Monday, April 6, 2020

Day 25 of Nat'l Emergency: Living in Epoch Times


Perhaps your postman, as mine did, brought to your mailbox an unexpected publication—The Epoch Times. From its front page it was obvious the special edition of this 20-year-old newspaper was devoted to China bashing, specifically attacking the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its malevolent actions, particularly as they now relate to the spread of the pandemic COVID-19. 

A quick check of Wikipedia revealed the paper is printed in eight languages. It was founded by John Tang and a group of Chinese Americans “associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement” that China has attacked. It is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump and other far-right politicians. Indeed, Wikipedia says a 2019 report found that only the Trump campaign funded more pro-Trump Facebook advertising. The Epoch Media Group also is big into conspiracy theories, being among the disseminators of stories on QAnon and anti-vaccination propaganda. 

Well, we can’t expect every publication to be The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or The Washington Post. That said, I was intrigued by one particular representation that might be a more accurate count of the dead in China from the coronavirus, or what The Epoch Times calls the “CCP virus” (it prefers to tag the China Communist Party with the identification rather than place any stigma on the innocent people of China or Wuhan where the virus originated). 

Instead of the absurdly hard to believe statistic supplied by the CCP that only a little more than 3,000 deaths occurred in China from the virus, The Epoch Times says many more perished as seven cremation centers in Wuhan were operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, open air pits in some villages burned bodies and 40 mobile furnaces were shipped to Wuhan. Such descriptions are reminiscent of Nazi Holocaust measures. 

The Epoch Times says its sources suggest CCP virus deaths have exceeded one million. But then the paper teases the total could be catastrophically greater. As everyone in China by law must have a cell phone, records released by China’s three cellphone carriers reveal that over the last three months the number of cellphone users dropped by 21 million!

Now that I’ve possibly shocked the bejeezus out of you, some provisos: First, I have no way of validating or corroborating anything in The Epoch Times. Second, even the newspaper hedges its bet by stating that since China allows each person to have up to five cellphone accounts, many of the dropped users could be workers who were laid off and chose to disconnect one or more of their lines to save money. 

There’s a world of difference between 3,000 and 1,000,000 and 21,000,000. Based on our country’s  experience, the actual mortality in China probably is higher than the government figure. But then, even our government cannot supply a true figure as it has been reported that many deaths during the time of the pandemic, at home or in nursing homes, have not been attributed to coronavirus because authorities lacked the manpower or facility to autopsy them all to determine if the deceased were infected (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/05/us/coronavirus-deaths-undercount.html?referringSource=articleShare).

One of the more troubling aspects of the national spread of the plague has been some of the comments coming from our elected politicians. I won’t bore you with repeating Trump’s blindness to the pending disaster. He has the excuse, however flimsy it be, that his initial reluctance to believe in the intensity of the danger was because he wanted to give confidence to the public and it was still not clear how bad it would be. What’s more, he hailed his decision to close travel with China. Yet, according to The NY Times, 40,000 entered the U.S. from China in the two months after Trump imposed the ban, including thousands who flew directly from Wuhan (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/04/us/coronavirus-china-travel-restrictions.html?referringSource=articleShare). 

More troubling, perhaps, are the comments from governors and mayors late in commanding shelter-in-place directives for their jurisdictions. The mayor of New Orleans said Mardi Gras was allowed to go on unfettered because the city never received any warnings from the federal government. Georgia’s governor claimed he didn’t know until a few days ago the widely distributed news that people without symptoms could spread the pandemic. Florida’s governor waited until pressure from the Trump administration forced him to act. In each of those cases officials put the health of their area’s tourism economy ahead of the public’s health. Ain’t capitalism grand?

The U.S. Surgeon General has compared the pandemic to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and on September 11, but with higher casualties. He’s right, but probably not for the reasons he wants us to acknowledge. Pearl Harbor and September 11 were thought to be surprise attacks. But warnings were known before they occurred. Known and ignored, or at least downplayed. 

The same is true for the new coronavirus invasion. The Trump administration ignored advice on how to deal with a pandemic and how critical supplies needed to be stockpiled. It also at first refused to believe how vulnerable we were. 

