are Fool’s Gold,” Education Week, Jan. 16, 2014)

A former student who helps program Amazon robots for Amazon warehouses told me that she learned how to think and solve problems from my history class that used this constant analysis of going back and forth between document and context to weigh proximate cause and pattern recognition issues. Teaching authentic history is teaching thinking skills that can be applied to any problem. Is it a coincidence that so many lawyers are history majors?

Fourthly, standardized testing for literacy pushes history and social studies to the margins of the curriculum. As testing for basic literacy became used to score the performance of teachers and schools, the teaching of history was deemphasized. Principals predictably moved all of their resources to training that would raise reading comprehension scores. This required making use of Common Core materials that did not make use of historical narratives, and that focused on discrete documents severed from a broader picture as noted above. As the former Direction of the National Council for History Education in Illinois, I received many complaints from History teachers across the state that indicated that History departments in middle and highs schools were dropping history courses and combining English and Social Studies Departments. A preservice History Teaching Professor at Western Illinois University complained that “because History is not tested” as a part of the recent Common Core testing regime “it really did not matter.” This is certainly what many building principals were thinks as they moved resources and teaching assignments away from Social Studies and History departments. I have no doubt that this phenomenon of resource depletion was a common pattern across the country in recent years.

Finally, at the upper end of the high school curriculum, I would argue that AP History testing has played a huge role in diminishing the learning of History. Although the AP History courses have been redesigned recently, the emphasis on standardized multiple-choice regurgitation on 50% of the test items (that up until a few years ago set the mean for subjective portions of the tests) again emphasizes data points over thinking and interpretation. I was a very successful AP History teacher at several schools as my students achieved very high average scores on their tests. But, as I became a grader and began to talk about the tests with teachers from around the country and the world, my enthusiasm for the AP program diminished considerably. Most teachers reported that after cramming for the AP tests their students did not appreciate any intrinsic value in studying history and that the long-term impact of cramming and regurgitation registered little retention in long-term memory. The biggest problem with AP is that students learn to view the History course as something with transactional rather than intrinsic value. Students take the course and the tests to earn scores to test out of required survey history courses in college. This process demeans the value of history as something important to learn. Significantly, excellent college courses in history are not taken by many of our most capable students who are more worried about organic chemistry and finance. Harvard Historian Jill Leplore reports that when parents find out their students have signed up for history, “their parents tell them to run away.”

The biggest single problem with AP is that building Principals like to up the metrics of AP enrollment in their schools to boost their school’s reputation. This sounds good for district and school PR, but problems abound with this approach. We see it on the grading end where graders routinely find folders containing twenty-five blue books that score 0 because the students taking the test don’t write more than a sentence or two, leaving the rest of the blue-book blank. The problem is that many of the students selected into AP classes lack the reading skills to master History at the AP level, there are not enough History teachers who are trained to teach the AP adequately, and that the course is to rapidly paced and requires too much regurgitation.

History is plainly in crisis in this country, but not because “government schools” are bad as DeVos claims. At the broadest cultural level, the Humanities are under attack and have been defunded at all levels in favor of utilitarian ideas about finding a vocation. When a corporate and American Academy for the Arts and Sciences sponsored commission issued a report that recommended twelve principles for the teaching of the Humanities and the Social Sciences was issued several years ago called “The Heart of the Matter,” the report embraced the Common Core Standards as a necessary foundation for Humanities and Social Science education. The signatories apparently did not understand that the Common Core Standards were coupled with a standardized testing regime that diminished the very values that its authors sought to valorize.

If we are to save history in the United States, or at least increase NAEP scores, we must replace standardized testing with Project based learning, exciting narrative reading, and essay and paper writing. While document analysis is at the core of historical thinking, that analysis must be subsumed within the reading of compelling narrative histories that tell the exciting and engaging stories that all students love to read. Students need to work on history projects that “light the history flame” rather than regurgitate tired, discrete, meaningless facts. Students love stories and we need to get back to history as storytelling, history that cannot be reduced to multiple choice test items or computer graded essays.

We are clearly adrift in the United States. We are lost and we are facing several existential crises at once. In the words of novelist-historian Kurt Andersen, we have entered “Fantasyland.” “The American experiment” according to Andersen, “the original embodiment of the Great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, each of us free to reinvent himself by imagination and will. In America, those exciting parts of the Enlightenment have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts.”

But, says Andersen, “Little by little for centuries, then more and more faster and faster during the last half century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become. The cliché would be the frog in the gradually warming pot, oblivious to its doom until too late.” (Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History, p.5)

I submit that the crisis of magical ahistorical thinking is every bit as pressing as the crisis of environmental sustainability. Indeed, as the work of J.R. McNeill and so many other environmental historians demonstrate, historical understanding and sustainability go hand and hand. A return to learning history will allow us to better think about how to turn down the heat.

A team of reporters from the Washington Post interviewed 82 sources, including administration officials, advisors, and outside experts to tell the story of what happened inside the White House during a crucial period in responding to the pandemic. Trump was indecisive, he vacillated, he consistently put politics over science. He was more willing to listen to FOX News hosts and political advisors than to scientists. He was consistent in only one thing: abdicating any national leadership. He was content letting the states forage for their own supplies, bid against each other, take the lead. He made clear that he was responsible for nothing. He was quick to tout quack cures and quick to find others to blame for his own lack of leadership. His critics have long said that he was unfit to lead the nation–he only plays the role of president; early in his presidency, he claimed that he could run his business and the federal government and still have time for his customary golf weekends. He has proved beyond doubt that he is unfit to lead. He is the quintessential Do-Nothing President, whose major activities consist of tweeting, blaming others, and whining about the free press.

By
Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Robert Costa and Lena H. Sun

May 2, 2020 at 11:20 p.m. EDT

The epidemiological models under review in the White House Situation Room in late March were bracing. In a best-case scenario, they showed the novel coronavirus was likely to kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. President Trump was apprehensive about so much carnage on his watch, yet also impatient to reopen the economy — and he wanted data to justify doing so.

So the White House considered its own analysis. A small team led by Kevin Hassett — a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases — quietly built an econometric model to guide response operations.

Many White House aides interpreted the analysis as predicting that the daily death count would peak in mid-April before dropping off substantially, and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen, according to six people briefed on it.

