Dear President Trump,
Kathleen Parker challenges her readers (WP editorial) to consider whether what one does in relation to the covid-19 crisis is helpful. I agree this is a worthy question, but she actually frames it through the lens of doing no harm, which is really a lower bar than whether something is helpful. And the confusion didn’t stop there. Her central focus in the piece is whether casting blame for pandemic-related confusions and policy reversals is useful. I’m not really sure where exactly she lands on this since she readily points out many of your more egregious “mistakes” but then suggests that the attacks on Dr. Fauci for not sounding the alarm louder and sooner are unhelpful. She also points to the reversal on face masks in public and wonders whether someone, somewhere got the early messaging wrong (i.e., that they weren’t necessary) and whether this may have cost lives, but she concludes that right now we should hold off on assigning blame and instead follow Queen Elizabeth’s advice and stay calm. Hmm.
I don’t typically highlight muddled writing but I’m doing so today because I find Parker’s waffling and internal inconsistencies strangely validating and comforting. It is all pretty damn confusing and overwhelming and this awfulness is happening in the context of a current crisis that we need to get through as best we can. Therefore, it does seem reasonable to consider whether ferreting out now who is and isn’t to blame for A-Z (take your pick, there’s plenty) is going to help us get through the crisis in better shape than if we just put all that aside and cope.
In considering the above, I think it’s fair to say that if we were in the midst of a crisis that was unfolding super quickly and where there was no time for considering anything except how to dig as many people out of the rubble as quickly as possible (for example), then no, we wouldn’t want to stop and consider why the building collapsed or why it was built on a fault line. We’d just want to get the people out and we’d sort out the other shit later. Although what we are facing now is urgent and thousands of people are dying every day, if we screw things up more, it could easily get far worse, so we have to step back and consider various possible courses of action. Essentially, we need to recognize that our decisions going forward must be predicated on information and judgment from those we can trust and it’s absolutely fair to factor in how people behaved early on in the crisis when we make those forward-looking assessments.
Are you following? In plain terms, we do need to know now who made bad decisions and misleading statements and what motivated those harmful actions and statements so that we can stop looking to those people. Relevant questions include whether mistakes resulted from looking at data through a well-intentioned, if incomplete or incorrect, lens; whether people are willing and able to learn from mistakes (and own up to them); whether there is anything self-serving or venal going on; whether people are parroting someone else to curry favor, and who is talking out their ass to keep the spotlight on himself?
The answers to these questions will help us decide who does and does not merit our trust. The bottom line is that we cannot wait until all the graves are dug and all the life dreams are shattered before we f’ing figure out who needs to be kicked to the curb asap so that others can get on with the business of dealing with this awful situation in good faith.
May we be safe from politicians with poison motives.
May we be happy to give them the ax – at the ballot mailbox.
May we stay strong in our resolve to call out the bad actors in real time.
May we not capitulate to a stupid and dangerous patience.