Unlike Pearl Harbor and September 11 we do not have a physical enemy on which to launch a counterattack. Our “wartime” president has nobody to blame but himself and his cronies for how unprepared we have been for this deadly assault. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Day 22 of Nat'l Emergency: Seven Samurai Memories


To commemorate the 100th birthday of the late Toshiro Mifune, the lead actor in many of Japanese director Akiro Kurosawa’s films, including “Seven Samurai” and “Rashomon,” Turner Classic Movies broadcast the flicks Wednesday. I recorded them.

“The Magnificent Seven” with Yul Brynner and a host of other soon to be well-known actors including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach and James Coburn, was adapted from “Seven Samurai.” Not that it really matters. This blog post is not really concerned with “Seven Samurai.” Rather the focus is on the person with whom I saw the film for the first time, Steve Kreinberg.

In September 1971 I attended an evening orientation program for graduate students enrolled at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. I knew no one among the roughly 80 attendees, but by some karma found myself drawn to a straight-haired, mustachioed, willowy fellow with a slight Southern twang from growing up in Gainesville, Fla. We immediately bonded, not because we turned out to be perhaps the only Jewish students but more probably because, as we acknowledged to each other later that evening, we both reconnoitered the venue prior to the meeting time to ascertain where the bathroom was located. 

Steve was two years older than my 22 years. He was married to Nancy, a nurse, who I met when we returned to his basement apartment. I was surprised to learn Nancy was headed back to their residence in San Francisco for the duration of Steve’s stay in Syracuse. 

Steve and I became almost inseparable that year despite the fact that we shared very few classes. Evenings and weekends were our bonding times. We ate pizza at the Varsity, an off-campus hangout. We drove out to the closest Lum’s in DeWitt to savor hot dogs steamed in beer, or my preferred meal, a fried shrimp basket with fries, washed down with beer served in frosted glasses. 

We went to movies. It was with Steve (and Gilda during one of her visits) that I saw “A Clockwork Orange.” We especially enjoyed Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and “Play It Again, Sam.” Steve became such a devotee of Allen that he wangled an interview with him while serving as the movie critic of the Syracuse New Times, a two-year-old alternative newspaper. Though Allen was in the middle of editing “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask,” he agreed to meet Steve at his Manhattan studio.

After Steve returned to Syracuse he was uncharacteristically quiet. When the next edition of his paper did not run his interview I demanded an explanation. Sheepishly he admitted he lost all professional composure in the presence of Allen. He just kept gushing, “You’re Woody Allen. I love your work.” There’s only so many times he could say that before Woody determined the interview was going nowhere and he dismissed Steve.

We also bonded over our shiksa (Gentile woman) fantasy, a real life blonde in our class named Donna Doherty. We barely spoke a word to her that year but hardly a day went by that her name and image did not crop up in our conversations. (As an aside, she lived in Branford, Conn., outside New Haven. I owe my first reporting job to my fascination with her. When looking for a job in 1972 I came to a fork in the road in Ansonia. The right fork led to Bridgeport, the left to New Haven. I chose New Haven because it was closer to where she lived. I got a job at The New Haven Register. Two years later Donna joined the paper as a sports writer. She eventually became editor of Tennis magazine.)  

Back to Steve: After we earned our master’s degree in newspaper journalism in the spring of 1972 Steve went back to San Francisco despite his constant fretting that reporting jobs would be hard to land. While I started work on The Register, Steve wound up working for a public relations firm. His marriage ended. He decided to try his luck in Los Angeles. 

Steve became one of the five question writers for the old “Hollywood Squares” show (the one that featured Paul Lynde in the center square). He was expected to write 50 acceptable questions per day, and yes, celebrities were counseled before each show on topics they would be asked. After “Hollywood Squares” Steve and his writing partner Andy became staff writers for “Archie Bunker’s Place” (Carroll O’Connor’s successor show to “All in the Family”) as well as for “Herman’s Head,” “Saved by the Bell,” “Head of the Class,” “Nine to Five” and “Mork & Mindy.”