Although Hassett denied that he ever projected the number of dead, other senior administration officials said his presentations characterized the count as lower than commonly forecast — and that it was embraced inside the West Wing by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other powerful aides helping to oversee the government’s pandemic response. It affirmed their own skepticism about the severity of the virus and bolstered their case to shift the focus to the economy, which they firmly believed would determine whether Trump wins a second term.
Trump denies saying things he previously said about the coronavirus

For Trump — whose decision-making has been guided largely by his reelection prospects — the analysis, coupled with Hassett’s grim predictions of economic calamity, provided justification to pivot to where he preferred to be: cheering an economic revival rather than managing a catastrophic health crisis.

Trump directed his coronavirus task force to issue guidelines for reopening businesses, encouraged “LIBERATE” protests to apply pressure on governors and proclaimed that “the cure can’t be worse than the problem itself” — even as polls showed that Americans were far more concerned about their personal safety.

By the end of April — with more Americans dying in the month than in all of the Vietnam War — it became clear that the Hassett model was too good to be true. “A catastrophic miss,” as a former senior administration official briefed on the data described it. The president’s course would not be changed, however. Trump and Kushner began to declare a great victory against the virus, while urging America to start reopening businesses and schools.

“It’s going to go. It’s going to leave. It’s going to be gone. It’s going to be eradicated,” the president said Wednesday, hours after his son-in-law claimed the administration’s response had been “a great success story.”
The span of 34 days between March 29, when Trump agreed to extend strict social-distancing guidelines, and this past week, when he celebrated the reopening of some states as a harbinger of economic revival, tells a story of desperation and dysfunction.

So determined was Trump to extinguish the deadly virus that he repeatedly embraced fantasy cure-alls and tuned out both the reality that the first wave has yet to significantly recede and the possibility of a potentially worse second wave in the fall.

13 times Trump said the coronavirus would go away.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump has repeatedly said that the virus will disappear.
The president sought to obscure major problems by trying to recast them as triumphs. He repeatedly boasted, for instance, that the United States has conducted more tests than any other country, even though the total of 6.75 million is a fraction of the 2 million to 3 million tests per day that many experts say is needed to safely reopen.
And though Trump was fixated on reopening the economy, he and his administration fell far short of making that a reality. The factors that health and business leaders say are critical to a speedy and effective reopening — widespread testing, contact tracing and coordinated efforts between Washington and the states — remain lacking.

“We wasted two months denying it. We’re now wasting another two months by just dithering around,” said Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and health secretary in the Obama administration. “The administration seems to have washed their hands of it and said [to governors], we’re out of it. You’re on your own. Figure it out.”
“That’s really the story of all this,” agreed one outside adviser to the Trump administration. “The states are just doing everything on their own.”

This story documenting Trump’s month-long struggle to reopen America is based on interviews with 82 administration officials, outside advisers and experts with detailed knowledge of the White House’s handling of the pandemic. Many of them spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount internal discussions or share candid assessments without risk of retribution.

Some of Trump’s closest advisers rebutted on the record the suggestion that the pandemic response has been anything but successful.

“This is a historically new challenge, and we’ve really risen to the occasion,” Kushner said in an interview. “When history looks back on this, they’ll say, man, the federal government acted really quickly and creatively, they threw a lot at the problem and saved a lot of lives.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany agreed. “President Trump’s swift and unprecedented action has saved American lives,” she said, pointing out that governors from both parties have praised some of the administration’s work.

Trump’s interactions with the states during the time were jarringly inconsistent. One day, he called himself a wartime president with total authority; the next day, he said he was merely President Backup, there to help states as he deems necessary.

Trump crowned himself “the king of ventilators” and boasted of his work shoring up supply chains, yet shamed governors for asking for too many supplies for besieged hospitals and health-care workers in their states. At one point, he seemed to suggest that hospitals were selling protective gear provided by the federal government on the black market.

And though administration health officials produced detailed guidelines for reopening, those released by Trump were intentionally vague and devoid of clear metrics, making it easier for the president to avoid responsibility and harder for local leaders to interpret. For instance, Trump initially embraced the aggressive reopening plan by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), only to quickly abandon Kemp after public outcry.
“It’s not going to be coming back like some people think, and part of my job, I think, is to explain to the people of Ohio that we’re really not going to be all the way back,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), whose safety-first approach has won him enormous praise in his state. “We’re not going to be all the way back until we have a vaccine that is available to everyone.”

70 Days: The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged

Trump tried to manage the perception of his performance by holding daily, hours-long press briefings that confused and repelled large swaths of the country. As the death toll mounted, the briefings became less about providing critical health information and more a forum for Trump to air grievances, shift blame, stoke feuds, spread misinformation and inspire false hope.

“It’s one hell of a difficult situation,” said economist Arthur Laffer, an outside Trump adviser. “Whatever he does, if something goes wrong, his critics will say, ‘I told you so!’ So he’s dealing with that, which isn’t a healthy environment.”

Trump’s confidants argue that the president has been moved by the pandemic. “Sometimes — and I felt this way with 9/11 — things are so big, so horrible, that if you’re the guy in charge, it makes you a little more humble,” said former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who as Trump’s personal lawyer has been speaking regularly with the president. “If you think about how he’s handled it, it is tough, it can be humbling.”

Yet if Trump felt humbled, he managed to avoid revealing much humility. Aside from reading perfunctory remarks scripted by aides, the president voiced little compassion for the tens of thousands who have lost lives or the tens of millions who have lost their jobs.

By month’s end, as businesses in Georgia, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere started to reopen, the total number of dead climbed past 60,000.

“It could get a whole lot worse, and anyone who doesn’t recognize that is really fooling themselves,” said Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As we go back out again, the virus is still there. If we don’t have systems to contain it, it can explode again. . . . There is no quick fix.”
President Trump holds a briefing in response to the coronavirus pandemic at the White House on March 31.

Seeking a silver bullet

For a week straight in late March, as businesses shuttered and jobless claims shot up, Trump talked about reopening the country quickly. He picked a start date of April 12, because he liked the idea of church pews packed with parishioners on Easter Sunday. Then he beat a hasty retreat.

