October – Politics and Pandemics

I’ve changed the page heading to better reflect what will inevitably be the focus of my posts over the next few weeks. Let’s see where October takes us.

October 24

83,000.

The highest single day total of new COVID cases yet. It’s shocking, but it’s not surprising. 

Think back just 7 weeks ago. On Labor Day, we were at 32,000 cases a day. We worried that the combination of lack of care over the holiday, reopening schools and the return of cooler weather leading to more indoor activities would be a dangerous trifecta. 

Well, once again, the science is showing that it can’t be denied. And wishful thinking about “turning corners” or magically disappearing viruses can’t trump facts. We’re in trouble… still and again… and we have to face it head on.

Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota worries that the darkest days of the pandemic are upon us and yesterday’s record is not going to last much time at all. Soon we’ll be see cases in excess of 100,000 per day and deaths, according to the experts, are going to rise precipitously. We’re likely to average more than 50,000 deaths a month over the next three months. Think about that. 

There will be days when more than 2,000 of our fellow citizens die in a single day from this virus that some dismiss as a “little flu.” Our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed — there are simply not enough beds. And it’s not just the physical infrastructure. How can our doctors and nurses and first responders cope with this unremitting pressure and the risks they face every day.

Sure, we’ve learned more about the disease and we have better therapeutic approaches, but STILL tens of thousands will not survive this. It is sad, it is frightening, and it will be devastating.

I try not to make this all about Trump. We’d have the pandemic irrespective of who sat in the White House, people would die, no matter which party leads, and we still would be faced with damnably difficult choices. But I can’t help but feel anger and bitterness when I think about how much better we COULD have done and about how many lives COULD have been saved if only Trump had been a real leader. And his incompetence is outstripped by his lack of empathy and commitment to care for those he was elected to serve. Shame on him and on all those who sat idly by pretending his conduct was normal or finding ways to excuse his inaction and lack of concern. 

And now, as we face the dark days that lie ahead, the struggle is compounded by pandemic fatigue on the one hand and pandemic politics on the other. Indeed, there are folks who are just tired and who are struggling. Hard choices about schooling for the kids, about the workplace, about financial need vs. public health. They are just weary of facing the choices and trying to get it right. They want to go to the restaurant or the bar or to a wedding or to the funeral… but in doing so they compound the risks. They aren’t bad people, they’re just tired. Most of us are.

And then there are those who are so angry. Angry that the pandemic is interfering with their lives. Angry because they believe they are being inconvenienced and made scapegoats for no reason. The virus isn’t real or, if it is, it isn’t serious. It’s all a political fiction to discredit Trump and it will “disappear” as soon as the elections are over. They believe it… they are convinced… and no appeal to facts or the evidence before their eyes will change their views. They claim the deaths aren’t real or they’re inflated or they’re not about COVID. They’ve always got an argument that excuses them from responsibility. 

Now, more than ever, we need leadership. We need a consistent message of empathy, understanding and hope. We need to convince people across the nation that we CAN manage this — just as they have in so many nations in Asia — if only we have each other’s backs. We can all be heroes. We can all save lives. We can all make a difference. Together, untied and committed, we can still save lives and we can make turning the corner a reality and not just a political fiction.

Trump has chosen a different path. So, now WE need to choose a different leader. And meanwhile, take to heart what the experts say. Believe the science. Look at the facts and evidence. Wear your mask and be a hero for your kids or grandkids or your parents and grandparents. Keep your distances now so we can be together tomorrow. Be smart. Be a leader. Care.

And, if you care, consider signing the Health Citizen Pledge. We need to build momentum. We need to act. Be part of the effort. 

Happy Saturday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

https://www.healthcitizenpledge.org/

October 23

Who won? That’s what the media outlets all want to know. Most post-debate snapshot polls I’ve seen say Biden won by a considerable margin. But you can find pundits who make a case for both candidates’ performance. 

It’s interesting to see how much of an effort they make so that we don’t have to really decide for ourselves. We can just sit back and wait for the pundits to tell us who won, what was important and who to believe.

Some of these analysts say things like “you know, a lot of these issues are very complex and the average voter really can’t make sense of the finer points and nuances of some of the arguments.” Fair enough. There may be some truth to that in today’s world where the issues truly are complex and where there is so much news and reporting you can never keep up with it all.

But I think the average American voter is smart enough and attuned enough to judge character and even if we don’t know all the back story we can see the very different approaches that the candidates bring to the table and we can decide which America we want to be. Do we care if children were taken from their immigrant parents at the border and that we are unable now to restore them to each other? Or do we prefer not to look at the issue and instead talk about predators and thugs abusing the system and low IQ folks being the only ones dumb enough to play by the rules?

Do we care about our fellow citizens who live near petroleum and chemical plants and believe that they should be protected from cancer causing pollution, or is the fact that folks make really good money working in these facilities something that means we’ll overlook those who get sick and die? 

Do we believe that we face an existential climate crisis or not? Is this about the future of our planet or about China somehow gaining economic ground at our expense if we do the right thing on emissions now? Should we deny the reality that the oil industry has to give way to renewable energy to win votes? 

Do we believe that COVID is going away? Do we believe it is under control? Should the teachers who are at risk of dying — and a number have — trust claims that it’s a very low percentage? 

Do we really believe we should divide our nation along red and blue lines and punish those on the other side and blame them for all our ills? Or do we believe that we are one nation — a people with diverse views and faiths and beliefs but with a shared destiny and a commitment to the values articulated in our founding documents?

Do we accept that citizens of color experience an America that is far different than it is for those with white skin, and that they fear for the children’s safety in ways that the majority never have to think about?

All of these questions and more were on the table last night.

It doesn’t really matter who you thought “won.” It doesn’t really matter who you believed. Instead, the real question to answer is about WHAT you believe. 

At the end of the day, the election isn’t really about Trump and Biden. It’s about us. It’s about the values we care about. It’s about how we see ourselves and our place in society and it’s about our hopes for the future.

I’m glad it’s over. The choice is ours. And the reckoning draws nearer.  

Meanwhile, over the next 11 days as we wait for the polls, we may see somewhere around 700,000 new COVID infections.  We may see 8,000+ deaths. And we will see our hospitals filling up — hospitalizations have risen 33% just this month. 

There’s no point, anymore, in beating the drum about Trump’s unquestioned failure as a leader when it came to responding to this crisis. He blew it. Full stop. And if you don’t get that by now, you never will. Pretend otherwise if you like, but history will tell the story of his ineptitude. Perhaps it will serve as a cautionary tale for a future leader.

Meanwhile, in the present reality, our struggle will continue. Although vaccine development is making progress, and it is possible we will start to see things move on that front in the coming months, we’re a long way from the end. And, although many may experience only mild symptoms, make no mistake — tens of thousands more — a few hundred thousand more perhaps — are going to die, nonetheless. 

You can ignore it if you want. No one can make you face facts or be responsible. You can call it a “little flu,” you can say God will protect you, if that’s what works for you. But denying COVID’s threat won’t make December any less dark. And, for those of you who choose to dismiss the risks, know that families who have lost —  or who will lose — loved ones will remember your indifference and casual disregard forever. 

Those of you who can’t be bothered to listen, to wear a mask, to stay home from the bar… every one of you is complicit in the crisis and the deaths every bit as much as Donald Trump and all those who failed to lead responsibly. 

I’ll say it again. This isn’t really about Trump. It’s about us. About the choices we make and who we want to be. Enough said.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 22

It’s the final debate tonight. And, if it was a real debate, it would be important to listen to the competing views of the candidates. The issues we face are serious and they go beyond this pandemic — though there are very few issues more pressing. 

But, of course, there’s little likelihood that we’ll get a substantive discussion. Trump’s not capable of it because he doesn’t think about the issues, doesn’t study, doesn’t listen, and doesn’t care. 

Health care is a huge concern for Americans, but even after four years he still has no health care plan we can debate about.

If he can’t accept that climate change is an existential threat how do you have a conversation about the responses we must mount?

Then there was his promise to restore and rebuild infrastructure. That is a hugely important issue for our nation but the problem is he has never offered a plan, much less legislation, for us to consider.

Social issues could be addressed, but he’s unwilling to admit that our nation still suffers from systemic racism, that there is economic inequality or that gun violence is real and a problem that must be solved. 

Trump refuses to discuss the challenges that lie ahead with the pandemic because he says it is disappearing. He wouldn’t have done anything different he says. So what kind of discussion can we expect about this issue — the most compelling immediate threat before us.

It won’t be a conversation about Trump’s legislative accomplishments — he has none. 

So, what is left but for him to revert to type again tonight. If I had to bet, I’d bet on more BS and bluster. Attack and attack again. Insult and deflect. Spin lie after lie in hopes that unthinking followers will buy into the false narratives. Maybe he’ll tone it down a bit following the disastrous performance last time — maybe — but it will still be Trump being Trump, I wager.

For his part, Biden will make an effort to discuss his alternative narrative — and we know that he offers a world of difference from Trump — but he’s unlikely to offer detailed policy proposals that Trump’s team might seize on to create a controversy in the final two weeks. Instead he’ll tell us what we’ve heard before, stay within the already defined lines of his public positions, and do everything in his power not to make a momentum-killing mistake.

Biden will be measured and factual and careful. Trump will be free-wheeling and make outrageous assertions about his own greatness while telling lie after lie about Biden and Harris. For him the debate stage becomes a mud wrestling pit into which you try and drag your foe.

Some folks will tune in for the political theater. I know I will. I can’t help it even though I expect little in the way of thoughtful dialogue or new insights.

Others will tune out completely. Turn away from the news and just wait for it all to be over. I get that and I can’t say that I blame them. But, even as we look ever more inward or stop looking all together, the world continues to turn. Even a pandemic cannot stop that from happening. 

In Nigeria, a government is assaulting its own people as soldiers kill peaceful protestors who can no longer stomach the abuses perpetrated by police and those in power. Massive protests in Thailand by young people seeking constitutional reform and a reexamination of the monarchy, have rocked the nation. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan are edging towards war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and their respective Russian and Turkish allies are supporting their proxies in their aggression there, as they are in other conflicts in Lebanon and Syria. And meanwhile COVID rages again in Europe, the continued sparring between the US and China unsettles the world, and Russia, Iran, and others seek to destabilize the US and undermine our democracy.

And don’t forget Mother Nature who continues to remind us of her unhappiness with us.  The wildfires that have ravaged the west coast, the record number of named tropical storms in the Atlantic, the loss of Greenland’s ice sheet which has melted to the point of no return… I could cite a dozen more examples of just how the planet is responding to the escalating pace of climate change. 

The bottom line is that the planet will never be the same in our lifetimes and the future, absent dramatic policy and life-style changes for us all, looks grim. 

Quite simply, the world is an unsettled place and the US is missing-in-action in it. 