He had married Robin Baskin, like Nancy a nurse. They had a son, Oliver. As with Nancy, they divorced. Robin, Oliver and Steve moved to Asheville, NC, because, as Steve related to Gilda and me during one of our visits to his California apartment, Los Angeles was no place to raise a child and besides, he had accumulated enough money to leave the Hollywood rat race. We visited him in Asheville. He came to New York with Oliver. We took them to a New York Yankees game. But our get-togethers ended almost 30 years ago. 

One of these days I will do two things. One, I will watch “Seven Samurai.” All I remember from the first time was it was almost impossible to read the English subtitles, partly because we were watching the film on Steve’s small portable television but more importantly because the white outfits of the samurai obscured many of the words superimposed in white. 

Second, I will contact him. As I had done in the past I googled Steve, Robin and Oliver as I was writing this blog post. This time I came up with information I could use to contact him. If we are successful in reconnecting I will owe it all to time spent sheltering-in-place and TCM’s broadcast of “Seven Samurai.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 19 of Nat'l Emergency: Mah Nishtanah


“Mah nishtanah halielah hazeh mikol haleilot?”

Why is this night different from all other nights?

As they have for decades if not centuries before each seder, briskets will simmer awaiting the conclusion of the first part of the Passover story related in the haggadah. Matzo balls will swim in chicken soup. Horseradish will sit next to slices of gefilte fish. Wine cups await to be filled four times over.

The sweet voice of a grandchild singing the “Mah nishtanah”—what is different—should be lilting through my home next Wednesday, April 8, the eve of the first day of Passover. One of the youngest at the table would recite the Four Questions that distinguish the evening. It is how Jews have marked the seder for generation after generation, for millennia. But not so this year. 

The Angel of Death has upended tradition. Indiscriminate fear of the novel coronavirus will keep families apart. Our children and their families live in Massachusetts and Nebraska. Coming home for the holiday does not qualify as essential travel during a pandemic. Better to seder-in-place than risk contamination on the trip to Westchester from their homes.

Envy is a vice frowned upon by God. But I do envy my friends with year-round access to children and grandchildren who live nearby. Hugs and kisses are not meant to be limited to holiday visits and family vacations. Their absence at the seder table is all the more painful when catastrophic events prevent physical togetherness.

We will Zoom the Four Questions and the rest of our seder liturgy. It is better than nothing. We will see and hear them but won’t be able to touch our legacies. We will miss their frantic search for the hidden pieces of matzo, the afikoman, required to be eaten to conclude the seder banquet, and the squeal of joy when it is discovered. Perhaps we will have each family hide an afikoman in their own homes. Again, better than nothing.

Jews can find humor in almost everything, even life threatening, tradition-busting situations. Coronavirus is no exception. Making the rounds on the Internet—“Biblical Irony: Passover Seder may be delayed by a plague.” Of course, comedy is no match for reality. “Thousands of locusts swarm over Israel, Egypt — just in time for Passover,” headlined The Daily News on March 6. 

Growing up in Brooklyn my parents’ seder attracted 25-40 celebrants depending on how many guests they invited to augment the 18 in our immediate family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Led by my father and his brother, the seder was a raucous affair. Reading from the Maxwell House haggadah, the brothers would drone on in an Eastern European trope that befuddled my brother, sister and me and anyone else who tried to follow along in Hebrew (no English to be heard except for the chattering among my mother and her three sisters which prompted my father’s repeated unsuccessful appeals for them to be quiet). 

The seder back in the 1950s and 1960s was a time of family ingathering. Everyone lived in the New York Metro. By the time my wife and I took over seder chores some 30 years ago, family togetherness had dissolved. My sister had moved to Los Angeles. Her family stays there for Passover. My brother’s family in Maryland kept coming north until about 10 years ago. 

Our seder ritual has become more universal. Over the years, aside from incorporating English, themes covering the emancipation of Russian and Ethiopian Jews as well as the treatment of refugees from all zones of conflict have become integral parts of the haggadah we have fashioned. 