Two physicians on the White House task force, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, presented dire projections based on publicly-available models showing that without continued social distancing and other mitigation efforts as many as 1.6 million to 2.2 million Americans could die. With a continued lockdown, there would be an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities. Although some in the administration doubted the death toll would ever rise that high, they shared Birx and Fauci’s goal of persuading the president to take the pandemic more seriously.

Task force members prepared to extend social distancing guidelines, already in place for 15 days, for an additional two weeks and then reassess. But Trump — who also had been influenced by watching television footage of body bags being carried out of a hospital near his Queens boyhood home in New York — surprised them by agreeing to extend social distancing for 30 days, until the end of April. For the doctors, this was a quiet victory.

“He’s a guy that goes with his gut,” said a senior administration official involved in task force discussions. The doctors, this official added, “don’t have that luxury. Their jobs are to make sure he understands where they are on the science and data.”

Trump, meanwhile, used his presidential megaphone to promote what he thought was a silver bullet:
hydroxychloroquine. Night after night in late March and early April, he kept hearing about the controversial anti-malarial drug on his favorite Fox News Channel programs, where television doctors and commentators touted its efficacy. He also heard about the drug in a flurry of conversations with Giuliani and other friends.

Hydroxychloroquine became a presidential obsession. He asked about it in meetings — “What’s the hold up?” he would complain — and repeatedly asked Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn if he was moving as quickly as possible to approve it, officials said.

Hahn said in an interview Saturday, “I can assure you 100 percent that the president has never pressured me to make a decision regarding any regulatory aspect of the FDA’s work.”

The commissioner added that in each of their conversations about hydroxychloroquine Trump has said something along the lines of, “It might work, it might not work, but he doesn’t see any reason why a doctor can’t make that decision. And he totally acknowledged that we might discover it may not work.”

In one Oval Office meeting, Trump asked advisers about a French study released in late March that tested whether hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were effective against covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The small, non-random study was dismissed by many public-health experts, yet Trump seized on it as evidence the drugs might work. As the president said repeatedly in public, “What do you have to lose?” Hahn had to explain that the combination of the medications could cause heart toxicity.

On April 3, Fox host Laura Ingraham paid Trump a visit in the Oval Office to talk up hydroxychloroquine. She brought with her two regular on-air guests in what she dubs her “medicine cabinet”: Ramin Oskoui, a Washington-based cardiologist, and Stephen Smith, a New Jersey-based infectious disease specialist. Hahn attended as well, as Smith made a detailed presentation, complete with a spreadsheet, about how hydroxychloroquine works and its value as a treatment during hospitalization.

“I’m a guy who looks at data,” Smith said in an interview. “I came as a scientist and physician. I trained under Dr. Fauci and respect him a lot.”

Oskoui declined to comment.

Some senior Republicans who heard about the meeting cringed about a television host’s special access to offer medical advice to the president, but it fit a pattern of Trump soliciting input from media stars rather than government experts.

In what was widely seen as an effort to placate Trump, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the drug, and the drug was added to the Strategic National Stockpile. But the president conflated those efforts with outright approval of the drug, which the senior official said “gave a little more ammo because it created the optics that approval had basically been given to the drug.”

Trump at times went to extreme lengths to promote hydroxychloroquine. Keith Frankel, a vitamins executive who occasionally socializes with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., said the president asked him to call California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on his cellphone and try to make a deal for the nation’s largest state to buy millions of tablets of hydroxychloroquine from an Indian manufacturer. Frankel said he got Newsom’s phone number from Trump.

Frankel was not working through official U.S. government channels, according to a senior government official. California did not agree to take the drugs being offered, Frankel said, adding that after consulting with Trump he also spoke to hospital officials in New Jersey and the state health commissioner in New York.

“A guy I know sells products to these guys in India who are making the drug,” Frankel said. He said he learned of the Indian manufacturer through a connection in Turkey. Several million of the pills could have been supplied, he said, but “there ended up being no deal.”

Frankel, who said he was recovering from the coronavirus himself, claimed the drugs would have been sold at cost to the states. “It was totally honest and philanthropic,” he said, arguing that taking the drug had helped him recover.
Trump embraced hydroxychloroquine, as well as azithromycin, as “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.” In the weeks that followed, however, the dangers became more clear. A Veterans Affairs study released April 21 found that covid-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than those who were not. Three days later, the FDA warned that doctors should not use the drug to treat covid-19 patients outside a hospital or clinical trial because of reports of “serious heart rhythm problems.”

Although Trump stopped touting the drug publicly, privately he maintained his support for hydroxychloroquine and got upset with government officials presenting studies or bringing him evidence of its risks or failings, encouraging them to have a more positive outlook, aides said.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator; Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams listen as President Trump speaks during a briefing at the White House on April 22.

As April began with the extension of social distancing, tensions grew within the administration between the doctors and scientists advising the response and the economic and political aides with longer-standing relationships with the president.

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, exerted significant influence over the coronavirus task force, setting the agenda and determining seating arrangements for meetings as well as helping to orchestrate press briefings. Short also is one of the White House’s most vocal skeptics of how bad the pandemic would be. He repeatedly questioned the data being shared with Trump, and in internal discussions said he did not believe the death toll would ever get to 60,000 and that the administration was overreacting, damaging the economy and the president’s chances for reelection, according to people who have heard his arguments.

Day after day, Short pressed other officials to reopen the entire country, encouraging more risks to get the economy humming again. Short succeeded in pushing for Trump to resume travel, as Pence had done, over the objections of some officials, who argued that leaving Washington endangers the principals and their staffs. Trump plans to visit a mask manufacturing plant in Arizona on Tuesday.

Short aligned with Hassett, Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, among others, who shared the belief that the economy had been shut down for long enough. A former senior administration official briefed on the internal dynamics described the consensus mind-set among this bloc as believing health officials were “like the school nurse trying to tell the principal how to run the school.”

Hassett’s data analysis helped affirm this view internally. Hassett said he merely built a tool to evaluate the evolution of data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. He confirmed that he shared his charts internally and that they often showed fewer deaths than IHME or others were projecting — but that he was drawing a curve based on real-time mortality data versus what the charts predicted would happen for the same days.

“I have never, ever said that that’s my projection of what the death count was going to be, and no administration policy has been influenced by my projections,” he said, adding, “It’s an utterly false story that I’ve been a rosy-scenario guy inside the White House.”

