Highly consequential lies

Dear President Trump,

Last night Laura and I got to talking about the Civil War and her father’s family, who were from Cloverport, Tennessee, a tiny, tiny bulge in the road, which is sort of near Toone, which is sort of near Boliver. I think I told you in another letter that we drove through there once when we were on a road trip in the 90’s. Laura showed me where the family farm was, and then we drove past the convenience store with its single gas pump, which was really all that marked the existence of the place.

Anyway, we got onto the death toll of Civil War combatants, which was over 620,000 and accounts for almost half the death toll of all US soldiers who have ever died in wars. She then looked up the US population count for 1863 and from there figured out that about 2% of Americans died fighting the Civil War, though about 23% of the combatants died as a result of the war. It’s estimated that 2.5% of US soldiers died during WWII and 10% died during the Vietnam War.

These numbers are absolutely staggering, but when it comes to a massive death toll in a short period of time, they pale in comparison with the number of fatalities from the Spanish Flu in 1918, which was our next topic of conversation last night (I’m not sure what got into us, but we definitely dug into some really depressing history). Over 50 million people died globally, of whom about 675,000 were American. Laura remembers her family elders talking about the fact that many, many people in their family died during that pandemic.

What I didn’t know last night, and frankly wouldn’t have even thought to wonder about, is that the reason the 1918 flu was called the “Spanish Flu” is because Spain was the first country to tell the truth about what was happening. I learned this from reading Gillian Brockell’s WP article this afternoon that recounts how Britain and other European countries had earlier, massive flu outbreaks, but suppressed the information so as to not show weakness during WWI (it hit young people, to include soldiers, much harder than other segments of the population). The US government also suppressed the truth about what was happening, and hundreds of thousands of Americans were sickened (and died) in part because public gatherings were allowed to happen and people weren’t given the information they needed to protect themselves.

It’s no great stretch from then to now when it comes to concerns about governmental transparency. You were already in the hole when it comes to trustworthiness given your longstanding, appalling relationship with the truth, and then you dug yourself in even deeper by insisting that all public health information be routed through Pence’s office. The optics of restricting the information flow through an ex-governor who doesn’t believe in science and who suppressed information about a public health crisis in his state pretty much suck, and unfortunately, we almost certainly aren’t just dealing with poor optics.

The first US covid-19 death happened here in King County today so all of this is uncomfortably close to home. We’re heeding the advice not to panic or touch our faces, but not being able to trust that you and your administration give a rat’s ass about anything other than the stock market and your political prospects does not inspire confidence. At all.

May we be safe from viruses and politicians who shouldn’t be politicians.
May we be willing to bear the truth.
May our public health system be strong enough to withstand your administration.
May we all make peace with our global connectedness.

Tracy Simpson

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