In an ironic way, conducting a virtual seder via Zoom reinforces a central theme of the seder to be kind to the stranger among us. It took Zoom founder Eric Yuan nine attempts to earn a visa to emigrate from China 23 years ago. He spoke little English. He might not qualify for a visa under the current, more restrictive, admission standards. Today, Yuan is a successful technology entrepreneur worth an estimated $3 billion.

As we peer into the Zoom-enabled camera of our computers, tablets or smart phones we must remind ourselves that the Torah admonishes us no fewer than 36 times to treat the stranger fairly because we, our ancestors, were strangers in Egypt. Not slaves. Strangers.

Passover teaches us how ephemeral the status of our existence might be. Originally invited by Pharaoh to live as guests in Goshen in Egypt, the Israelites were considered dangerous aliens by a successor. Though God smote the ensuing Pharaoh and his subjects for enslaving the Israelites, he commanded the former slaves to welcome the stranger, to treat him “as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. “  

It is a lesson to be imparted from generation to generation, in person and, this year, virtually. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 17 of Nat’l Emergency: Dispelling Wild Musings on Cuomo, de Blasio, Mt. Sinai, China


The coronavirus is not only spreading fear, illness and death throughout the land but it also is fostering some wild musings. 

Take, for example, the idea that with his daily press briefings New York governor Andrew Cuomo has become the darling of Democratic hopes and should supplant Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders as the presumptive party nominee for president. To take the whimsy to an even higher level, it is being suggested that Cuomo try to unite the country through a fusion ticket by selecting Nikki Haley, Trump’s former United Nations ambassador and former Republican governor of South Carolina, as his running mate.

There is no denying Cuomo has become a media star for those seeking straightforward talk about the pandemic. He can be funny, empathetic, angry, resolved, informed, attuned to science ... all that and more compared to science-denier-Trump. Cuomo reminds us of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11. 

Trouble is, Cuomo also has lots of negatives too numerous to list here. Foremost is his belief that only he knows best and, like Trump, he is willing to pick fights with those he disagrees with. All politicians fight, but Cuomo, like Trump, is another in-your-face type of guy and we already have seen enough of that type of leadership. Plus, we’ve also seen how Giuliani worked out. 

As for Haley being part of a fusion ticket, this is not Israel or any other parliamentary government where a no confidence vote can force an election. Haley might be liked for standing up to foreign governments and the Palestinians but she is as right wing as they come when considering domestic issues. She would not be a logical choice for any Democrat as a vice president fusion nominee. 

John McCain might have won the presidency had he chosen Joe Lieberman instead of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The former Democratic senator from Connecticut was less liberal than most Democrats. As much as Republicans and Conservatives would have been angry at his selection they would still have voted for McCain over Obama while independents put off by Palin’s lack of experience and intellect would have been okay with Joe.

Right now there is no Republican who is pro choice that the Democratic Party would accept.

So dream away those seeking a national unity ticket. We will wake you up after November so you can see the carnage Trump will inflict on the country whether he wins or especially if he loses.

First Amendment Cries: Social distancing vs. religious rights. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio ran afoul of the religious police by suggesting that churches and synagogues that don’t adhere to the coronavirus lockdown guidelines could face “permanent” closure of their buildings (https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-n-y-c-mayor-synagogues-that-don-t-comply-with-coronavirus-rules-may-be-shut-down-1.8717453).

Temporary, I can understand and agree with. Permanent? Not so fast. Let’s give Mayor Bill the benefit of the doubt, that in the passion of the moment he exaggerated a trifle. He’s not being anti-religion, nor is he giving Islam a pass, as some of his detractors have suggested by his referring only to churches and synagogues and not including mosques. 

All that said, there have been repeated violations of the social distancing rules by too many faith leaders and their adherents. For God’s sake, don’t these people know plagues have no religious affiliation? In that sense plagues, along with other natural disasters, are truly the most ecumenical misfortune.


Where Are They?: Two top officers of Mount Sinai hospital system in New York City are sequestered in Florida while their staff of thousands battle the pandemic in the Big Apple (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8164043/Mount-Sinai-execs-safely-tucked-away-FLORIDA-vacation-homes.html). Does it matter?