We are a global power and global economy. Our interests and our values have been a dominant force influencing the shape of the world since the WWII. But, with Trump at the helm, we’ve lost coherence in our global engagement. There is no vision and no plan. And no one seems to care. But, when it comes back to bite us — when our influence wanes, when our economy is undercut, and when we see democracies undermined and human rights trampled as stridently nationalist governments determined to control power and resources come to the fore — we’ll shake our heads and ask how did this happen?

As the pandemic exposes fault lines in countries across the world, as climate change creates refugee populations, disrupts agricultural production and food security, and makes water more valuable than oil in many parts of the world, the risk of ever-greater chaos is before us. But governments today are pulling away from the very mechanisms and entities that facilitate the international cooperation that will be essential to manage these crises. And Trump’s America is leading the way.

I don’t expect either candidate tonight to talk about these sorts of existential challenges. I doubt that either will do more than dance their political pas de deux as they prepare for the final charge. 

But, at some point, we must begin the serious discussions about the challenges that lie ahead for the US and for the planet and we must shape our vision of the US role in the world. We can’t let our suffering as a result of the pandemic, or our revulsion over what politics has become in America, lead us to abandon our responsibilities to each other as citizens or as part of a global community.

It all begins with people. With our choices. With how we act, what we value, our engagement in our communities, our choice of leaders, and more. It would be nice to shut the door, turn off the lights, pull the covers over our heads and ask to be woken up when it’s over. But it won’t be over without us. And it won’t be over when the election is done. The coming years will be a time of testing unlike anything most of us have ever seen. I wonder how we will measure up to the challenges.

Twelve days until the election. Vote like your future depends on it. Vote like our democracy depends on it. Vote like the planet depends on it. Because it’s true. They do.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

The Twelve days of… tapering? – fuelling the foodie

October 21

I’ve always thought there was an almost Shakespearean feel to Trump’s rise to the presidency. The hutzpah, the hubris, the reckless tempting of fate. I really couldn’t help but feel as though it was just a matter of time before we saw the whole edifice he created crumble before our eyes. The man who was so concerned for his image starting to unravel when the cold realties of the world finally intruded into the fantasy narrative he created. 

I don’t know if that is what is happening… perhaps I’m projecting a bit of wishful thinking. It would seem fitting. There would be a karmic justice in it, especially as I’ve always tried to conduct myself with the old adage “what goes around, comes around” in mind. I believe that fundamental decency, common courtesy and basic civility all matter. I believe that those we meet along the way, no matter their station or ours, deserve to be treated with respect. And Trump has never seemed to embody any of that and so, yes, I’ve always felt that his example could not stand… that there had to be a balancing of the scales. 

And now, the man who, in his twisted alternative reality, believes he is the greatest president to ever serve, sees his presidency collapsing and the prospects for reelection not only slipping away, but the possibility of a massive repudiation from across the nation. (OK… perhaps wishful thinking is again in play, but certainly such a repudiation is possible and the risk of losing is palpable).

Against that backdrop, Trump is giving the impression of a man unraveling. He is attacking his own Attorney General and Secretary of State. He is threatening to “fire” the governor of Florida if he doesn’t deliver a victory for Trump there. Unable to hide from his undeniably disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus he attacks public health leaders like Tony Fauci with increasing bitterness, calling Fauci a “disaster.” It goes on and on. Clearly, his loyalists aren’t safe. Nor are those who are just doing the best for the public that they serve. 

He may just take everyone down with him in his desperation to blame someone… anyone… else. The buck, you see, never stops with Donald.  

Republican legislators up for re-election see the signs and are starting to distance themselves from Trump in a bid to save themselves. And Trump is not happy with them, either. He’s already taking aim at Susan Collins in Maine and anyone else who isn’t holding to the Trump line. 

In his desperation, he is demanding the Justice Department launched a blatantly political investigation of Joe Biden’s son Hunter, just weeks before the election. This shameless attempt to manipulate the instruments of government to serve his own ends couldn’t be more wrong. This is the conduct I would have called out forcefully, as American Ambassador, when seeing dictatorial leaders abuse their power in a desperate ploy to undercut their foes and retain their office. Never did I expect to see it in the US.

The search for excuses won’t end, either. He has already attacked the moderator of the upcoming debate on Thursday, claiming it’s rigged against him. He says the moderator is biased and unfair before the first question is asked and he is attacking the Commission on Presidential Debates. “These are not good people. This commission — a lot of funny things go on with them,” he said yesterday. There is, of course, more. He’s claiming that mail-in voting during this time of COVID is a plot against him too. And the Supreme Court ruling the other day allowing mail-in votes in Pennsylvania to be counted if received within three days of the election? Another basis for grievance that he calls “ridiculous” and “very strange.”

As for the election itself, he’s already asserting it will be rigged. It’s what third world despots do when they think they might lose. They think they can get away with it because they control the levers of power and coercion, and the democratic institutions in their countries aren’t strong enough to give lie to their nonsense. Sadly,Trump now wants to bring our own nation — the democracy we have cherished — down to that level.

And to do it he must discredit the media as well — and he is doing all he can in that regard.  He called CNN “dumb bastards” for reporting on the pandemic (his greatest political vulnerability). He cut short his 60 Minutes interview yesterday without explanation. He attacked one reporter for not asking questions about Hunter Biden and then attacked others for wanting to ask him about COVID. He insults reporters, mocks them, demeans women reporters particularly. Everything is fake news. We’re supposed to believe that only his version of events is correct even though his lies are legendary.

He said he’s not running scared… he’s “running angry.” And that’s what he seems. Angry at the world. Lashing out and not caring the damage he does in the process. God only knows what we’ll see in the coming days and weeks and, even worse, what we’ll see if — when — he loses.  

These are troubling times and an unhinged and angry man giving vent to his resentments and grievances is a frightening thought — particularly when that man happens to be president of the Untied States. 

I know that not everything is about Donald Trump. But, no matter how much you may love or hate him, he has dominated our political consciousness for four years. And his fall, which now may be unfolding before us, will likely dominate our news for weeks if not months more. 

I  don’t think it’s going to be pretty. But nothing about this administration has been.

Happy hump day. Less than two weeks to go. We can at least be grateful for that.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 20

They’re going to have a new rule for the last presidential debate allowing microphones to be muted. You can debate whether it will be effective, wonder how it will be used, and whether it will really stop Trump (who is the reason the rule was implemented) from still distracting Biden and disrupting his responses. 

Still… how I wish I had a mute button that I could just deploy at will right now. My noise cancelling AirPods are great but they’re not enough. I want to mute it all. The rancorous debate among the talking heads on the news shows; the passionately partisan and non-sensical claims of partisans on both sides (though, particularly, the crazier nonsense coming from the conspiracy theorists on the right), and (I’m sure there are many who get this) Trump.

Yes, I am among those who cannot stand to even hear his voice. And I hate that. I want to listen, even if I disagree, but there is something in his tone or style that, when combined with content that is often just self-promotion, lies, and whining, I have to turn it off. To have the world think that THIS is what the American president sounds like and acts like is so deeply offensive to my sensibilities that I can’t stand it. His childishness, his inability to string two articulate sentences together, his petulance… ewwwww… I can’t deal with it. 

So, muting him — and all of the nonsense — seems like a dream come true. But it’s only a dream.

I do dream as well, though, that one of these days we’ll get back to a point where there’s actually value in listening to each other. Where we see an actual exchange of ideas rather than partisan bickering by folks whose minds are closed to new ideas and who can’t conceive of the fact that the “other side” might have valid concerns worthy of consideration. 

Compromise has become a dirty word and I know that there are those who worry that Biden might be too inclined to reach across the aisle than push the progressive agenda with guns blazing. But, as much as we need urgent and dramatic change in so many areas, change seldom comes in a blaze of glory (or in the form of fiery doom if you’re on the other side of the political spectrum) but incrementally. A step at a time, reflecting the complexity of the issues and the diversity of interests and views in our society.

There are watershed moments, of course, when the societal scale tips even if the politicians are slow to catch up. Social issues like abortion and women’s reproductive rights or the rights of our LGBTQ citizens, including the right to marry, were not even on the table a few decades ago.  And although, even today, there is not yet universal acceptance and we still worry about repressive state governments or a conservative Supreme Court undoing progress, there is no denying that there has been a tremendous shift in societal views and efforts to derail progress will, ultimately fail under the unrelenting tide of public sentiment.  

I believe that change will come on other issues too. Deniers on the climate crisis are running out of places to hide. The reality is increasingly inescapable. Breaking the cycle of systemic racism will be harder, as will changing the gun culture, or shifting distribution of resources and wealth in our nation. 

Are we capable of building a consensus on these issues and of shifting perspectives and attitudes? Sure. We’ve seen it happen on LGBTQ rights and other issues. But it isn’t easy, doesn’t happen overnight and, if we fail to build a degree of shared understanding we risk a backlash and ever more entrenched opposition that will make it harder to achieve our goals in the long run.  

There will, I know, be those who will never change — whose deeply held convictions are part of their very identity and who will be unyielding to argument or dialogue. But I am not going to be one of them.  So, as much as I want to mute it all and live in my bubble of conviction, I know I have to pop the bubble and open myself to hearing the differing viewpoints and to compromise. 

So… enough of Tuesday morning musings. There’s a dog to brush, a book to promote, and food to cook. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 19

Two weeks to go until the elections. It feels like we’re on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. By November 3 we’ll be left breathless, heads spinning, and more than a little disoriented. But, unlike some crazy amusement park rides, I think very few of us will be begging to go again.

The thing is, there’s so much chaff being being thrown into the air it is a huge challenge to even try and sort it all out. I missed, for example, Trump’s retweet of one of the latest QAnon-linked conspiracy theories. It claims that Osama Bin Laden is alive, that Obama and that Biden arranged for the murder of the Seal Team Six members. It’s nonsense, of course, but if Trump can keep folks talking… keep them from thinking about the pandemic, or the hardships folks in line at food banks are enduring, well then… let’s keep the silly season alive.

I’m waiting for him to warn us of the pending alien invasion from which only he… and his space force… can save us. But, if that can keep folks from worrying about the fact that after four years Trump still cannot offer a single detail about his health care “plan,” then, sure, let’s talk about alien invasions. 

OK… I exaggerate a bit. Maybe. Trump probably won’t play the alien card. But who knows. But I don’t exaggerate about the costs to our society of this pandemic and his horrific mismanagement of it. We don’t exaggerate about the costs to the millions (perhaps as many as 12 million) who have lost health coverage during the pandemic due to their jobs disappearing. And we don’t exaggerate about the 21 million who could lose their coverage if the ACA is struck down by Trump’s Supreme Court, or the 11 million who could lose desperately needed Medicaid support or the 133 million with pre-existing conditions whose coverage is thrown into limbo. 

So, maybe Trump better talk about aliens after all if he can’t offer ANY clue as to what his health care plan is. He dances, obfuscates, and offers meaningless boasts about how great his plan will be when he’s asked what he’s going to do about all this. But by now it’s clear there is no plan. There is no path forward. Just a mindless petty obsession with attacking anything done by President Obama. 