The task force members with medical degrees — Birx, Fauci and Hahn, as well as CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Brett Giroir, who leads the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — splintered off in mid- to late-March and began meeting on their own almost daily, three senior administration officials said. Some in the “doctors group” were distressed by what one official dubbed the “voodoo” discussed within the broader task force.

The CDC, which traditionally takes the lead in public health responses, has not held a media briefing since March 9. But Redfield said he enjoyed “a prime position on the ladder of the decision-making process.”

“The one thing that has been extremely gratifying is that the public health message has been respected as the public health message,” Redfield said.

The doctors group strove to present a unified front to the president on various medical and scientific issues. They recently discussed how antibody tests, designed to identify people with possible immunity from the virus, are not a panacea to reopening the country because the results sometimes are inaccurate.

“There’s a little bit of a God complex,” one senior administration official said of the group. “They’re all about science, science, science, which is good, but sometimes there’s a little bit less of a consideration of politics when maybe there should be.”

With health professionals and other new faces suddenly in his midst, Trump sought comfort from the familiar. Hope Hicks, an original staffer on the 2016 campaign who left the White House in 2018, returned in March in a senior adviser capacity.

Hicks accompanied the president to most every meeting and planned his daily schedule, aides said, suggesting themed events, tweaking his scripted public comments and even calling Cabinet secretaries to convey the president’s directives. She attended coronavirus task force meetings most days, even though Trump often skipped them, sitting prominently along with doctors and economists.

Trump has peppered his new chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and other senior aides with phone calls “in almost every single hour of the day,” sometimes well after midnight, according to one senior official. The president was often in a sour mood, complaining about media coverage and carping that he does not get enough credit.

‘The system is broken’

One of the more political issues during this period was the fight for supplies, such as ventilators, testing machines and swabs, and masks and other protective gear. Amid disruptions to the global supply chain, governors pleaded with the White House for help obtaining equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, but the administration did not quickly meet their needs, and Trump derided governors when he thought they were asking for too much or not praising him enough.

Kushner struck a nerve on April 2 when he said that “the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Drive-throughs were the centerpiece of the administration’s national testing plan, pieced together by Kushner and his team and hastily rolled out by Trump on March 13 in the Rose Garden. The president promised that 5 million tests would be distributed before the end of the month. A few days earlier, Pence had been even more optimistic, announcing that more than 1 million tests already had been distributed and another four million would be sent out by the end of that week.

But Trump’s promise of a drive-through testing site at your neighborhood CVS or Walmart never materialized. The administration ultimately stood up 78 testing sites, rather than the thousands initially promised, and then the president placed responsibility for testing on the states.

“The need to reopen, that was not based on a clear road map of how people were going to be tested,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “The system is broken at every point.”

Trump has tried to claim testing as an unambiguous success. “We want to get our country open, and the testing is not going to be a problem at all,” he said Monday in the Rose Garden. “In fact, it’s going to be one of the greatest assets that we have.”

Yet even as the administration helped significantly ramp up testing capacity, problems persisted. Several states grew frustrated as they tried to procure testing supplies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal and state officials said it was unclear who was in charge, leading to rampant confusion, and tests went unused because there were not enough other supplies to administer them.

A federal official who recently met with Birx said “she knows they are far behind on testing, no matter what the president says.”

In a White House meeting with other officials in early April, Birx said that many of the testing labs were still only operating at 10 percent of capacity. Birx said she needed to learn where all the machines and labs were, and that the government did not know.

During one call, Kemp told the president testing was such a problem in Georgia that he was working with the National Guard.

Trump has often touted a testing system created by Abbott that can run nearly 500 tests in 24 hours. But the vast majority of Abbott’s tests are going unused because of a shortage of materials and staff to run them, two senior administration officials said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said Trump was either confused about what is required to administer tests or deliberately glossing over the urgent problems.

“The truth of the matter is that the president doesn’t seem to understand the difference between testing capacity and getting testing results,” Pritzker said. “We don’t have the supplies to run those tests.”

In Wisconsin, for instance, Gov. Tony Evers (D) requested 60,000 plastic tips needed to store reagents and 10,000 testing swabs and numerous reagent kits from FEMA in late March. But by April 21, the day Pence visited Wisconsin to tout the administration’s pandemic response, Wisconsin had only received 2,800 tips and 3,500 testing swabs, according to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

When members of the congressional delegation appealed to FEMA Director Peter Gaynor and some of his deputies, the agency said in a conference call that it did not have enough supplies and that the state would need to work with the CDC, according to Pocan, who was on the call. Then, on April 8, FEMA changed its policy to make it the responsibility of states to procure supplies from commercial distributors, Pocan said.

“Just telling us to go to the private market isn’t a solution,” Pocan said. “It’s an excuse.”

Without assistance from Washington, Wisconsin began working with Illinois, Michigan and other states in a regional alliance to obtain supplies and develop a strategy. States in other regions of the country also are partnering with one another, forming a patchwork of alliances.

“The government is showing up in split screen, where Washington is dominated by whatever President Trump is thinking moment by moment,” Sebelius said. “What’s very difficult in a country that is as big and mobile as the United States is to have the state-by-state or city-by-city decision-making process. Nothing could be more confusing to people.”

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) quietly entered into negotiations with South Korea, with the help of his wife, Yumi, a Korean American. Exasperated with the lack of tests in his state, Hogan spent about 22 days arranging to procure 500,000 tests, negotiating with eight different Maryland agencies, the Korean embassy and officials at the State Department.

Once the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection signed off on the deal, a Korean Air jet touched down at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport on April 18 to deliver the supplies. Hogan said he was worried federal officials would try to commandeer the tests, so he had Maryland Army National Guard members and Maryland State Police officers escort and protect the cargo.

“It was like Fort Knox to us, because it was going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens,” Hogan said. “That was so important to us that we wanted to make sure that that plane took off from Korea safely, landed here in America safely, and that we guarded that cargo from whoever might interfere with us getting that to our folks that needed it.”

The move infuriated Trump, who has long chafed at Hogan’s criticisms and, according to advisers, saw Maryland’s deal with South Korea as a bid to embarrass the president.

White House officials argue the administration has been unusually attentive to the needs of states. After early complaints, the administration ramped up production and delivery of ventilators and the supply is now considered sufficient. Trump had 25 one-on-one calls with governors from at least 14 states in April, aides said, while members of the Cabinet and coronavirus task force had at least 113 such conversations.