For sure it is bad optics, but shelter-in-place does not preclude staying in luxury quarters. Unless they are directly involved in treating patients there is absolutely no need for them to be on site. Anyone who is not directly involved in patient care or in facilities management to keep the hospital clean and open should not be required to be on site. 

I wonder, before the article on their whereabouts appeared, how many Sinai employees had any idea where their “leaders” were riding out the pandemic storm. Let’s hold them accountable for how the hospital is supplied and functions during the crisis, not from where they are issuing their executive orders. 

For perspective on how other company CEOs are working from home, link to https://nyti.ms/3bmVQeS


The Blame Game: When the pandemic is over, and it will end, sometime, we no doubt will collectively turn to placing blame on those responsible for its spread. Many already are agreeing with Trump that COVID-19 should be called the China Virus. You decide what you will call it. 

On a more serious note, there seems little disagreement that the virus began its devastating journey in China and that the Chinese authorities mishandled its spread and the flow of information that would have aided other countries. 

Some voices are calling for some form of censure of China, perhaps from the United Nations or other world bodies, even as China denies its guilt and is embarked on a campaign to help other populations, particularly in Third World nations, combat the epidemic while continuing to finance infrastructure projects in those countries. 

It appears we have learned nothing from history, past and present, that liars who repeatedly and loudly proclaim their lies as truth are able to convince a large segment of the populace that their lies are truth and that truth is fake news. 

I would venture to say that the vast majority of people in downtown Nairobi or Khartoum or Munich or Rio de Janeiro do not pay much attention to the rhetoric of the UN Security Council but do start believing messages that are bombarded to them by media influenced or controlled by despots and would-be despots. 

The U.S. might claim it has one of the most educated populations but the fealty almost half of our people display toward an incessant, unrepentant liar proves my point that Goebbals, the Nazi propaganda chieftain, knew of which he was talking and acting. 

Perhaps our only hope for the future is to mandate the departure of any American company deemed strategic from China. Yes, it goes against laissez-faire capitalism but our national security is at stake if China is our major supplier of technical, electronic and healthcare equipment and supplies. 

Concurrent with that action must be a concerted effort to educate Americans that their strategic safety is more important than saving a few pennies, even dollars, by buying from the Chinese and instead they should pay more for made-in-America goods. Growing American manufacturing capacity will grow the middle class and, guess what, we will return to the America of the 1950s that Trump trumpets his love for. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Day 15 Nat'l Emergency: Time for Humor and ...


Had enough depressing news? I’ll try not to inflict more on you today.

To help you cope, click on this article from the Harvard Business Review. It explains the emotion many of us are feeling is grief and provides ideas how to deal with it: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief (my thanks to my sister, Lee, a retired psychological social worker and elementary school teacher in Los Angeles).


Deserving of Thanks: A former colleague at Lebhar-Friedman, Barbara Hochberg, posted this appropriate note the other day:

“After COVID-19 is over, I better NEVER hear anyone trash ‘low end’ workers again. Those people at the grocery store, the Dollar General workers, those fast food workers, the Walmart employees, those people you didn’t even think deserved to have a wage to survive on? They’re some of the ones currently carrying the country through this mess, making sure you and your families have food and essentials to survive on, risking their health to help yours. And most won’t even have the money to go to the doctor if they get sick. I better NEVER see someone be unappreciative or dismissive of them again!”

Amen!


I overheard my wife and one of her friends talking on the phone the other day. Both said they haven’t put makeup on in two weeks or performed other beauty regimens. Safe to say, if younger females are similarly beautified each day of home coronavirus containment we might not experience the population explosion we did after the two New York City blackouts years ago. Worth checking the level of baby deliveries next December and January. 


Read On?: One would think that given forced confinement one would finally have the time and inclination to read The New York Times from cover to cover, so to speak. One would think so, but one would be wrong. 

To begin with, I can’t think of a more depressing activity than reading and reading and reading story after story after story about the pandemic. Especially given the proliferation of media outlets available on the Web, one could spend every waking hour engrossed in despair. Read a few articles, but for the sake of your own sanity, limit what you read and view. Trust me, you will find out about truly important news, good or bad. 