Tearing down others is a hell of a lot easier than building an enduring legacy for yourself and Trump seems more than partial to taking the easy way. Sadly for us. Leadership isn’t easy. You have to do the work. You have to do your homework. You have to make hard choices. But that’s not for Trump.

It’s just easier to lie and make things up than it is to address hard truths. So that’s what Trump chooses to do. And we suffer. He lies about the pandemic but he can’t stop us from seeing the reality of the challenges.

Twenty-seven states have seen more than a 10% increase in cases in the last week alone. Florida has had a week of 2,000+ new daily infections. We had 69,000 new infections reported on Friday alone. Our death toll has now hit 220,000 — remember when we were shocked at hitting the 100,000 mark?  And this is far… very far… from over.

It feels like a promo for the Game of Thrones. “Winter is Coming.” And it threatens to be long, hard and dark. Even Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar gets it. He was on “Meet the Press” yesterday pleading with Americans. “Please just give us a bit more time of your individual, responsible behavior of washing your hands, watch your distance, wear your face coverings when you can’t watch your distance.” he said. He’s right, of course. But when his boss refuses to model the behavior we need — when his boss flaunts the public health guidance deliberately and willfully — who is going to listen to Alex Azar?

There’s so much at stake in the days ahead. So many critical issues to be addressed. 

Health care. Climate change. Gun violence. Racism. Social and economic justice. Respect for the rule of law… and for each other. The list is long and each item on it presents it’s own considerable challenges. It won’t be easy.

That’s why we can’t chase Trump down all the rabbit holes he opens up. We can’t waste our time being distracted by his stupidity. 

There is work to do to restore America. There is work to do if we wish to preserve our democracy. And there is work to do if we want to be the nation we believe we are capable of being. 

We can all be part of that effort. We can engage in our communities. We can speak out. We can support candidates who will fight for our future. We can make the conscious choice to recognize our failings and we can work to correct them. 

We can break down the walls we have built to protect ourselves from the hate and idiocy and create bridges instead — bridges that open the door to constructive disagreement and honest dialog. I still believe we aren’t as horribly divided as it often seems and I still believe that there are enough folks across the political spectrum who are decent and kind and who care that we can rebuild our nation and shape our future together. 

There’s a lot to do in the months and years ahead and we can’t leave it to everyone else. It’s on us. Each of us. And it starts with our vote. It’s a tall order for a Monday, I know.

But let’s get to it. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 18

Every day we get closer to the elections is another day closer to ending the madness. Not just the failed leadership and dangerous inaction on the pandemic, but the endless misogyny, bigotry, racist dog whistles, and glaring xenophobia.

Trump doubled down on all of it yesterday at his rallies in Michigan and Wisconsin. Unsurprisingly, he still wants to lock up Hillary and now he wants to add Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who he calls a dictator, to the list. Biden too. Maybe Obama and Pelosi as well.

 He doesn’t care that his rhetoric about Whitmer served to further inspire the plotters who wanted to kidnap her, attacking the very foundations of democratic governance. He doesn’t care if he puts her and her family at risk. It’s all about the show. His hard core supporters hunger for the red meat of division and grievance à la Trump — and he delivers it with the gusto that comes from a belief in his message, as appalling as that thought may be.

He also decided to attack Savannah Guthrie who pushed him hard during his town hall event the other night. She’s yet another of those uppity women he hates. “Her face — the anger, the craziness,” he said, trying to lessen her by painting her as irrational, emotional, or out of control. It’s one of his favorite ploys in attacking women he doesn’t like — which would be any strong woman who disagrees with him. Nancy Pelosi has “mental problems,” Kamala Harris is a “monster,” and all of them are just “nasty” women in his book.

You see, Trump prefers women who conform to his vision of the suburban housewives of the 1950s or 60s. In Trump’s dream world, those women are uniformly white and united in their deep inner fears of blacks and hispanics coming to destroy their little white bubbles of suburbia.  “Would you like a nice low-income housing project next to your suburban beautiful ranch style house? Generally speaking, no,” Trump said in Muskegon. “I saved your suburbs — women — suburban women, you’re supposed to love Trump,” he added.

How can anyone so out of touch have won the presidency to begin with?  How can there be so many in America who support him? THAT’s what I don’t understand. Do those folks in Muskegon or Janesville, or any of the others who will vote for this disgustingly racist and hateful man, really believe that? Sadly, I think they might.

Some of his supporters will proudly, and publicly, proclaim their bigotry and voice their contempt for anyone who is not like them and who does not fit their vision of a white and christian (as THEY would define being christian) America. 

Others may not voice the bigotry as readily, or as publicly, but I think for many of them there nonetheless is a place deep inside where Trump’s words resonate. All their fears and disappointments and grievances are given voice by Trump as he says for them what they are ashamed to say for themselves. 

Trump frees them. Absolves them of guilt for their own darkness. 

That, I think, is part of the challenge that lies ahead; part of what we have to overcome as a society. And sadly, removing Trump from office won’t change what so many may believe in their hearts. But it IS a start.

Only by defeating Trump can we begin the journey back to a time where it was unacceptable —  and it was condemned — to offer words of hate and racial scorn as if they were normal discourse. 

It’s not just the baseness of Trump’s appeals that are disturbing though.  The unblinking acceptance by his followers of his most blatant falsehoods is deeply troubling as well.  Yesterday, again, he baldly asserted that the pandemic, which is growing daily in its malevolence and threat, is “disappearing” and that “we’re turning the corner.” It is so blatantly untrue as to be laughable, but it isn’t funny to see his followers accepting this as gospel.  

What happened to rationality? To critical thinking? To looking at the facts and making up our own minds? This blind, mindless, acceptance — following his lead like lemmings headed for the cliff — is every bit as frightening as the ugliness of his racist dog whistles. And it’s all the more disturbing if we think about the dangers inherent in their unreasoning acceptance of his message of division and discord.

I don’t seek to offer here a philosophical discourse on the nature of good and evil — there are others far better suited to carry on such a discussion. But I worry that we open the door to all manner of horrors when we surrender our independence of thought to the will of another.  

It may be easier not to think for ourselves. It may be easier just to embrace the dictates of those whose zealotry leaves no room for doubt.  But, when we abdicate the responsibility to apply our own moral compass to our choices, that is when we become complicit in the ugliness and hatred that is unleashed.

For those who don’t think that this election matters, think again. It does. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 17

It’s a beautiful autumn day here in Haymarket, Virginia. A bit after noon and it’s a crisp 54 degrees. The sun is shining and, in a bit, I’ll go for a walk with a couple of the pups perhaps. You look outside and it looks pretty perfect.  

It’s days like this that you just want to be out. Do things. But, of course, appearances can be deceiving. It’s not a normal fall day. Unless we have indeed come to accept the fact that “normal” includes a pandemic that is, once again, spiraling out of control and exposing us to extraordinary risks.

I know that the majority of folks who contract the disease survive. Some don’t even suffer the most debilitating aspects of the disease. But “majority” and “some” are not “all.” And when you have over 8 million in this country have already contracted the virus and the numbers keep growing, the reality is that we’re going to have hundreds of thousands more who WILL die and more than that who WILL suffer debilitating effects from the disease.

I am baffled, as numbers seem to inexorably rise, that there is no sense of urgency except from public health professionals whose pleas seem to fall on indifferent ears. 

We saw over 68,000 new cases yesterday alone. Across the nation rates are rising but in Maryland they just decided to open football games to spectators. Florida has been reopening bars and restaurants, and in localities across the nation officials are deciding that maybe they CAN bring the kids back into the classrooms.

It’s as if our decision-making mechanisms lags weeks behind the realities of the disease but we go blithely ahead. I understand the complexities of governance and leadership and the tough choices on the table, but I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand the thought process behind so many of these choices.

But, not all leaders are wise and some may be less interested in looking at the facts than they are in trying to make an unpleasant realty fit within the narrow box of their convictions that this is all much ado about nothing. 

It’s hard to believe that they can be so willfully ignorant, but perhaps they are like the 70-something woman in Florida, I saw on TV sporting her Trump MAGA hat and proclaiming that this is just a little flu. She defiantly crowed that she isn’t going to worry about the virus. Good for her. I’d like to check back with her when she’s hospitalized and intubated to see how she feels about it then.

We hear it all the time, though, from Facebook posts, from passionate Trump supporters, and from all the conspiracy theorists who are sure that entreaties in the name of public health are somehow all a plot to take away our freedom.  

Well, please… spare me your sorrow that I’m a “prisoner” within my home. Don’t tell me to get out and “live life.” That’s exactly what I’m trying to do… I’m trying to ensure that I live and that I stay healthy and safe and will be around for years to come. 

And if you believe that being asked to wear a mask or socially distance or that your bar is closed is “tyranny,” I can only tell you, “Suck it up, boys and girls.” Get out in the world and see what real tyranny is. Or go somewhere where the heath infrastructure failed long ago and where public health programs are non-existent.  Go and experience that reality — which many people around the world face. That is tyranny. The tyranny of failed leadership, the tyranny of poverty, and the tyranny of hopelessness and despair. 

A few more months of taking care, of wearing masks, of staying close to home, of skipping the restaurants, of avoiding bars and parties… that I can live with. 

I’m not going to risk infection or be the source of infection for others. I’m not going to deny the facts or the reality of science in a world where over a million have now died from this “little flu.”

I’m not going to ignore the grim truth that Europe is in the grip of a new surge and that they anticipate death tolls four to five times what we saw last April as the grim news about the tragedy and despair in Italy or Spain swept across our consciousness. 

And make no mistake, all of you naysayers in your MAGA hats.  The US is not likely to fare any better than Europe. 

And, come January, when we see things are getting far, far worse we’ll likely hear the irresponsible fools — who have chosen irresponsibility over the broader public good — demanding that someone “fix” it.  Fools, indeed. THIS is our chance. Now. Today. 

But not enough will listen or act or change for a more promising trajectory to be realized.

And THAT is tragic for us all.

Our current leadership is a disaster. The willful blindness of so many is frightening and sad. And, while they carry on as if all IS normal on a beautiful fall day, the rest of us look out and can see the enemy at the gate. We know what awaits.  And all we can do is hope to weather the storm. Sadly, tens of thousands will not.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 16

It’s another day of churn in the news. We’ve got everything from Trump’s refusal to repudiate QAnon (“I know they’re very strong against pedophilia.”) to his false claims about 85% of people wearing masks get COVID anyway.

There are reports (more) about Russian disinformation efforts. There’s the tape of a Republican senator offering his candid view on Trump (“he kisses dictators’ butts”), squabbling between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Advisor, Melania lashing out at a former friend for pettiness, Rudy Giuliani’s daughter calling out Trump’s “reign of terror” and more.

There’s drama and squabbling… but not nearly enough attention on the critical issue of forestalling total disaster with the pandemic as the infection rates grow. In Wisconsin, the positivity rate of those tested is now at a truly frightening level of 23%!  But I feel, at times, that folks would rather be entertained by the soap opera that Washington has become rather than talk about masks and the idiots who still refuse to wear them.  