“The media have been distracted by examples of disagreement instead of focusing on the vast examples of partnership and coming together of state and federal governments,” said Douglas Hoelscher, the White House’s director of intergovernmental affairs.

Kushner said Saturday that criticisms from governors are outdated and that every state’s testing needs have now been satisfied. He challenged any governor who claims unmet needs to contact his office.

“We’ve figured out how to get all of the states enough complete testing kits to do the testing that they’ve requested,” Kushner said. “We can get to a really big number in May. The biggest thing holding us back is not supplies or capacity; it’s the states’ ability to collect more samples.”

‘Get open, get open, get open’

The weekend of April 11, Trump took a break from his daily news conferences in observance of Easter. He spent considerable time on the phone with friends and advisers and began to shift toward concluding that the country could not afford to remain locked down much longer. He was irate with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, officials said, screaming and swearing at one ally about how things were so unfair.

The president set his sights on a May 1 reopening.

Trump had been agonizing over the economy, watching the number of Americans filing unemployment insurance claims climb each week. He fretted about the unemployment rate rising to 15 percent or even higher, a milestone that advisers warned him would seriously jeopardize his reelection.

In a private April call with supporters on immigration, Ken Cuccinelli, a top immigration official, said that the numbers would be “so stunning . . . that it will be a messaging hit.”

In a sign of how Trump’s priorities were changing, two Situation Room meetings on Saturdays in April began with presentations by Hassett and Kudlow about the economy. They both warned the president of double-digit unemployment and tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs.

In one of the meetings, Hassett had such a negative outlook on the economy that he asked people in the room not to repeat his comments to others, according to people familiar with the meeting. At one point, he suggested that GDP could fall 40 percent and that tens of millions people could lose their jobs. Hassett has since made similar comments publicly, warning of unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Trump heard that message from others as well. He held regular calls with a group known internally as “Kudlow’s guys” — generational peers with high media profiles, including Laffer, financier Steve Forbes and economist Stephen Moore.

“Get open, get open, get open — we kept pressing that point,” Moore said. Otherwise, he recalled telling Trump, “You’ll have a mini-Great Depression. You’ll have body bags of dead businesses and jobs that will never be resurrected.”

On April 14, Ingraham returned to the Oval Office to meet with the president. The Fox host reiterated her belief that the country needed to reopen and argued for limits on contact tracing, a person with knowledge of the meeting said.

As Trump watched television during this period, he sensed popular support. Outside state capitols, a smattering of activists flouted social distancing guidelines to protest governors who had issued stay-at-home orders. Many of them waved Trump campaign flags or sported other Trump-branded paraphernalia.

To create political cover for Trump, White House aides scrambled to put together a business advisory council made up of chief executives from across a range of industries.

“The primary concern from everybody was really safety: Consumer safety, guest safety, and making sure that there was confidence and comfort from the public to be able to go back to wherever, whether it’s a store or a shopping mall or a bank or a restaurant,” said Thomas Keller, a celebrity chef and restaurateur who participated.

Other members said they were only invited to one conference call, and the group has been largely dormant since, with no clear mechanism to share ideas.

As the White House prepared to roll out new guidelines for reopening, CDC and FEMA officials sent a 36-page document on April 10 outlining in detail the recommended stages of reopening, including detailed instructions for schools, child-care facilities, summer camps, parks, faith-based organizations and restaurants.

But on April 16, when Trump and Birx released their guidelines for a slow and staggered return to normal in places with minimal cases of the coronavirus, many of the details fine-tuned by the CDC were stripped out.

Officials continued to debate how restaurants, bars and houses of worship should operate. The CDC circulated a 17-page document with strong recommendations, but many in the White House resisted, particularly when it came to restricting parishioners from singing in choirs or sharing hymnals and offering plates, and suggesting that restaurants use digital menus and avoid salad bars. The document has not been made public and is still in the editing process.

Trump formally embraced the quarantine protesters on April 17 with a trio of all-caps tweets: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”

Inside the White House, there was disappointment about Trump’s tweets since many of his aides had hoped to frame his decision on reopening as a presidential test he had met with calm. Privately, several of them acknowledged that the “LIBERATE” tweets brought Trump back into the realm of conspiracy and anger, which he considers safe harbor when he feels boxed in.

Even as Trump berated aides last week over the poor pace of testing — “We have no message on testing,” he complained, according to a senior administration official who directly heard the president — he publicly focused elsewhere. West Wing aides are planning to book more media appearances by Kudlow, Hassett and Mnuchin in coming weeks, with fewer by Birx and Fauci.

“The White House apparatus is totally shifting to the economy,” the senior official said, noting that Trump is convening discussions about reopening this weekend at Camp David.

‘Almost a cleaning’

With Trump engaged in a war of words with governors over testing, public health experts were sounding an alarm about another vulnerability: contact tracing. Finding and isolating infected people and their contacts had been the cornerstone for successful mitigation efforts in South Korea, Singapore and other countries.

For parts of the United States to reopen, health departments need to be ready to extinguish any new outbreaks immediately. That would require an enormous corps of health workers known as contact tracers to track down anyone who might have been exposed to someone with covid-19.

But as with testing, the federal government has placed the onus on states to devise their own contact tracing programs. So state and local health departments started developing programs on their own, or formed regional partnerships.

“We need a national commitment to get this done in order to defeat the virus,” said Michael Leavitt, a former Republican governor of Utah and health secretary in the George W. Bush administration.

Inside the West Wing, there were sharp fights over contact tracing and whether to approve the use of smartphone apps. For example, in a recent Situation Room meeting, Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller questioned contact tracing because so many people were asymptomatic, advisers said.

Trump, however, rarely mentioned contact tracing. His focus was on more personal challenges. One senior White House official said that the president was among the most animated when discussing what his press appearances would be like: A call-in to the radio? A morning photo opp? An evening news conference? Hicks had to move along the conversation in coronavirus meetings by telling the boss they would decide later.

On April 21, when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) visited the White House to meet with Trump, the president asked if he would join him at that afternoon’s press briefing, an idea Hicks encouraged, according to officials with knowledge of the episode.

Cuomo declined and left the White House without news photographers snapping pictures of him with the president.