Just Wondering: With all the extended handwashing we are doing these days, will we experience a water shortage in a few months? 

It is no secret that the availability and supply of potable water is considered by some global strategists to be the next trigger point for conflict between nations and states. Georgia and Florida have battled in court on water from a river, while Western states have long been at odds over proper use of the Colorado River. 


For the dog lovers among you, and even for those who love cats or other animals more, feast your eyes on this collage of pictures taken by UPS drivers: https://www.boredpanda.com/ups-drivers-meets-animals-dogs/.




So Sad: It is almost impossible to ignore our “wartime” president’s war on science and anyone who disputes his authority and expertise. In rejecting New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s plea for 30,000 ventilators for affected victims of COVID-19, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Thursday night, “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying can we order 30,000 ventilators?” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-coronavirus-ventilators-new-york-state_n_5e7d651cc5b6256a7a27c911). 

Does Trump think it is a competition between states and governors to see who has the most coronavirus cases and deaths? 

Maybe this mock clip of Trump truly does capture the essence of the man (thanks to my high school classmate Mike Exelbert for forwarding it to me): 


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Day 12 of Nat'l Emergency: Trump Wants It Over


Old people. Seniors. The elderly. People with underlying medical conditions. The most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Special early shopping hours for those 60 and older. 

OMG! All those messages are aimed at ... ME!

I am 71. I am diabetic. My wife and friends, maybe even my internist, would say I am a hypochondriac. My eventual tombstone should read, “I told you I was sick” (an old joke but still apropos). 

With the onset of an early allergy season I periodically cough. Into my elbow but otherwise non distinguishable from coronavirus hacking. Trust me on that.   

As baby boomers born between 1946-1964, my generation started rewriting preconceived limitations on aging and what we could do. Fifty became the new 30. Sixty the new 40. Seventy the new 50?

To be sure, some baby boomers are not in the best of health, either because they inherited lousy genes or because they failed to maintain lifestyles that would not compromise their health. Or both. 

Because I retired at 60, I have a 10 year head start on how to successfully stay at home without going stir crazy. I am not as distressed as the vast majority who find the four walls of their abodes closing in on them. Naturally, some of my away from home diversions and activities have been curtailed by the quarantine in place directive. But walks, alone or with Gilda who retired a year ago, are still possible. We glory in the springtime sunshine and air. 

The next two weeks, medical experts advise, will be critical in containing the coronavirus, or in its spread. Donald Trump is betting the former, as he wants “the country opened” again by Easter, April 12. Prolonged closure of businesses will destroy Trump’s reelection argument based on economic strength during his tenure. So he is eager to wager on the resiliency of the public’s health to resist coronavirus.

 Trump went bankrupt trying to run casinos, an almost impossible outcome given that gambling odds are stacked in favor of the house. Now he is tossing the dice in concurrence with conservative policymakers and Fox News commentators who tell him the cure of closing down the economy is worse than the illness that could kill millions if unchecked. On the other hand, healthcare professionals are divided on the best course of action to take (
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-economy.html?referringSource=articleShare).  

Only time will tell which option is the correct one. It is also interesting to consider Trump’s decision when looking at the electoral map. COVID-19 is spread more easily in densely populated areas. These happen to be largely in states Democrats won in 2016 and likely would carry in November. These states are among the main economic engines of our country, states such as New York, Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and New Jersey. No, I am not suggesting Trump is trying to kill off voters from those states. But he may be willing to risk the lives of voters from states he probably will not win in order to secure an improving national economy and stock market. 

Of course, Trump may lack the power or authority to reopen the whole country. Each state’s governor may have the final say within their respective borders, much as they have in the last three months. 

So we will wait until Easter to find out if fear of the coronavirus will rise from our depths of despair or if we will be engulfed in a plague of biblical proportion.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 7 of National Emergency: Does a Wartime President Have the Power to Delay Elections?


Our fearless, fearful, fear-mongering draft-dodger leader now embraces a self-proclaimed title of “wartime president.” 

