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It wasn’t shocking, discovering Trump had an awareness of COVID-19. Acknowledging how dangerous it was.
Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, Rage, recounts 18 conversations he had with President Donald Trump at the beginning of 2020. Included in those conversations is an admission by Trump of how lethal the Coronavirus was predicated to become, and how he felt it was better to downplay the concern to avoid panic.
At this stage we know that wasn’t really the issue. As Trevor Noah stated on the September 9th episode of “the Daily Show,”
Cities are burning, suburbs are collapsing, caravans of antifa Mexicans are committing Muslim voter fraud — his campaign slogan is basically, ‘Look out behind you!’
So with something panic-worthy, why minimize it?
Sub question; if Woodward knew as early as February, what was his responsibility?
Let’s start with the former: Trump was information about a virus on-par with the 1918 flu pandemic, understanding the severity and ease of transmission, yet denied the statements made by the CDC. He rejected a mask mandate. He held events with no social distancing measures. His administration hijacked Herman Cain’s twitter feed, a deceased Tea Party advocate, to attack the media’s over-sensationalized response to Covid-19. The virus that killed him.
We need to look within the Trump cabinet. The wealth of the people working with him is staggering. Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, has more money than any of her colleagues in the Trump White House combined. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, made his wealth by investing in steel which benefitted immensely thanks to tariffs George W. Bush put on foreign competitors. Or Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Treasury, who is the son of a Goldman Sachs director, eventually starting his own firm like Ross before becoming a Trump cabinet member.
In other words people with bourgeoise backgrounds and nefarious connections, with inherent financial interests in their respective areas, are in charge of making some important decisions. Like how Betsy DeVos has a financial interest in KinderCare Education, a daycare and early childhood education company. She also has a loan, co-signed in her billionaire father’s name, for the private aviation academy her family founded.
Wilbur Ross had agreed to divest from a shipping fund, but then was discovered to still hold interest in it. And he lied about it. In the time they discovered he had not divested, his portfolio, valued at $10–50 million before he took office, went up by seven figures.
Steve Mnuchin had financial interests, along with the President, in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. When he became the nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, those business’ stocks skyrocketed after Mnuchin said the government should stop telling them how to run. He also made the loans for small businesses less favorable. Also keeping in mind that PPP loans, meant for small businesses, have been going to organizations like Shake Shack. Or the Catholic Church. Or Jared Kushner’s grandfather’s private school in New Jersey.
In spite of their already sizeable wealth, the wealthy elite tied to Trump’s cabinet seem to only be profiting more from the pandemic. Mnuchin has been referred to as the Foreclosure King, having taken over IndyMac Bank in California and foreclosing on 36,000 properties, including housing for on-duty military service members. In his current position, Mnuchin has discretion to direct low-cost credit loans, and their terms, to businesses that he deems as valuable. His decisions have only shown to widen the wealth gap in the United States.
Betsy DeVos initially was very open to schools closing down for safety measures during the pandemic. That’s because she had stock in virtual learning. DeVos had advocated for it in 2017. When she did an about-face on the issue, she did so with emphasis on providing public funding to private schools and school vouchers, saying parents should be given the choice of where to place their students if public schools won’t open. It’s win-win for DeVos; do virtual learning and inflate her personal stock portfolio, or take public funding and use that towards a private school DeVos also has investments in with the same outcome.
Heads I win, tails you lose.
Wilbur Ross’ opportunities for gain are slightly more ambiguous. What is more dubious is how he has been permitted to work from his Palm Beach home during this time, something a lot of US citizens are not capable of doing, or can’t because of their lack of access to the internet. It is made worse by the fact that the President, who (as a reminder) Ross works for, has publicly downplayed while ensuring testing for himself and his staff, and the eldest of his cabinet are safe and out of harms way.
Mnuchin, DeVoss, Ross, and Trump were all aware of what was coming. If Trump was as loose-lipped around one of the journalists responsible for taking down the Nixon administration, you know he had to have shared that information with others in his cabinet.
There was actually a big to-do earlier this year that several US senators likely sold stock after being made aware of the virus. Interesting point, they were all Republicans. But don’t worry, the DOJ dropped the investigation.
There’s someone else, known relatively well by the public at large, who only gave vital information to a scant few for their own benefit. All the while, screwing the public at large.
The story of Noah and the flood myth stretches from Genesis 6:9–9:17. Depending which story you read (there’s two flood stories intertwined in Genesis), God approaches Noah to tell him to build an ark. He also requests Noah bring several of each kind of animal onto the ark, permits Noah’s family to board it, and then floods the planet.
Contrasting this with a later story in Genesis, Abraham barters with God in 18:16–33. God has decided to destroy several cities, and Abraham asks what God will do if there are “righteous” people. Starting with fifty, Abraham works down to ten righteous people which God agrees is an acceptable number to not destroy the cities. But those cities were Sodom and Gomorrah. Though Abraham is unsuccessful in his negotiation with God, he still tried.
When God asks Noah to build an ark, it is with the understanding that Noah and his family are the only “righteous” people left in the world. Noah makes no request of God to save humanity. He never asks if God would not destroy humanity if 50 people are righteous, or 40, or even ten. In fact, Noah doesn’t speak at all until Genesis 9:25 after his son Ham finds him drunk and naked out in his vineyard.
So what responsibility did Noah have in this story? He is given directions by God, with an explicit warning that humanity will be destroyed. We don’t know Noah’s relations with others in his community. What of his wife’s family? His sons wives; were their families left behind as well? We have the account focused on Noah and no others.
To appreciate this even in the slightest, I recommend others watch the 2014 movie Noah, starring Russel Crowe. Specifically the scene where the flood starts. Aside from fighting off others attempting to board the ark, Noah eventually sits and stares into the void. The ether around him filled with screams from the drowning hoards. It’s chilling, to say the least. And, should we be forced to assume a story like this actually happened as some do, we need to accept this scenario as a likely consequence of Noah’s decisions.