The next day, Trump’s focus was squarely on his declining political fortunes. His reelection team — including Kushner, campaign manager Brad Parscale and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel — staged something of an intervention. They presented fresh polls that painted a picture so grim they hoped the president would be persuaded to curtail his daily press briefings, as the data suggested the performances had damaged him.

One of the polls, an internal RNC survey of voters in 17 battleground states, had former vice president Joe Biden leading Trump 48 to 45 percent, according to an adviser briefed on the 20-page polling memo. The coronavirus ranked as the most important issue to voters, and 54 percent of those surveyed said Trump was too slow to respond to the crisis, while 52 percent said they believed the government should be doing more.

Worse still were the matchups with Biden on a range of core characteristics. Just 36 percent said they considered Trump more honest and trustworthy; 35 percent said he was more compassionate and empathetic; 44 percent said he was more competent; 43 percent said they believed he fights more for people like them; and 36 percent said he was more calm, steady and relatable.

Trump did outperform Biden in some areas, such as being better at getting things done and better in handling a crisis. Still, on a question that historically has helped determine whether incumbents win reelection — whether the country is headed in the right direction — just 37 percent said they believed it was.

The decision to share the data with Trump backfired. The president went into one of his rages. He said he did not believe the numbers, arguing that people “love” his performances at the briefings and think he is “fighting for them,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. He berated Parscale for the polling data, threatening that he might sue his campaign manager — although it was unclear whether he made the remark in jest, and the two would later bury the hatchet.

On April 23, the day after his campaign team’s polling intervention, Trump continued with his usual behavior. During a lengthy and at times hostile question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump mused aloud about being treated with ultraviolet light or injecting bleach or another household disinfectant into the body to cure the coronavirus.
“I see the disinfectant, where it knocks [the virus] out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside, or almost a cleaning,” Trump said, referring to the human body.

Injecting or ingesting disinfectants is dangerous and can be deadly. Trump would later claim he was being sarcastic, but there was no trace of sarcasm in the president’s comments.

That day, 1,857 Americans died of the coronavirus. The next week, the number of cases reported in the United States surpassed 1 million.

And by month’s end, as Trump cheered businesses reopening in Georgia, Texas and several other states “because we have to get our country back,” the total dead climbed past 63,000, with no sign of slowing down.

Steven Singer warns that public schools are facing deep cuts in state funding due to revenue losses caused by the pandemic.

Hey, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week, just the time to start mobilizing against cuts that could cause the layoff of nearly 300,000 teachers.

That means larger class sizes, fewer electives, cuts to the arts, to everything that is not tested.

Don’t expect Trump to stand up for teachers. He said famously in 2016 that he “loves the uneducated.” He wants more of them. They are the ones who march around with their weapons demanding freedom from public health measures to protect lives.

A society that is unwilling to invest in its children is sacrificing its future.

The Trump administration is the most anti-science federal government in modern history. In every department and agency, Trump minions have pushed out scientists and replaced them with religious fanatics, Trump loyalists, or incompetents, is some combination thereof.

Vicki Cobb, author of science books for children, explains here why science matters.

She begins like this:

This quote from the Washington Post is very frightening, “In recent days, a growing contingent of Trump supporters have pushed the narrative that health experts are part of a deep-state plot to hurt Trump’s reelection efforts by damaging the economy and keeping the United States shut down as long as possible. Trump himself pushed this idea in the early days of the outbreak, calling warnings on corona virus a kind of “hoax” meant to undermine him.”

For these ignorant people let me try to explain the most important aspect of science as far as life and death is concerned. Our understanding of weather and violent storms has been growing incrementally and exponentially over the years. First, we used science to understand the properties and behavior of water and air– the physical components of weather. We had to understand the effect of temperature on the volume and pressure of gases, the effect of heat energy on the evaporation of water and wind speed. There were many variables to measure.

FOX New commentators have been apologizing.

Dr. Drew said on FOX News that the flu was far worse than the coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out that the coronavirus has a mortality rate that is ten times worse than the flu. Dr. Drew apologized.

Dr. Phil said that automobile crashes, swimming deaths, and smoking cause more deaths than COVID-19, yet we don’t close down the country for them. He claimed there were 360,000 swimming pool deaths annually, which was ten times the actual number. When reminded that automobile deaths, drowning, and smoking are not contagious, he apologized.

Dr. Oz said that schools should be reopened, even though there might be a mortality rate of 2-3% and got such a loud and angry response that he apologized.

FOX News did not apologize.

Vicki Cobb, a writer of science books for children, ponders the question that puzzles so many of us at this time:

Why do so many people refuse to believe proven facts?

Why do so many prefer to believe myths instead of facts?

As Groucho Marx used to say, “Who are you gonna believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”

She begins:

Recent resistance by some people who refuse to believe the science that predicts the course of covid 19 through a population, reminded me of a post I wrote several years ago that bears revisiting.

When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter in his telescope, he couldn’t wait to share it with the world. So, in 1610 he hurriedly rushed The Starry Messenger, the story of his discovery, into print. Now in those days they didn’t have talk shows. So, to promote his book, Galileo took his telescope to dinner parties and invited the guests to see Jupiter’s moons for themselves. Many refused to look claiming that the telescope was an instrument of the devil. They accused Galileo of trying to trick them, painting the moons of Jupiter on the end of the telescope. Galileo’s response was that if that were the case they would see the moons no matter where they looked when actually they could see them only if they looked where he told them to look. But the main objection was that there was nothing in the Bible about this phenomenon. Galileo’s famous response: “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

Galileo is considered the father of modern science, now a huge body of knowledge that has been accumulated incrementally by thousands of people. Each tiny bit of information can be challenged by asking, “How do you know?” And each contributing scientist can answer as Galileo did to the dinner party guests, “This is what I did. If you do what I did, then you’ll know what I know.” In other words, scientific information is verifiable, replicable human experience. Science has grown exponentially since Galileo. It is a body of knowledge built on an enormous quantity of data. And its power shows up in technology. The principles that are used to make a light go on were learned in the same meticulous way we’ve come to understand how the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen over the past 100 years leading to ominous climate change or that Darwin was right, and living species are interconnected “islands in a sea of death.”

Yet there are many who cherry pick science—only believing its findings when they agree with them.