Joe Biden seemed boring last night, by comparison. His answers were at times long-winded and the most excitement was generated by his non-answer on the issue of court packing at the Supreme Court. Compared to Trump, it was low on theater but high on basic decency, compassion, and empathy. You know he will try and he will care and he’s not a stupid man. He’s lived the issues and he’s thought about them for years. He might not have taken us to lofty heights with his rhetoric but, god, how I’d love to just have a President who is normal again.  

I worry though that in our determination to remove Trump from office we are not preparing ourselves to address the challenges that lie ahead. A Trump loss opens the door for us to start on the path back to good governance, good leadership, and offers hope that we can avert looming disasters. But Trump is not the source of all the challenges we face. The issues that will confront a Biden administration, to include this pandemic, are even more daunting than those that faced Obama as he came to office in facing a devastating economic collapse.

I wonder when we can shift the conversations from personalities to policies and begin crafting a coherent and thoughtful path to the future. Soon, I hope. 

And in the process I hope that the Democrats, particularly if they do win the Senate as well, will take a deep breath before plunging into politics of retaliation driven by the sense that “now it’s OUR turn” rather than by a thoughtful recognition that, in shaping our policy course, we are building a future for all our people and not just the progressive left. 

That’s not to say that we don’t need dramatic new approaches and that change isn’t essential. But let’s hope that we don’t see the pendulum swing so far, so fast, that we end up with a significant portion of our society feeling as disenfranchised by a liberal reinvention of America as liberals have over the past four years. The change is essential, but now more than ever, we will need measured and balanced leadership as we consider the avenues for change. We need to listen to each other and talk to each other — a lesson the Republicans never learned in their arrogance. I hope that the Democrats, if successful, do not fall victim to the same mistakes. But given the nature of politics in today’s America, I worry.

Still, all that’s for another day. It has been such a pleasure for the past 24 hours to shift my focus instead to our book, now at the printers, about Lo Khyi, our dignified and loving Tibetan Mastiff with his “four eyes” (the markings above his eyes) denoting inner wisdom. That was a project of the heart, and it seeing it come to fruition is so rewarding. And the story is more than just another “boy meets dog” tale. It’s about the power of the serendipitous, the power of connections that are unexpected, and the importance of love, compassion and hope. And these days, I really do believe that is a message that matters. (I’ll put the link to “The Ambassador’s Dog” page in the comments below.) 

I’m glad it’s Friday. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 15

“Say goodbye to Grandpa.” That could be the subtext of the message we’re hearing from the White House. No one would phrase it that way publicly, but that’s the upshot of the COVID response they seem to be favoring. The White House just tweeted that it’s time to let Americans “who are at lower risk of COVID resume their daily lives. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”

On the one hand, it could be seen as odd that they’re opining at all on this given that Trump continues to deny there’s a problem. Of course, he won’t ever admit to an issue because that would require him to act or to accept responsibility and THAT is not going to happen.

But this latest White House tweet is just a reflection of the views touted by Dr. Scott Atlas — who is not an infectious disease expert — about herd immunity. It’s not the first time folks have flirted with the idea and the White House tweet now can point to the recent “Great Barrington Declaration,” endorsed by a variety of medical and public health professionals, that argues for herd immunity as well.  

There are countless other medical experts, however, including our top infectious disease specialists, who totally disagree with this approach. So when experts have different approaches, who do we believe? I guess, we have to listen to the arguments and then decide where we stand. The same thing our leaders should be doing. 

The herd immunity proponents argue that we should let the vast majority of Americans just resume normal life and let the disease run through society until 70% or so of us have contracted the disease. That would mean somewhere in the range of 200 MILLION more cases in the US. At the same time, they’d offer “focused protection” to the particularly vulnerable — those like grandma and grandpa who are most at risk of dying from COVID due to age and the underlying conditions that are more likely to be present when you’ve already been on this planet many decades.

OK… so, I’m in the “grandma and grandpa” category and more than a little uncomfortable with the thinking here. Most of the elderly and vulnerable don’t live in little bubbles where “focused protection” can be effectively delivered. And it isn’t just the elderly who are vulnerable. Just look at the number of younger people who have also died. School teachers, health care workers, first responders… the list is long.

Do we really want to play that game? Let’s roll the dice with 200,000,000 infections and see what happens? Let’s see how many millions will die? 

The White House seems more worried about the economy than about public health or helping our citizens stay safe from this pandemic. I’d argue that we can’t restore our economy fully UNTIL we restore confidence in our ability to manage the public health concerns and that isn’t going to happen quickly if we have tens of millions of people struggling with the virus, if the medical infrastructure is overwhelmed, and if tens of thousands are dying monthly.  And, even IF the majority of folks have mild cases and do OK when infected, we’re talking about 200 million cases overall and I can’t believe that won’t swamp the health care system.  

The “cure” shouldn’t be worse than the problem?  Well, I think 200 million new infections and a few million deaths as a “cure” is a hell of a lot worse than the “problem” of economic resurgence (and a Trump re-election) that the White House cares about most. 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a public health expert and that this is a complex question. It’s not as simple as it might sound. But still, there’s a certain element of simple common sense that suggests to me that herd immunity should be a last resort, not a front line strategy.  It just seems reckless to consider this when there are alternatives that make sense if we only act on them.

This is NOT a choice, as the White House would seem to suggest, between a herd immunity approach or total lockdowns and economic implosion on the other. Rather it’s a choice between actively permitting an almost 300X increase in the number of cases and problems we’ve already seen on the one hand or actually making the effort to implement good public health strategies that have already been shown to work on the other. I don’t have much doubt as to which approach is worth focusing on.

The fact is, we know that smart public health strategies can work. We have seen  it done in many countries — particularly in Asia — that have used targeted public health interventions, coupled with limited shutdowns and isolation as needed, to get the virus under control and keep it that way.  

Testing, contact tracing, masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, and stopping super-spreader events are the tools we need — but we have to use them. So far, we have not done so consistently or as part of a nationwide strategic approach. There has been no nationwide strategic approach. 

I guess if you want to do nothing, as Trump seems to, the herd immunity approach has appeal. But we don’t have to just accept this pandemic. We can manage it. 

But we haven’t.

We see the third peak (so far) of the virus building. Yesterday we saw over 60,000 new cases in the US. And the surge in deaths is going to follow. But Trump just ignores the drumbeat of warnings about what December and January will look like. He continues to deny the science and continues to lie and mislead. Like the tales of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, so too does Trump ignore the flames that are spreading across the nation. 

A friend mentioned yesterday feeling helpless and impotent as a citizen in the face of the idiocy and hypocrisy in our political life. We expect more from those who seek the responsibility of leadership and to whom we grant the power to do so by our votes.  To have to sit here and watch as Trump, abetted by cynical and self-serving political allies, lurches from failure to failure, lost and clueless, is as painful as it is infuriating.

And meanwhile, the virus continues to spread out of control. I know we’re weary of the fight. We all want to return to normal, but if we let down our guard, as they have recently in Europe (where numbers are surging back at frightening levels) and as we have done repeatedly in parts of the US, COVID comes storming back.

Yes, I’m weary too. We all are. But we have to keep trying. We have to keep on exercising care and making the sacrifices and, most importantly perhaps, we cannot allow ourselves to mindlessly embrace easy solutions just because the smart ones ask more of us personally. 

Let’s not be part of a herd. Let’s be leaders instead. Grandma and Grandpa will thank you for it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 14

I watched last night as Wolf Blitzer and Nancy Pelosi got into it on CNN. I think Wolf was trying to prove he was a tough interviewer — that he could force the Speaker to concede that she was allowing partisanship to stand in the way of the greater good by not accepting a 1.8 trillion stimulus deal.

He seemed like a bulldog. He kept repeating the mantra that the American people are suffering and why not at least take this deal being offered by the White House. The “something is better than nothing” argument. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The Speaker countered. Strongly, and, in my view, pretty effectively. She argued that 1.8 trillion doesn’t do much to end the suffering IF it is directed at all the wrong needs and priorities. If the money doesn’t reach those who most need it, if it doesn’t help with child care, if it doesn’t really address the problem, IS the deal “better than nothing?”

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the stimulus package negotiation but Pelosi’s remarks, if nothing else, should remind us all about the need to look beyond simplistic solutions and truisms when we’re tackling these complex issues. Blitzer made his point— repeatedly— but he seemed almost as robotic as some of the politicians we see who stick to the script of their selected talking points and who are not willing to engage in real discussion.

But, that’s also a reflection of how journalism has changed. Setting aside Trump’s nonsense about everything being fake news, there is little question left that so many of the major news outlets have retreated, like the rest of society, into their camps. They all deliver news — selectively, perhaps, and to varying degrees — but their real stock in trade these days is offering opinion and analysis rather than straight news.

Don’t get me wrong. I am interested in the analysis and the perspective I can get listening to them but there’s a slippery slope where their ideological orientation — across the political spectrum — starts to shape the editorial choices of what news to offer, how to cast the headline, and even how to conduct an interview. It’s a concern with tv and talk radio, for sure, but even the print media is not immune.

And it’s all the more of a concern when there are so many who don’t seem willing to think critically when they examine the story of the day. 

We need to be more discerning than ever when trying to understand the issues before us but many of us just don’t want to do the hard work of sorting through the complex mix of fact, opinion, and supposition.  

I get it. It’s exhausting to try and really understand all of it, but I worry that some find it easier to just believe whatever they hear… whether on FOX or CNN or Facebook. Pick your poison and stick with it, so to speak. That’s not good for us in the long run or the short run, I fear.

The coverage of Amy Coney Barrett is another case in point. I have no doubt that she is a conservative jurist and I understand all the concerns about the impact this could have on the Court once she is seated — as she almost certainly will be. But I am put off by the headlines I keep seeing that seem to hint darkly at some additional reason for concern because she won’t say if she believes the President has the power to pardon himself, or if she considers Roe V. Wade to be a “super-precedent” on a par with Marbury v. Madison or Brown v. Board of Education.  

I see other stories that fret over the fact that she is giving very careful answers or “refusing” to address hypotheticals or make judicial “rulings” in the course of the hearing. She won’t say if she believes the Affordable Care Act should be deemed unconstitutional just as she won’t promise to recuse herself if an election case comes before the court a month from now. 

In all of the above I don’t know that she is different from other nominees I’ve seen over the years. They are all generally cautious, measured, and recalcitrant. This isn’t really new. 

And, although I may disagree sharply with her eventual rulings — time will tell — there is nothing I can see that disqualifies her from serving on the Court and there is no reason to further roil public concerns by hinting that there is something improper in her responses.

Let’s deal with her choices when we see what the Court actually does in the years ahead. Let’s elect Presidents who may choose different kinds of judges. Let’s elect legislators who actually will pass laws that survive constitutional challenges and shape our future. We have more than enough on our plate right now without adding more complexity.

It would be great if we were watching the hearing unfold because we were so deeply invested in our nation’s governance rather than because we’re hoping to see blood in the water as our “take no prisoners” approach to politics and governance continues. It’s sad and it’s ugly and it has been going on for far too long.