As comically absurd as that moniker sounds, it is true, to the extent that we and the world are at war against the coronavirus. So let’s consider what qualities we might want our president to have.

According to UShistory.org, the website of the Independence Hall Association, some common leadership qualities that good presidents appear to have include: 

*A strong vision for the country’s future
*An ability to put their own times in the perspective of history
*Effective communication skills
*The courage to make unpopular decisions
*Crisis management skills
*Character and integrity
*Wise appointments
*An ability to work with Congress

We want someone with character and integrity who can instill in us trust and confidence. Sadly, from day one of his presidency Trump has spouted falsehoods (let’s call his pre-election humdingers as campaign rhetoric) that undermine any hope we might believe him when it matters. 

Wednesday he promised big news from the Food and Drug Administration. Thursday he said the FDA greenlighted a malaria drug for treatment of COVID-19. But shortly thereafter the head of the FDA had to correct him. The drug had been approved for limited usage and further study as it has severe, sometimes fatal, side effects (https://mol.im/a/8131613).

We’d want a leader who can inspire us with calming, motivating oratory, much like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did during World War II. Or how Obama comforted the nation after several mass shootings. Trump’s communication skills when he isn’t riffing on his standard rally speech are pathetic. He has a hard time reading prepared text, which in itself is anything but inspirational. At the beginning of his presidency Trump made a big to-do about installing Churchill’s bust in the Oval Office. Inspiration is not transferable from a slab or marble. All the more reason to be disappointed by his failure to express compassion for those ill or now unemployed. He is heartless.   

In a crisis we want a leader who recognizes his or her limitations, who can acknowledge his/her imperfections, who can accept the advice of experts, be they generals, scientists or doctors. Trump rated his pandemic response performance a “10,” rejecting his earlier dismissal of the coronavirus as anything more troublesome than the flu. He has repeatedly undercut expert advice. Here are several comments he made about the viral outbreak over the last several months:

“There’s nothing to worry about”
“It’s a Democratic Hoax”
“It'll be over by April”
“It’s a pandemic”
“I take no responsibility”
“I always knew it was a pandemic”


Hail Caesar: Of all the deaths to be lamented from the pandemic, the most tragic may well be to our democratic republic.

I do not mean to be histrionic. But Trump may as president be able to postpone or cancel next November’s election as part of his emergency powers.

I, along with other commentators, have long opined that Trump would not go lightly from the Oval Office if he loses the election. It doesn’t take a genius to reason out his possible move to negate the election if his polling numbers plummet and he and his hard-core advisors believe he has no way of winning November 3.

The COVID-19 disaster provides the “perfect” shield for a power-grabbing play. Though The New York Times last week said it would be near impossible to postpone the election (https://nyti.ms/2U6p3n5 ), it might easily pass constitutional review given the composition of the Supreme Court.

In the midst of wars and economic depressions no president has invoked emergency powers to deny the American people the right choose their leader every four years. But no president has been like Trump. He has upended norms both domestically and internationally. Moreover, he has cowed the Republican Party into such deep submission that it is doubtful any but a handful of elected GOP officials would object to his postponing an election that might very well cost them control of the Senate and with that future federal court nominations. A sign of their anxiety was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s overture to elderly Republican federal judges to retire so Trump would have the chance to fill their seats with conservative judges. 

Around the world we have seen juntas and strongmen dissolve duly elected governments, proclaiming they did so in the interests of national security and even of democracy, couching their treachery with a vague promise of conducting elections when the emergency has passed. Of course they define when that time arrived, if ever.

Trump has acted like a banana republic president. He has teased about serving beyond the constitutionally mandated two terms. A national emergency declaration abolishing the November election would enable his dream to become a reality.     

The rise of an American autocrat would not occur in a vacuum. Trump has witnessed, envied and even lauded Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, India’s Narendra Damodardas Modi, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, The Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

He feels more comfortable with foreign strongmen than with any of his recent predecessors who valued America’s leadership and moral standing throughout the world.

How ironic that an acknowledged germaphobe might achieve his ultimate coronation because of a pandemic.