While some might jump to say the movie has a lot that’s not in the Bible, scholars like James Tabor have offered that Noah is quite biblical. It would have been difficult for them to make a movie only with what’s in the Bible. Let’s just say the longest section would’ve been the measurements for the Ark.
Regardless, in the movie we come face-to-face with Noah as God’s plan is carried out. The severity of the punishment and Noah’s “survivors guilt,” if it could be called that.
But even Evan Almighty had Steve Carrell offering space aboard the ark as the waters hit.
It’s a moral conundrum we’ve recognized in other figures, like Abraham, but seem to overlook with Noah. Abraham is told by God to kill his only son Isaac. As he is about to kill his son, God sends an angel to stop Abraham and offer a ram as a sacrifice to God instead. If someone believes God is telling them to sacrifice their child, would we find it acceptable if they did today?
If we find out someone knew about something that would devastate our community, but did nothing to protect the people, should we find that acceptable?
Like Noah, President Donald Trump was given information about something life threatening before it happened. In Trump’s case, as early as February of 2020. In this circumstance, Trump was informed how serious the virus was. Noted in interviews with Woodward, Trump said it was “more deadly than even your more strenuous flu”.
“This is deadly stuff.”
“I wanted to always play it down…I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
“Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old-older…Young people too. Plenty of young people.”
His admission, followed by the behavior of his family and cabinet, show they only acted in their own self-interest. As the waters were starting to splash up onto our shores, Trump, his family, his cabinet, and the senate that supports him were loading their belongings aboard their ark. They sat on information that could’ve helped people prepare, they could’ve modeled behavior consistent with CDC recommendations. But they didn’t. And they don’t.
Woodward’s position is hard to judge. He sat on this information, these tape recordings, since February. He did so knowing what was at stake. But would the release of the information earlier have made the same impact? Would we have realized the severity for these claims if they had come out in March, or even April?
However, the question is irrelevant. At the time of writing, deaths in the US have reached 193,000. The CDC projects that, by October 3, there will be anywhere from 205,000 to 217,000 deaths from Covid-19. If Bob Woodward knew, and opted to not disclose that information, he is responsible for not revealing the information until the opportunity was appropriate that could have saved lives.
Woodward has responded saying he needed to certify Trump’s claims were authentic. He never clarified which ones but…why did it take seven months? The fact remains, as the Gambit editor John R. Stanton tweeted,
There is no moral or ethical defense of Woodward’s decision to not publish these tapes as soon as they were made. If there was any chance it could save a single life, he was obligated to do so. Bob Woodward put making money over his moral and professional duty.
Don’t mistake my position; Trump is ultimately responsible, but Woodward had information he had a responsibility to share. And not in a new book.
To show an example of someone who does the socially responsible thing in spite of their job, we have actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Since his movies Borat and Brüno, Cohen has been filming interviews and making staged appearances in public events that, as a matter of fact, have been revealing racist politicians and xenophobic locals at a county fair.
In a 2018 interview, Cohen revealed he thought he may have made a connection with someone involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. While dark in nature to begin with, the interviewee spoke with Cohen about connecting him with a lawyer to “silence” a child. He also made promises of getting Cohen connected with other young boys. Cohen turned the tapes over to the FBI after the interview ended, and the episode never aired.
Again, responsibility lies with Trump. Woodward could’ve released the tapes and still had the book to release now. Even if it only saved a single life, especially since those affected by Covid-19 has been disproportionately People of Color.
The human psyche, like any animals, has evolved to want to survive. We wouldn’t have been a successful species if we had no desire to procreate, eat, drink, or sleep. More importantly, we would not have community. Our connection with others and desire to help them, the joy we receive in helping others, happens because it helps create bonds with others. Others who may help us when we are sick, in need, or facing difficult times. We value these things, and it is likely no coincidence that these values are found in another important biblical figure; Jesus.
But Jesus, unlike Noah or Abraham, “knows” that trouble is on the way. He warns of a coming end to the Roman authoritarian rule over Israel; the Kingdom of God. Mark 9:1 states “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Jesus “healed” with no expectation of payment from the infirm. He challenges laws about stoning an adulteress, asking who among the accusers is without sin (this story is still a late insertion into the gospel account, but John is viewed highly among the more conservative). He advocates the rich give their wealth to the poor. He advocates a level of equity and empathy among those that follow, or even listen to him, in order to prepare them for the coming of God’s kingdom to earth.
Yet Noah’s story, like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, follow the antiquated view that punishment via sin, and reward through gains, is how God lets you know how you’re doing. Nothing describes this better than the story of Job.
Job has his own book in the Hebrew Bible. In his book, we learn that Job is a man of God. He has been blessed with lands that produce impeccable crops, livestock that are healthy, and a family he loves dearly. God places a bet with an adversary in his divine council (he is called the šatan in the text, but it is a Hebrew word that means “adversary”), arguing that, even if Job loses everything, he will remain committed to God.
After his crops and animals are burned to a crisp, his children all die, and Job is struck with lesions, he’s visited by three friends. Like any friend consoling a connection down on his luck, they insist his circumstance is completely his fault. If he had not sinned, surely God would not be punishing him.
Noah felt the same way; if all the world was not full of sin, God would not have had to drown them all. The reason he never barters with God to spare the world for the sake of a few is because, if they were truly righteous as Noah was, then more people would get instructions to build arks. And collect animals. Maybe.
The world earned this, according to Trump (a believer in “the power of positive thinking”). So the world get what it deserves. As it is in Trump’s America; when they start to drown, scorch the earth.