This insightful article in Esquire is mostly about Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, the guy who was in charge of the election (as Secretary of State) in which he beat Stacey Abrams and refused to step aside to let a nonpartisan person do it. His platform was pro-gun and anti-immigrant.

Kemp belatedly figured out that people who exhibit no symptoms of COVID-19 can transmit the disease.

Jack Holmes writes:

One issue for Republican politics at the moment is that the only criterion that matters for anyone seeking power—absolute fealty to Donald Trump—rarely seems to overlap with competence. “It’s by nature almost impossible for Trump to build an administration of quality,” historian Douglas Brinkley told me what seems a lifetime ago. “It’s not about good governance or ethics or even dead-rock patriotism. It’s about full-bore allegiance to him, to Trump.” This is true of the president’s Cabinet and someone like Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, who predicted in January that the novel coronavirus outbreak would be good for American jobs. 10 million people have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks.

But it’s also true of the new class of Republican governors, who have pledged allegiance to The Leader, but who are also often feckless morons. Exhibit A is one Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia. Mr. Kemp ran for the top job in 2018 while he was secretary of state, meaning he had authority to administer state elections, and he refused to recuse himself from overseeing the gubernatorial election in which he was running. This is known as a conflict of interest….

In his very finite wisdom, Kemp did not put in place statewide mitigation measures like social distancing until Wednesday, when he announced his reversal with a stunning admission.

He didn’t know that asymptomatic people could transmit the virus. He was among the last to know.

Kemp in particular is an emblem of the militant ignorance which is now required to make it in Republican political life. If you actually know things, you will frequently find yourself in disagreement with the president, so it’s best to dunk your head in the sand and, when you occasionally come up for air, bash immigrants. The president was briefed on the full catastrophic possibilities of the COVID-19 pandemic in January—including that China was fudging its numbers on how bad the situation was there—and chose to downplay the problem for the better part of two months in public. A little over a month ago, he said the number of U.S. cases would go from 15 to zero in a miraculous turn of events. Now there are 214,000 cases in the United States—including 7,700 in Florida and nearly 5,000 in Georgia—and the president has suggested his administration will have done a “good job” if 200,000 Americans die. It’s almost like governing is a hard job that requires people with intelligence and skill to do it.

A valuable website called “Unkoch My Campus” is offering a webinar where you can learn how to identify the tentacles of the Kochtopus.

Charles Koch and his late brother David
have subsidized anti-government, anti-public school policies and think tanks for decades. They underwrote the voucher campaign in Arizona and other states. They work closely with the DeVos family foundations to promote their views. The Koch’s have established centers to advocate libertarian ideas on more than 300 campuses. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, we see how necessary it is to have a functioning federal government. At times of crisis, we understand that we need an effective public sector. The Koch movement has worked hard to reduce the ability of governments to protect their citizens.

This is a message from “Unkoch My Campus.”

We’re building a movement against the most intricate infrastructure of political influence in the country.

The bad news? This means having to track and expose hundreds of Koch-funded university programs, think-tanks, advocacy organizations, legislators, and judges working at the local, state, and federal levels. Yikes!

The good news? We can learn skills to make this work a little easier, and there are incredible researchers doing a lot of this work for us already!

To learn these skills, join our upcoming “Researching the Koch Network 101” webinar next Tuesday at 2pm ET!

Next week we’re bringing in David Armiak, Research Director at the Center for Media and Democracy, to teach us how to better incorporate opposition research into our campus and community-based campaigns. On this webinar, participants will:

Become more familiar with the universities, state-based think-tanks, advocacy organizations, and legislators involved in moving Koch’s agenda forward;

Learn about the research and resources that already exists to inform and deepen your local campaigns;

Receive an overview of basic opposition research skills experts use to conduct investigations and connect the dots;

Identify ways to leverage research produced by UnKoch’s partners to inform your grassroots base and escalate your local campaigns!

This webinar is designed with campus AND community advocates in mind. Whether you’re trying to kick Koch off of your campus or wanting to deepen your local or state-based advocacy by targeting Koch, this webinar is for you. Register to join us next Tuesday at 2pm ET!

In solidarity,

Samantha Parsons

The main reason that the U.S. was unprepared to respond promptly to the coronavirus was that Trump repeatedly told the public that it was not a problem, that it would disappear spontaneously, and that it was under control. None of this was true. Even now, almost half of Republicans do not believe that the virus is a genuine public health problem. Now, we are learning that there are real life-and-death consequences attached to electing a vain and ignorant narcissist the the presidency.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt catalogued the evolution of Trump’s views and statements to the public.

He wrote:

President Trump made his first public comments about the coronavirus on Jan. 22, in a television interview from Davos with CNBC’s Joe Kernen. The first American case had been announced the day before, and Kernen asked Trump, “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?”

The president responded: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

By this point, the seriousness of the virus was becoming clearer. It had spread from China to four other countries. China was starting to take drastic measures and was on the verge of closing off the city of Wuhan.

In the weeks that followed, Trump faced a series of choices. He could have taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He could have insisted that the United States ramp up efforts to produce test kits. He could have emphasized the risks that the virus presented and urged Americans to take precautions if they had reason to believe they were sick. He could have used the powers of the presidency to reduce the number of people who would ultimately get sick.

He did none of those things.

I’ve reviewed all of his public statements and actions on coronavirus over the last two months, and they show a president who put almost no priority on public health. Trump’s priorities were different: Making the virus sound like a minor nuisance. Exaggerating his administration’s response. Blaming foreigners and, anachronistically, the Obama administration. Claiming incorrectly that the situation was improving. Trying to cheer up stock market investors. (It was fitting that his first public comments were from Davos and on CNBC.)

Now that the severity of the virus is undeniable, Trump is already trying to present an alternate history of the last two months. Below are the facts — a timeline of what the president was saying, alongside statements from public-health experts as well as data on the virus.

Late January

On the same day that Trump was dismissing the risks on CNBC, Tom Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eight years, wrote an op-ed for the health care publication Stat. In it, Frieden warned that the virus would continue spreading. “We need to learn — and fast — about how it spreads,” he wrote.