I can remember a time when it was not so. At least not like this. And as we look at the challenges that lie ahead I fear we cannot address them effectively — be they racism, the future of the economy, climate change, or health care (to name just a few) if we cannot find the ability to set aside posturing in the name of progress.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 13

I feel as though we’re starting to gather the momentum that comes toward the end of a political campaign. The contestants are prosecuting their case and building towards the crescendo that will be Election Day. Or, at least, Biden seems to be. 

Trump, on the other hand, seems determined to self-destruct. He isn’t building a case so much as desperately trying to cling to those who have fallen under his sway. So he doubles down on the worst and the craziest and the most harmful of his messages because his crowds seek that. They want the entertainment. The red meat. They want blood and circuses and to be told that their grievances are justified, and their desperate effort to hold back the tides of change are the right course. 

So, Trump gives them what he wants, no matter how destructive that might be to building a winning coalition. Perhaps he wants to go out in blaze of glory, like Butch and Sundance. A legend to his base — a figure to be idolized. That’s what so much of this presidency seems to have been about. A tribute to his ego. 

I’m not saying Trump has given up. It may be that in his alternative-reality world he still sees himself as the poor, aggrieved president who will find a way to emerge as the hero in the end. He is doing little to help himself, though, with those parts of the electorate who might tip the scale.

Yesterday at his Florida rally he mocked Joe Biden’s efforts to ensure his events continued to emphasize social distancing while his crowd was again cheek by jowl and largely unmasked. Dr. Fauci, who Trump chose to attack in his tweets today warned that we’re heading for trouble, but Trump prefers to scoff at Fauci and his expertise.  

Trump decided it would be cool, I guess, to throw masks into the crowd as he walked in. It reminded me of the insensitivity he demonstrated as he threw rolls of paper towels to hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. But for Trump, it’s all about the show. 

And what did he have to say about the virus that has killed 215,000 Americans? You know. I don’t have to tell you. 

According to Trump, it’s still “disappearing.” We’re doing “great.” And the surging infections and ever-higher death toll must just be more fake news. At least that’s what his supporters assume. 

I heard one of his supporters say that masks were more dangerous than the virus. Another said it’s the flu that’s making people sick; coronavirus is gone. Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that almost no-one is dying from the virus. This kind of ignorance and misinformation only fuels the crisis.

I don’t know what is worse. The idea that — this is a callous campaign of lies designed to hold onto political support despite the cost in human suffering, or — that it reflects a blind arrogance and willful disregard of science that convinces Trump that he knows better than anyone. 

Either alternative is deeply troubling and unsettling. 

Yesterday, Trump said, “I feel so powerful, I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience, I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women and the — everybody. I’ll just give everybody a big, fat kiss.”

The words are… odd… but, more than that, they gave me a chill as if there was a cold malevolence that lay beneath. An “I don’t give a damn about the harm I cause because I’m a star… I’m Donald Trump.”

It’s a hell of a note.

Meanwhile, I’ll be moderating a presentation online on Sunday for young voters, many from the Nepali community, that looks at the potential impact of this election on racial and social justice. If it were not for the pandemic, perhaps we’d be talking about this much more than we are. Those eight minutes and forty six seconds that we watched this summer… those minutes as George Floyd’s life ebbed away, killed by a police officer… are etched in our minds. Or at least they should be.

Yet, again and again in our nation, we have seen appalling acts of racism and hatred. Our consciences are pricked at that moment, but it always seems so easy to assuage them once we have expressed a bit of solidarity and outrage. 

It has to stop. No more. The mindset has to change honestly and truly, and with it our actions and, more importantly, the policies that perpetuate racial and economic and social injustice. Our society cannot continue to ignore these issues that are so apparent and that, as discussed often, the pandemic has laid bare for us to see. 

So I’ll be interested in what the speakers have to say on Sunday, I’ll welcome my chance to be part of the conversation, and I’ll hope that at least a few in the audience of perhaps a thousand to fifteen hundred will be energized and seized by the discussion.

I’ll do my best to encourage an open and provocative discussion but, I’ll offer no pretense that I’m not a partisan for change. That doesn’t mean I will close the door to other views. I’ll welcome them. In fact, on this issue in particular I think the various perspectives should be clearly articulated by advocates on both sides just to highlight the very, very different views of America and its future that are on the ballot in this election. 

I still believe that this will be the most consequential election in my lifetime. Without a doubt. And if ever there was a poll in which your vote matters, in which our future will be shaped in so many fundamental ways, this is it. Vote. It is critical. No matter which side of the political equation you are on, we need a clear reckoning in America about our future. Vote.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 12

As a diplomat, one of my most challenging assignments was my first Ambassadorial assignment in Eritrea. The government was difficult — intransigent might be the better word. Nothing seemed to reach them. I pondered and I fretted. Perhaps my diplomatic skills were lacking. Perhaps it was my failure to find the right argument, the persuasive words that would open the door to dialogue and to partnership, that were to blame. 

Finally, though, I came to realize that even if my skills as a diplomat could still stand further honing, the challenge wasn’t my words. I realized we’d never find the partnership we sought with the Eritreans because they didn’t really want one. We might find an issue on which our issues would converge enough to allow us to work together, but our fundamental views of the world were so different that a true partnership was not in the cards.

That’s the way I feel, sadly, as we look out on the political and social landscape in our nation today. I know that no matter what I write here, even IF it was to be read by someone on “the other side” it would not move them, would not convince them, and it would not lead to a fundamental change in behavior that might — just might — help to save a few lives during this pandemic.

We are set on our paths and mired in our different realities in a way that defies easy remedy. Attempts at dialogue can yield little if our views are so cast in concrete that we cannot even conceive of a compromise or a shift. 

Today, as the experts warn of a second surge that seems to be upon us, our President still can’t bring himself to acknowledge the reality or call for a unified response. Republicans in the Senate, along with Trump, have chosen to prioritize getting that one more seat on the Supreme Court rather than focusing on a stimulus bill that so many in our nation still urgently need.

There’s the impassioned and tearful plea from the nurse who has witnessed far too many patients literally suffocate to death from COVID and who was devastated to hear Trump tell folks “not to be afraid” of this disease.  As 31 states see rising numbers today (a figure that is always in flux but that always seems to be too high) Trump plans more reckless rallies where masks are optional and social distancing is largely unheard of.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC Director with whom I worked and whose judgement I respect, fears we’ll see 20,000 more deaths this month alone. Virtually all estimates anticipate we’ll hit 400,000 by February. Elsewhere in the world the virus surges as well. We now have a half dozen friends in Nepal who have come down with COVID in just the past week or so and I’m sure there are many more we don’t know about.

But if we are determined not to see, to care, or to act, then none of these numbers, or horrible deaths, or cautionary tales will mean a thing. If someone’s understanding of reality is shaped by visions of conspiracy and the conviction that radicalized leftists and a Deep State cabal is determined to somehow strip away your freedoms then I have no idea of how we can bridge the gaps — or save the lives that could be preserved if only we could agree, even for just a few months, to put the common good first.  

But it seems we can no longer recognize the common good. We cannot pull together in the face of crisis. And that is not good.

I never found an answer to getting through to the Eritreans. Instead, I realized I couldn’t let them shape my actions. I had to be true to the values we represented as the United States. I had to speak our truths, speak out about violations of human rights and dangerous regional meddling. I had to worry less about how they might respond and more about ensuring that our own commitment to doing what we must was clear, determined, and unrelenting.

And that’s what we’re faced with now. The white supremacists, the armed militias nursing grievances, the COVID-deniers, and all those who are unwilling to find a balance between legitimate personal concerns and the broader public interest — they aren’t going to change. And even though they are a large part of the problem, we can’t struggle in the vain hope that they may suddenly, after almost 8 months, see the light of day.

I wish them no ill and no harm, but I know that many of them will end up suffering from this virus. I hope they fare ok. Meanwhile, the rest of us must continue to share information, act responsibly, and do our best despite the failed leadership, the idiocy, and the reckless, thoughtless actions of others. 

After all, what other choice do we have?

Happy Monday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 11

Somehow the coronavirus keeps surging back into our consciousness. No matter how much Trump wants to change the conversation, no matter how tired we are of hearing about the virus, of dealing with the virus, or of trying to keep the virus out of our lives, it persists.  

No matter how much Trump tries to distract folks with talk of vaccines and therapeutics and of how we need not fear this disease, we damn well should. It’s the smart thing to do. Fear is a healthy thing when faced with danger — not an unreasoning fear, but a constructive one that leads us to make smart decisions for ourselves and those we love.

And fear has been warranted throughout this pandemic, but perhaps never more than now as we face yet another dramatic and deeply disturbing surge. For the past four days we have been above 50,000 new infections per day and are 12% higher this week than last. We’re back to 1000 deaths per day, give or take, and experts are, understandably, worried about the trend lines.  

I spoke the other day about the concerns about shortages of hospital beds, shortages of PPE and ventilators and of a potential for true disaster by the new year. Not nearly enough are listening yet. A Pugh survey found that 78% of those who draw their information almost exclusively from Fox News and talk radio, think the virus is overblown. And the president? He’s not worried, it seems, about what will be happening in January, he only cares about convincing his base to turn out for the election.

So, this man, who will not share any information about his current testing status (other than a doctor’s note that Trump may well have dictated as he has in the past), and who is preparing to hold major rallies that have the potential to be super-spreader events not unlike the one we saw at Amy Coney Barret’s nomination announcement, continues to create new opportunities for the virus to attack the public and do ever more damage.

His callously cavalier disregard of the risks is just a further manifestation of the irresponsibility we’ve seen for months. He lies, he misleads, and he tells the public, as he did yesterday, that “it’s going to disappear… it is disappearing.” 

This was at the White House event he held. No social distancing, more masks than normal but still not enough, and the same misleading narrative. And Pence was doing the same sort of event in Florida that had 3,000 new infections on Friday and is practically inviting a massive resurgence of COVID by fully reopening bars and restaurants just as the long-feared second wave may be looming.

Idiocy.

And yet he continues the insane messaging, even as many of his staff and advisors are suffering from the virus and the Joint Chiefs are all still in quarantine. It’s as though the patients have been given leave to run the asylum.

We don’t know where this will end. We’ve now reached the point where the political nonsense and the failed leadership from Trump are more a sideshow than truly relevant to the courses of action that lie ahead. So we’ll try to stay safe, try to be smart, we’ll support responsible leadership where we can find it, and we’ll wait for new leadership, a new vaccine, and a new day. They will come. We just have to hang on for now.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 10

When I made the choice to post my daily musings on Facebook, I realized that not everyone who reads them would agree. Some might even actively resent them. I know there are internet trolls who prefer to attack those with whom they disagree rather than offer their own perspective. C’est la vie. 

One of them recently decreed that I was all about “sour grapes,” that I was “jaded” and “narcissistic” and seeking to dissuade those who are seeking to build a “freedom based society.” 

Hmmm. They’re entitled to their views, just as I’m entitled to mine. And, even though I might want to just dismiss their diatribe and move on, I nonetheless stopped to think about their words for a minute or two. A little self-reflection doesn’t hurt and I wondered if my words were as balanced or as thoughtful as I’d like them to be, or if my anger and frustration caused me at times to miss the mark.

And, perhaps, at times my disdain for Trump and his acolytes has given my words a sharper edge, but that hasn’t, I think, changed the fundamental truth of the criticisms offered. There are those, though, who seem to think that in offering an unfavorable critique of Trump and his debate performance, I am being critical of America. They seem to equate Trump with “America.” They are NOT the same thing.

It’s true that I despair about our leadership. But I haven’t given up on America. 

I am deeply frustrated, though, because I believe we can be better. 

I know we can be better. 

I believe we can rise above the discord and division. 

I believe we can find ways to protect our citizens from this pandemic — rather than having the highest death tolls in the developed world.

I believe we can offer our kids a decent education without bankrupting them or their families.  

I believe we can find a way to ensure that families across the nation have access to health care, including for preexisting conditions.

I believe we can find a way to treat each other with respect and decency, and address systemic racism and economic injustice.

I believe we can find a way to reenergize our economy and build for the future without destroying our environment.

I believe we can respect marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights without marginalizing or disrespecting those whose faith may lead them to see these issues differently.

I believe we can end the deadly scourge of gun violence — distinguishing those who use guns to kill, to threaten, and to engage in acts of terror, from the hunters and responsible gun owners.  

I believe we can make the sacrifices and face the challenges of pandemics, climate change, and social evolution with courage and shared effort.

I believe we can be better. 

I believe we must. 

And I still want to believe we will be. But it will not happen if Trump remains in office. We know that too.

So please, never think I’ve given up on hope. Never. But we must be clear-eyed in our understanding of the issues and we can’t be unwilling or afraid to take a stand and let our voices be heard. 

We have to call “bullshit” when calling bullshit is warranted.

Today Trump will put more people at risk in a rally at the White House. That’s just stupid. 

White militia groups threaten acts of domestic violence and terror, and Trump can’t find the courage to attack them despite his law and order mantra. No, he can only criticize the governor of Michigan who was the target of this plot — and who just happens to be an uppity woman and Democrat to boot. That’s just wrong. Nor did we see any concern from his attorney general who managed, though, to share Trump’s outrage when peaceful protestors gathered to express their concern over racial injustice.

If calling out their idiocies — their betrayals of our values, of decency, and of the fundamentals of our political system and our constitution — is sour grapes, then I guess I’m guilty. But I don’t think anger and distress at seeing the nation I love and served undermined and demeaned is sour grapes. 

Nor do I think I’m jaded. I could have become that way I guess after almost 40 years of service. But, even if I saw we weren’t always perfect, that service, nonetheless, reaffirmed my belief in the good we can do if we are true to the values that, at least in the past, have defined our nation. 

So, I won’t worry about Facebook trolls. 

I know that the pro-Trumpers out there, who are so vocal in expressing their views and condemning the dangers that they believe liberals and progressives pose to our nation, have little tolerance for contrarian views. 

But they better get used to it. There are many of us who are determined to be heard as well and I believe we will be. 

The real test isn’t going to be in the number of likes we get on Facebook, however. At least I hope not. The real test is now, when our competing views and values will be weighed and judged not by the trolls, but by the American people in the election that is already underway.  

I won’t waste my time debating trolls and haters. They aren’t likely to listen. I’ll let my ballot and the ballots of millions of others do the talking. 

But, meanwhile, I’ll continue to write. About the pandemic, about politics in the time of COVID, and about anything else that catches my attention or sparks my interest. 

If you don’t like my views, that’s OK. Just don’t read them. Or express your own. That’s OK too. We’ll leave the rest to the ballot box.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 9

I guess I was wrong yesterday. Boy, you take one day off worrying about the world and things just go to hell in a hand basket.

OK.  Things would have been crazy anyway. I know that. We still would have seen another bad day on the COVID infection front. There were over 56,000 new cases yesterday. Numbers are rising in 41 states. 

It’s not a surprise. We worried that we’d see numbers climb in the fall as Trump and others pushed to reopen schools, to reopen colleges, to reopen the economy. 

Experts warned that this would likely happen if we reopened broadly in states and communities where the infection numbers weren’t dropping, the positivity rate was too high, and where efforts to fight the virus were flagging. They warned again and again. Yet here we are.  

Hospitalizations are at record levels in nine states. They won’t be the only ones. The science just refuses to be ignored no matter how much some try to deny it. And right now, the trend lines suggest that by January we will need four million hospital beds for COVID patients who are at risk. Four million. We currently have about one million staffed beds across the country. THAT is concerning, to say the least.

Not only do we have the challenge of how to manage those staggering numbers, but where will the nurses and the doctors come from? What about PPE? Ventilators? How will this affect the death toll? And most importantly, what are Trump and his administration doing to prepare? Are they speaking out? Are they energizing an emergency response disaster preparedness plan? If they are, it sure as hell isn’t something that is getting attention.

And meanwhile, Trump wants to go out campaigning tomorrow. He wants a big public rally. We don’t know how he is really doing. His docs only release the information that Trump authorizes. Do you think that we’re getting a good picture? Has he had a fever? Is he still on meds? Has he had a negative test yet? Is he still contagious? This is insane. All the doctors I’ve heard talking about this seem to agree.

Yesterday his son was at an event in Florida with the Governor. They packed folks into a small room. Shoulder to shoulder. Very few masks. What message does that send? Did any of the Trump clan learn a single lesson from all this? Or are they incapable of seeing past the narrative that they have created in Trumpworld? I fear that the latter is true.

And then there was the news about the plot to kidnap and try the Governor of Michigan. The militias involved drew on members across states. They were planning. Training with weapons and bomb-making. There were talking about storming the state house in Michigan. Read the indictment. It is chilling. 

The threat from these militias is real. They are anti-government, anti-foreigner, anti-black, anti-brown. They bemoan the tyrannical government and folks like the Michigan governor who are “taking their liberty” by implementing public health measures meant to protect all. One of the plotters seemed incensed that the gym had been ordered closed due to the pandemic. Yep… that’s a hell of good reason to try that damned, democratically-elected governor for treason.

This isn’t something to laugh about though. The FBI and others see this as a major threat to our nation. It seems as though many of these groups had hoped to strike before or on Election Day. They aren’t going to go away. 

And it’s hard to believe that there is not a connection between their rise and Trump’s. His messages of grievance, discord and division fuel these groups. His failure to condemn white supremacists, gun violence, and his calls to “liberate” Michigan and other states are all part of the equation. 

His refusal to call them out, to condemn them and shame them just cements their self-perception as freedom fighters and patriots. They are not. They are not brave fighters for freedom from tyranny. They are armed bullies looking for a fight, who want all the benefits of society but not the responsibility. It’s scary and dangerous. But it’s another problem that Trump seems to encourage with a wink here and a nod there along with his “very good people on both sides” rhetoric and calls to groups like the Proud Boys to “stand by.”

God only knows what to expect next. Pence has canceled a trip to Indiana and is returning to DC. Why? His staff says it’s not COVID. Then what is compelling this sudden shift? Is Trump’s erratic behavior a concern? His on again-off again stand on debates and stimulus packages? His seemingly dangerous and reckless plans to go on the campaign trail?

There’s plenty of drama ahead, I fear. I long for the days of no drama. I long for days when the President and his craziness isn’t the focus of every news cycle. I long for the days when COVID is a manageable disease rather than a threat to us all. I long for a lot. And I’ll wait because those days will come. It just might be a while.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 8

Another day is upon us. It looks so much like all the others of late. And, as consequential as this election is, and dangerous as the pandemic is, not every day can be spent worrying about the future of the nation. I know I am concerned that if the drumbeat isn’t sounded constantly we might lose our focus on these critical issues but we can do without one of the drummers for today.

There is indeed life, even within our COVID bubbles. We just learned of the cancer diagnosis of a very dear friend. Taking the time to write to them seems of more value than a further examination of Trump’s failings or rehashing the VP debate (which Harris won).

Today, our son’s senior dog had some pretty serious surgery that carries some risks and the likelihood of good outcomes is iffy. That may not register on the global scale, but it matters to us. Those of us with pets know how much they give us and how they enrich our lives and this was our son’s first dog. So we’ll worry about Steve the pup and hope for good news — and we’ll be ready to support our son and his wife if it isn’t.  

We learned today as well that two friends and wonderful partners in our efforts on behalf Nepal, a married couple, are in the hospital with COVID as is the husband of one of Leija’s cousins. We spend so much time thinking of the pandemic from the 40,000 foot view, but it still hits hard when it becomes personal, as it has for so many. 

Kamala Harris last night spoke to that pain and worry, asking how many worried about their kids seeing their grandparents and possibly causing their death. This stuff is real and there are moments when we need to see it in person and not just in terms of the latest reports of the news or CDC press release. Trump can call it a “blessing from God.” To me, it’s anything but. 

When I finish writing, yard work on a sunny and reasonably comfortable afternoon awaits. Grass still grows, as do weeds, even inside our bubble and bringing order in that small universe is gratifying in its own way.

Meanwhile, our book, “The Ambassador’s Dog” is at the printer. We’ll have a dummy copy delivered via DHL shortly, and if all goes well, we’ll be selling by early December.  Fingers crossed that we can get it out there before Christmas. It’s such a lovely book… the artwork from dear friend Jane Lilian Vance is incredible and complements a story that, I think, offers a moment of hope about dreams coming true.  It’s a message we can use more of these days and if we can offer that to folks in these difficult days it would be gratifying.  

Put it on your wish list.

Yes. There’s a lot that goes on within all our bubbles. We’re organizing a virtual reunion of the broader DeLisi clan, website and all (email me if you’re family and want to know more). And we still have our own pups that keep us busy, other projects to attend to, meals to make, piano music to learn, and so much more.

So, Donald Trump, the election and the pandemic can all simmer today. I’ve got a busy bubble to manage.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 7

There’s a surreal element to the news these days. It’s as if we’re living in a sci-fi film’s portrayal of a nation and a leader coming unhinged as a pandemic takes its inexorable toll.

Watch as debate organizers scramble to keep candidates and their teams safe knowing that the plexiglass screens won’t stop an aerosolized virus and even 12 feet may not be enough. 

Watch as the president defies doctors to go back to his Oval Office where an infection control cart waits outside the door. 

We could end up with the picture of aides in yellow hazmat suits and PPE moving in slow motion around the clueless and maskless president while he tweets random accusations and mindless plaints about how badly he is treated. (This morning alone he has blown up Twitter with tweet after tweet after tweet. Less, truly is more, Donald — believe us.)

Watch as the camera pans graves, representing the over 210,000 Americans who have already died while Trump proclaims there’s nothing to fear from coronavirus. 

Some day, the movies they make about these days will be hugely popular because we will have lived through the experience — at least those of us who survive.