It was one of many such warnings from prominent experts in late January. Many focused on the need to expand the capacity to test for the virus. In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic,” Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb — both former Trump administration officials — wrote:

If public-health authorities don’t interrupt the spread soon, the virus could infect many thousands more around the globe, disrupt air travel, overwhelm health care systems, and, worst of all, claim more lives. The good news: There’s still an opening to prevent a grim outcome. … But authorities can’t act quickly without a test that can diagnose the condition rapidly.
Trump, however, repeatedly told Americans that there was no reason to worry. On Jan. 24, he tweeted, “It will all work out well.” On Jan. 28, he retweeted a headline from One America News, an outlet with a history of spreading false conspiracy theories: “Johnson & Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine.” On Jan. 30, during a speech in Michigan, he said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

That same day, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a “public-health emergency of international concern.” It announced 7,818 confirmed cases around the world.

Jan. 31

Trump took his only early, aggressive action against the virus on Jan. 31: He barred most foreigners who had recently visited China from entering the United States. It was a good move.

But it was only one modest move, not the sweeping solution that Trump portrayed it to be. It didn’t apply to Americans who had been traveling in China, for example. And while it generated some criticism from Democrats, it wasn’t nearly as unpopular as Trump has since suggested. Two days after announcing the policy, Trump went on Fox News and exaggerated the impact in an interview with Sean Hannity.

“Coronavirus,” Hannity said. “How concerned are you?”

Trump replied: “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”

By the time of that interview, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world had surged to 14,557, a near doubling over the previous three days.

Early February

On Feb. 5, the C.D.C. began shipping coronavirus test kits to laboratories around the country. But the tests suffered from a technical flaw and didn’t produce reliable results, labs discovered.

The technical problems were understandable: Creating a new virus test is not easy. What’s less understandable, experts say, is why the Trump administration officials were so lax about finding a work-around, even as other countries were creating reliable tests.

The Trump administration could have begun to use a functioning test from the World Health Organization, but didn’t. It could have removed regulations that prevented private hospitals and labs from quickly developing their own tests, but didn’t. The inaction meant that the United States fell behind South Korea, Singapore and China in fighting the virus. “We just twiddled our thumbs as the coronavirus waltzed in,” William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, wrote.

Trump, for his part, spent these first weeks of February telling Americans that the problem was going away. On Feb. 10, he repeatedly said — in a speech to governors, at a campaign rally and in an interview with Trish Regan of Fox Business — that warm spring weather could kill the virus. “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,” he told the rally.

On Feb. 19, he told a Phoenix television station, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” Four days later, he pronounced the situation “very much under control,” and added: “We had 12, at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.”

His message was clear: Coronavirus is a small problem, and it is getting smaller. In truth, the shortage of testing meant that the country didn’t know how bad the problem was. All of the available indicators suggested it was getting worse, rapidly.

On Feb. 23, the World Health Organization announced that the virus was in 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.

Late February

Trump seemed largely uninterested in the global virus statistics during this period, but there were other indicators — stock-market indexes — that mattered a lot to him. And by the last week of February, those market indexes were falling.

The president reacted by adding a new element to his public remarks. He began blaming others.

He criticized CNN and MSNBC for “panicking markets.” He said at a South Carolina rally — falsely — that “the Democrat policy of open borders” had brought the virus into the country. He lashed out at “Do Nothing Democrat comrades.” He tweeted about “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer,” mocking Schumer for arguing that Trump should be more aggressive in fighting the virus. The next week, Trump would blame an Obama administration regulation for slowing the production of test kits. There was no truth to the charge.

Throughout late February, Trump also continued to claim the situation was improving. On Feb. 26, he said: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” On Feb. 27, he predicted: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” On Feb. 29, he said a vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly” and praised his administration’s actions as “the most aggressive taken by any country.” None of these claims were true.

By the end of February, there were 85,403 confirmed cases, in 55 countries around the world.

Early March

Almost two decades ago, during George W. Bush’s presidency, the federal government developed guidelines for communicating during a public-health crisis. Among the core principles are “be first,” “be right,” “be credible,” “show respect” and “promote action.”

But the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus, as a Washington Post news story put it, is “breaking almost every rule in the book.”

The inconsistent and sometimes outright incorrect information coming from the White House has left Americans unsure of what, if anything, to do. By early March, experts already were arguing for aggressive measures to slow the virus’s spread and avoid overwhelming the medical system. The presidential bully pulpit could have focused people on the need to change their behavior in a way that no private citizen could have. Trump could have specifically encouraged older people — at most risk from the virus — to be careful. Once again, he chose not to take action.

Instead, he suggested on multiple occasions that the virus was less serious than the flu. “We’re talking about a much smaller range” of deaths than from the flu, he said on March 2. “It’s very mild,” he told Hannity on March 4. On March 7, he said, “I’m not concerned at all.” On March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

The first part of March was also when more people began to understand that the United States had fallen behind on testing, and Trump administration officials responded with untruths.

Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, told ABC, “There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.” Trump, while touring the C.D.C. on March 6, said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

That C.D.C. tour was a microcosm of Trump’s entire approach to the crisis. While speaking on camera, he made statements that were outright wrong, like the testing claim. He brought up issues that had nothing to do with the virus, like his impeachment. He made clear that he cared more about his image than about people’s well-being, by explaining that he favored leaving infected passengers on a cruise ship so they wouldn’t increase the official number of American cases. He also suggested that he knew as much as any scientist:

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.
On March 10, the World Health Organization reported 113,702 cases of the virus in more than 100 countries.

Mid-March and beyond

On the night of March 11, Trump gave an Oval Office address meant to convey seriousness. It included some valuable advice, like the importance of hand-washing. But it also continued many of the old patterns of self-congratulation, blame-shifting and misinformation. Afterward, Trump aides corrected three different misstatements.

This pattern has continued in the days since the Oval Office address. Trump now seems to understand that coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. But he also seems to view it mostly as a public-relations emergency for himself rather than a public-health emergency for the country. On Sunday, he used his Twitter feed to lash out at Schumer and Joe Biden and to praise Michael Flynn, the former Trump aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.

Around the world, the official virus count has climbed above 142,000. In the United States, scientists expect that between tens of millions and 215 million Americans will ultimately be infected, and the death toll could range from the tens of thousands to 1.7 million.

At every point, experts have emphasized that the country could reduce those terrible numbers by taking action. And at almost every point, the president has ignored their advice and insisted, “It’s going to be just fine.”

[Susan Beachy and Ian Prasad Philbrick contributed research.]