It just seems bizarre. The twisted and tortured effort to pretend that what we can all see isn’t true. The president who rejects science and only cares about himself — not the nation he was elected to serve. The staffers and shameless panderers in Congress who stop at nothing to enable him and excuse the delusional, the dangerous, and willful excesses of a president out of control,

It’s not a good look for America. Not at all.

And we get so deeply sucked into the cycles of craziness that we no longer know where to look or what really matters.

Yesterday, for example, Trump blew up the stimulus talks on the Hill. Troubling, yes. But folks are focusing as much on the unpredictability of his actions, the randomness, as they are on the impact of his decision. Yes, it’s appalling that he can pull the plug and threaten no more discussions until he wins the election (yep—he said that).

The arrogance and “all about me” tone of his comment were guaranteed to spark outrage. But this isn’t a game. It’s not about political wins you can chalk up on your gun-belt. It’s about people who truly are in need. It’s about a nation that is on the verge of a heightened economic crisis if there isn’t action. 

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve was pleading with Congress for action the other day citing the real risks of economic fallouts that may prove devastating for our most vulnerable. One hundred thousand folks in the air travel industry were just furloughed and more will come. 

We lost 22 million jobs due to the pandemic. About half have come back online over the past few months but many of them… perhaps as many as eight million… will be lost forever. Retail, office, and administrative support, non-residential construction, travel, and other categories of employment all have taken huge hits.

The economy, as we have known it, is being altered, fundamentally and permanently, and the changes it will bring will be wrenching for many who are ill-prepared to make a transition at this point in their lives. There are so many issues that require sober leadership and careful reflection. And we’ve got Trump and a dysfunctional political process that seems incapable of moving beyond partisan bickering.

And, as this unfolds, the climate crisis is upon us, we have a growing threat from domestic extremists who are well armed, increasingly radicalized, and largely (but not exclusively) on the right. At the same time our gun culture remains unchecked and threatens us all and a significant segment of white society lives in fear and resentment of the “other,” whose skin or faith is different from their own. 

It’s a mess, and although most of these issues were with us before the pandemic, the current crisis has exposed the fault lines pretty dramatically. And how much worse will everything seem if this disease continues unchecked?

Sadly, that is likely to happen for the next few months, at the very least. Trump is not going to lead. He is not going to address this. Instead, he has intensified his campaign of downplaying, dismissing, and denying, even as numbers are on the rise across the nation and public health experts warn of the consequences of inaction. We’ve seen their predictions come to life too often to ignore them, but Trump, of course, will turn a blind eye to them nonetheless. 

We’ve all seen films like this. It comes out ok in the end, but the disaster does take its toll first. This isn’t a film, though, and somewhere in this morass of problems there is a tipping point — a point where we change fundamentally as a nation; a point from which we will not be able to find our way back. 

I hope we don’t reach that point but I am unable to recall quite such a perfect storm of challenges confronting us. Quite simply, the nut job in the White House and his team are not up to the task of addressing them. 

The election cannot come soon enough.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 6

It’s frightening. Trump’s behavior is seeming more and more… frantic? Out of control? He essentially forced his release from the hospital — reportedly — over the advice of doctors (despite the rosy portrayal offered by his medical team for the cameras outside of Walter Reed).

And, when he went back to the White House, we saw him removing his mask before he entered. Never mind the folks who might have been waiting for him inside. Never mind the fact that he is still shedding the virus in a significant way according to the experts. He “looked” good… right? 

Then his campaign issued a bizarre statement from Trump. “As your leader, I had to do that,” he said in a video posted online.  

He went on to say, “I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did.”

So, let me get this straight. Now we’re supposed to see him as a leader and hero, a brave fighter against COVID because he stupidly ignored every public health warning of his own team and went out, refused to wear masks or socially distance and then caught COVID-19. That makes him a leader? He had to do it? 

And is he telling all of us to go face the disease like him? Be a man, don’t wear a mask? Go get the disease. We’ll show it! Sure… you don’t have access to experimental therapies and an entire hospital and a huge team of docs who are focused only on you, but, sure… go out there and be brave like Donald. 

The craziness in his messages is indeed frightening for a nation that is seeing numbers climb once again and that faces a deadly December in large part because far too many people had already followed Trump’s example in ignoring the safety measures and in downplaying the disease. And now he’s doubling down on the stupidity that got him infected in the first place. Will contracting COVID now become a badge of honor among his followers? Are they going to take this seriously when he tells them not to let COVID dominate their lives? 

This buffoon is going to get us all infected yet. He’s learned nothing from his own experience with COVID and god help us all if he heads back out on the campaign trail prematurely. His team says they won’t change a thing in the way they run their events.  He’s out of control, won’t listen to doctors, and is still offering a bewildering mishmash of nonsense about the pandemic.

Whatever happens next, and it is anybody’s guess what that may be, Trump’s conduct is so negligent, reckless and dangerous, he long ago forfeited any credibility on this issue and on his fitness as a leader. Let us hope that in 28 days the American people judge him for what he is — a farce and a failure as our president — and sweep him from office with an overwhelming rejection of all that he stands for. 

Let’s hope we can all survive the madness until then.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 5

NOW Trump tells us we should take COVID seriously. NOW Trump says he “gets” it.  NOW… after the deaths of 209,000 of our fellow citizens and after over 7 million infections and devastating economic consequences for many of the most vulnerable in our society.

NOW he says he gets it because it’s about him, because he has been infected. That’s the thing about this president. Unless HE is the center of attention — unless something affects him personally — unless it affects his image or his wealth — it really doesn’t matter.  

So now he tells us he “gets it” but, we all know better. If he “got it” he wouldn’t have risked the health and possibly the lives of his secret service detail on a stunt like he pulled last night when he left the hospital to do a drive-by of the few dozen supporters outside.  

Waving like a little kid in a parade he got his “fix” of being in the spotlight in front of his fans. We can only pray that his detail doesn’t pay the price. As it is, they, like many of their fellow secret service agents, will now have to be quarantined, and an even greater burden will fall on those who have not yet been put at risk by a thoughtless and irresponsible president they risk themselves to protect.

His lack of impulse control, his inability to accept that quarantine means quarantine, his need for the reaffirmation that an adoring crowd, no matter how small, all combined in his insisting on his joy ride.  Never thinking of those around him and their well-being. But why should we expect him to do so now.

So, no. He doesn’t get it. If he did, he’d be tweeting messages, not about all the love he is receiving, but urging his fellow Americans to be smart, to do the right thing. He’d be sounding the warning bells about the surges we’re seeing, he’d cancel his large public rallies, and, if events were held, he’d be begging everyone to wear masks. 

This is a teachable moment and Trump could do some real good for the nation if he took advantage of it. He is the president and so of course the spotlight is drawn to him but, if he truly “got” this crisis he’d use that attention to focus the nation on the risks ahead. 

He’d remind folks that cases in Wisconsin alone have gone up 300% in the past month. He’d point to the record level of cases in Kentucky or in Nebraska, or the very worrying spikes in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. He’d reinforce the message about how opportunistic this disease is, and that if we let down our guard for a moment it will surge back. He would share the urgency of action now during this last window of opportunity to get things under some semblance of control before we confront the flu season and the specter of a deadly December.

Trump could earn the gratitude of the public health leaders and of all of us who care about this nation and our fellow citizens. But will he do it? Does he really “get” this disease despite having “gotten” the disease? What do you think?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 4

It’s a beautiful Sunday in October. There’s a bit of a nip in the air. It’s the kind of day to revel in. But reveling can be hard to come by these days.  

The ongoing saga of Trump’s experience with COVID-19 continues to play out on the national stage. It’s a suspenseful tale. The audience seeks to discern the truth in a cloud of obfuscation and stage-managed briefings against the backdrop of photos of Trump supposedly hard at work in the hospital — wearing his dress shirt, cuff links, etc. 

The theater of all this makes it so hard for us to understand what is really going on. As I said yesterday, he is, after all, the president of the United States, and not just the normal COVID patient. There’s a legitimacy in our seeking answers… in wanting to know how badly ill the leader of our nation is. But sadly, the Trump administration cannot, it seems, break out of the cycle of lies and deception that has characterized their approach to the American public since day one when they sought to spin the tale about the crowd size at the inauguration.

This Potemkin village that they created in which Trump is a superman… a very stable genius… who knows more about war than the generals, who knows more about medicine than the doctors, and who is stronger, healthier, and more capable than any president who ever lived… is falling apart. They are trying to maintain their fiction but it is not withstanding scrutiny.

The treatments that the doctors have undertaken all suggest, according to the experts, that there are some serious issues that Trump is dealing with. It’s not surprising. COVID is a wicked disease. But Trump and his team seem to still be trying to pretend that it’s all fine. The same failed — and recklessly dangerous approach — that has characterized their approach to the pandemic all along. The ambiguous answers from Trump’s doctors — the glossing over of issues that are troubling to the experts — is not reassuring. 

Like any good drama though, I will say that they will keep us tuning in. Less than a month before what may be the most consequential election in our lifetime, how can we do less?

Meanwhile, though, while the spotlight is on Trump — this insidious virus moves on. The other day we had over 50,000 new infections and we’ve averaged over 43,000 new infections per day over the past seven days — an increase of 8% over the week before. There are only eight states… eight… where new cases are dropping. I saw one report that said at least we’re well below the 60,000+ new daily cases we saw in July. 

But it’s far worse than the 20,000+ new cases were saw every day in April and THAT level still put us at risk of an out of control spread of the virus. And 40,000+ cases a day is a frightening level for us as we see the start of colder weather and the flu season. This remains a disaster and it’s going to get worse. Trump’s fables notwithstanding, it is going to get worse.  

And meanwhile, the Trump team still mocks Joe Biden’s use of masks. The Trump family and his advisors refused to wear masks at the debate despite agreeing to do so and despite being asked to do so. I mentioned that the other day but it’s worth repeating as it epitomizes the arrogance and callousness of this administration. How they can STILL diminish the importance of masks is beyond me.  

It’s a mess. A White House in disarray. Lies about the president’s status. Misinformation about the virus and willful disregard of the guidance that could save lives. I almost dread to see what tomorrow will bring.

Stay tuned.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 3

I am struggling this morning with conflicting emotions. 

I have always believed that compassion and decency matter. That they help form the bedrock for how we engage each other and how we live our lives. 

So, yes, I hope that any one struggling with COVID-19 — and that includes Donald Trump — will recover and not face the horrors that some of its victims have. To say otherwise — to feel otherwise — I fear would diminish me. 

And, no matter how much I may be appalled by how Trump has debased the office of the presidency — something we may be a long time trying to recover from — he is, nonetheless, the president of our nation. And, no matter who is in the office, an incapacitating illness for the US President could have consequences that reverberate in ways we don’t expect.      

So, I’m not rooting for the virus, and I applaud Joe Biden’s measured and kind response and his choice to suspend, for the moment, negative ads about Trump. It’s the right thing to do. 

At the same time, I am willing to bet that Trump, and many of those who support him, would have a very different approach if it was Joe Biden who was hospitalized. They’d cackle with undisguised glee and they’d tell us that Biden was “too weak” to be President. Too feeble, too sickly — and you can bet they’d concoct a new fairy tale narrative about how the virus had affected his mind or some such crap.

I don’t want to be like them. 

But Trump’s illness does NOT mean that we should gloss over the conduct — Trump’s conduct — that has been so destructive to the office he holds, to the moral and social fabric of our nation, and to the well-being and health of our citizens. 

In the normal course of events, the President of the United States would be among the last to catch COVID-19. He’d be protected and monitored precisely BECAUSE he or she is the President. And the President has a responsibility to the nation to act with care as well to ensure that they didn’t fall ill during the pandemic through recklessly irresponsible behavior. That’s how it would work in the normal course of events. 

But Trump chose to be irresponsible and arrogant and he brought this further crisis on our nation. He chose to downplay the virus, he chose to disregard of medical advice, he chose to dismiss and even demean the use of masks, and he chose to callously manipulate the information and guidance offered to the public.

Did he really believe that the laws of science don’t apply to him? Did he believe that the virus would somehow defer to him? 

He’s never understood it’s not just about Donald Trump. Our nation not only suffers if the president falls ill, but now we have to be concerned about many others in the national leadership. And meanwhile, the White House this morning is STILL saying that mask wearing is “optional” and up to the preference of the staff.

Talk about the height of irresponsibility. But that’s the culture that Trump created. And now he’s a victim of it. And there’s part of me that says “serves him right.” The fact that I try to be decent in my hope for his recovery doesn’t mean I can’t still find him and his actions repugnant, dangerous, and a threat to us on every level.

We watched the crowd gather at the White House for the announcement of Amy Coney Barret’s nomination and now we’re seeing the fallout from that event and of Trump’s creation of a culture of denial in the White House.

We now have three US Senators — Lee, Tillis, and Johnson — infected along with many key advisors, including Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Chris Christie and Trump’s campaign manager. The list keeps growing, and we increasingly hear questions asking whether the Congress, the Supreme Court, and key leaders in the administration are now all in peril because of Trump’s recklessness. And the same White House that has dismissed the virus for months is now being characterized as a COVID hotspot. How sadly ironic is THAT for our nation?  

You don’t have to believe in science if you don’t want to but science doesn’t care.  It exists and it will carry on despite your disbelief.  Even if you’re the President of the United States or any of the others who are on the growing list of recently infected members of the Trump cohort. 

They made the choice to join Trump in his irresponsibility. No one forced them. They had the choice to wear masks, to keep their distance, or even to stay away from the event. They chose not to. They’d rather dance to Trump’s tune and stay in his good graces. I am hard pressed to be any more sympathetic to them than I am to Trump.

So, although, I’ll try to make sure that basic decency will guide my response to Trump’s illness, let’s not allow this crisis — that he brought on himself — lead us to rewrite the narrative about Trump and his presidency. 

In my books, he remains a bully, a braggart, and a buffoon, and coronavirus does not change that. Not in the least. Not for me, nor for many of the more than 208,000 Americans who have died but could have been saved had Trump actually been an honest and effective leader on this crisis. 

What a week this has been. What a YEAR this has been.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 2

Well. What do you say? 

Is there anyone who is really surprised that Trump has contracted the coronavirus along with Melania?

He has been irresponsible and reckless in his behavior. And now, as my mother would have said, the chickens have come home to roost.

Shall I offer here the obligatory statement about how I hope he and his wife have only minor symptoms and recover quickly? We all will say that. We all will say that we do not wish this illness on anyone. So there. I’ve said it.

But, let me ask how much Trump cared about the seven million other Americans who have contracted the virus so far? Let me ask how much empathy and concern he showed for the 207x,000 who died… many of them alone without a loved one to hold their hand? Let me ask how much he cared about those who struggled with the pandemic because they aren’t famous and rich, and because they lost their health insurance during the pandemic, as Trump made no effort to address the challenges?

If Trump had been responsible, if he had acted with determination and vision and shown real leadership, our death toll might have been closer to 40,000 than 200,000. I might be less harsh in my judgment if this was simply a matter of Trump being overwhelmed by the crisis. If he had done his best but ultimately was not up to meeting the challenges, we could say he had at least tried. But he didn’t. He lied, he politicized it, and acted as if the only concern was how this would affect him. 

Reportedly, Trump’s White House knew that Hope Hicks had tested positive early on Thursday yet Trump continued with plans to go to New Jersey to do a fund raiser. How many more did he expose? And did the White House do the responsible thing and alert the Biden campaign? Or the journalists who traveled with the President? The simple answer is no. They didn’t. 

This is the President who mocked masks and tried to mock Joe Biden during the debate for wearing them. This is the President whose family and staff refused to wear their masks as they sat in the audience at the debate even though they had agreed to do so. Even when the Cleveland Clinic reps offered them masks in a pointed effort to get them do the right thing they declined. And in the process they, and Trump, put everyone at risk.

So now, we have the world watching and weighing our vulnerabilities and wondering what could happen next. They already see our nation as weakened and directionless. What comes next? What happens if other senior leaders across the government fall ill? So many of them have been with the President or frequent visitors to the White House where masks are seen as sign of weakness and a failure to support Trump’s attempt to spin the narrative. 

How widespread will this be? What are the implications for our nation? 

His false promises and hollow words about turning corners and fake news ring in my ears as I write this. But his supporters? God knows what spin they’ll put on this. 

No matter what fiction Trump offers next, let’s be clear about one thing. Trump isn’t a victim of COVID. He is an enabler. He made his own infection possible by his choices and he has made the infection of others more likely as well. In life we live with the consequences of our choices. This is no exception. 

More to come. It’s a hell of a way to end the week.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 1

It’s a new month. Whoo hoo. 

What do you mean it’s just more of the same? Each time we flip that calendar page there’s always a chance of a new beginning. Right? 

OK. Maybe not. Maybe not as long as Trump remains in office. I really wasn’t going to write about him today. I’ve learned that if I let myself focus too much on his idiocy my head starts to spin and threatens to fall off completely. It’s not good. But there are days when if I don’t write it here I’ll end up throwing something at the TV instead. So, yep… writing is a far better choice.

First, the pandemic. It’s not surprising his responses about the pandemic and masks during that embarrassing display on Tuesday night were so abysmal. Anemic doesn’t begin to describe the wandering and meaningless response, but that’s what his pandemic policy has looked like all along. 

I saw a report today that just reaffirmed what we all know. For Trump, it’s all about optics and politics. Back in February and March, he didn’t want folks in the White House wearing masks. It wasn’t a good look. He wanted the public to be convinced all was OK… except it wasn’t, of course. Far from it. 

Or how the report that he nixed a CDC request to extend the ban on cruise ships operating (which is set to expire today) because it would have an impact in Florida. Delegate-rich Florida. So, I guess Trump is happy to once again ignore the public health professionals. Sure. Why not? Let’s make it easy for lots of folks to get sick and die in a floating lab experiment, so long as he looks good in Florida. 

One thing you can say for Trump, though. He CAN be counted on. He can be counted on to put himself first, he can be counted on to dodge responsibility, and he can be counted on to find someone… anyone… else to blame. It’s not HIS fault that 204,000 Americans have died from the virus. It’s China’s. They unleashed the “China plague.” It’s not his fault — it’s any governor who is a Democrat that failed.  (We’ll just ignore the fact that Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, Arizona, which are all led by Republican governors who listened to Trump’s guidance have faced some of the worst numbers in the nation. Let’s chalk it up to “fake news” as Trump does and be done with it.)

Yes. We get it, Trump. You’ll never admit to failing. Never. 

I know it, but I still can’t help but be appalled at his indifference and failure to act.  

While over half the nation — virtually the entire tier of northern states — is experiencing rising numbers, he does nothing. As over 41,000 more were infected yesterday, he does nothing. As over 950 more people died yesterday, he does nothing. New York is seeing warning signs again, Kentucky is surging, and Tony Fauci warns we’re still knee deep in the first wave. But Trump? He does nothing. It’s what he’s best at.

Yes. I’m appalled and dumbfounded, though by now you’d think I wouldn’t be, that the man elected to lead our nation and who seeks a second endorsement from the voters cares so little and does so little in the face of an ongoing — and in some ways worsening — public health crisis.

He does have time to campaign, though, and that’s what he did yesterday. He went to my home state of Minnesota and seemed to be determined to double down on his failure to condemn racism and white supremacy with attacks on Ihlan Omar, Congresswoman from Minnesota. She came to the US as a child of 12. She was a refugee of Somali origin who became a citizen as a teenager over twenty years ago and is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. 

Attacking her with a string of unproven and/or discredited charges he said: “Then she tells us how to run our country, can you believe it? How the hell did Minnesota elect her? What the hell is wrong with you people — right? What the hell happened?”

She tells “US” how to run “OUR” country. “Us,” I guess, means us white folk. And it’s OUR country for sure. It’s not those nasty immigrants and foreigners and people whose skin is a different color. What difference does it make if she’s a citizen. If she cares about the nation that gave her a new life. It’s not HER country. It’s OURS. And in Trump’s America it always will be. 

He sounded more dog whistles. Warning Biden would turn Minnesota into a “refugee camp.” He’d open our borders to the dirty, unwashed, refugees… people of color. People of different faiths. Folks who probably have never heard a Lena and Ole joke and none of them say “you betcha.”

That was Trump’s message the night after refusing to condemn white supremacists and telling the Proud Boys to stand by. Ms. Omar has ticked a lot of folks off. She has strong views, she has challenged our position on Israel, and she has at times crossed lines and earned rebuke. But she’s an American. Like Trump. Disagree with her if you wish. Vote against her, if you are so inclined — it’s your right. 

But don’t let Trump use her as a foil for his racist and xenophobic fear mongering and don’t use her race or her faith or her gender as your reason to disagree. 

I believe — and I think that any who honestly looks at our society would be forced to agree — that we have far to go to achieve our dream of a truly equal society. One where the color of our skin does not determine our future or put us at greater risk of violence at the hands of the police or death from a pandemic. One where our gender does not determine the size of our paycheck, or one where our faith doesn’t make us a target of those whose vision of a Christian nation leaves no room for other beliefs. 

Trump has made it clear again and again where he stands. It’s not on the side of inclusion. It’s not on the side of equality. It’s not on the side of respect for the fundamental dignity of every one of our citizens. It’s with the Proud Boys and the marchers in Charlottesville chanting their anti-semitic and racists slurs. 

Yep. It’s another one of THOSE days. In 2016, folks told themselves that he didn’t mean all the stuff he said. They told themselves it’s just politics. They told themselves he’d change; the office of the Presidency with it’s awesome responsibilities and challenges would change him, humble him.  

Bullshit. 

No more hiding. No more kidding ourselves. We know who he is and what he stands for and we have a choice to make. Mine has been made. My vote has been cast. Now we wait.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.