The Trump Chronicles, Volume 146: Are There Parallels Between COVID-19 and AIDS? I Think There Are

In the summer of 1981 many of us began to read about and hear of a troubling trend. Gay men in New York and San Francisco began to report cases of Karposi Sarcoma and Pneumoscystis Pneumonia. It was odd because the only people who suffered from these diseases were those with compromised immune system. At the time this population had no reason to believe they were immune compromised. Eventually we learned that a previously unknown virus called HIV or human immunodeficiency virus caused these diseases. Within a few years we all called it AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

In the next several years AIDS decimated not only the gay male population but also intravenous drug users. We found the presence of the virus in blood, seamen, and saliva. AIDS also devastated children with hemophilia, most famously Ryan White (1971-1990) and people who needed blood transfusions like Arthur Ashe (1943-1993).

Reactions varied. President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) answered with silence and said nothing about AIDS until 1985. Others, like Rev. Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) saw AIDS as a self inflicted wound: God used AIDS to punish homosexual activity.

For years many people lived in fear of AIDS, particularly when we weren’t sure how it was spread, how to test for it, and how to treat it. Nearly everyone knew someone who contracted AIDS, including my godfather, Duane LaDeau (1935-1993). But there was also widespread fear among health care workers, EMT’s who were on the front lines of caring for very sick people.

But eventually we learned more about the virus. We learned how it was spread, how to protect ourselves, and how to best treat the virus. There’s still no cure but people with AIDS can live nearly normal lives and we who care for them know what to do to avoid infection.

As for COVID-19 we’re still in our earliest days. Every day we’re learning more about the virus, how to avoid infection, how to safely care for those infected, and how we can look to slowing and stopping the spread.

But here’s the problem: in the 1980s our President and a leading Christian found ways to avoid dealing with AIDS either by ignoring it or blaming the victim). We now have a President who encourages behavior that will increase both the infection rate and the death rate. Scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci caution us to avoid direct contact in the hopes that the virus won’t spread. He advocates that we stay at home unless in the last 2 months many have. It’s been hard on the economy as the current unemployment rate stands at 14.7% and may well be higher. Our only way past COVID-19 leads through a quarantine that lasts until it’s safe to return to normal even if it means many can’t return to work for months.

President Trump recognizes that a poor economy will likely ensure his defeat in November. And so he’s applying pressure to bring people back into dangerous contact. His calls to “Free Virgina” and other states show how far he is willing to go.

He’s gambling that people will go back to work, unemployment rates will go down, the economy will bounce back, and the virus will magically disappear. As I tell my hospice patients, you can hope for and pray for a miracle but you can’t plan for a miracle.

But that’s what he’s doing. I’m not sure he’s even aware of this, but if everyone goes back to work and the infection/death rate explodes he won’t win. And thousands of us will die. Of course he won’t as all those around him are masked and tested.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 145: President Trump, You and Your Minions Are Gambling With Our Lives

I’m not a politician. Frankly I lack the ambition, the desire to win above all else. I vividly remember the pressure on members of Congress in 2003 to authorize the Gulf War. I can’t read the hearts of all of them but I remember believing that many of them feared a vote against it would imperil their re-election. They didn’t vote their conscience, they voted their ambition.

I don’t respect that. Had I been a member of Congress I would have voted against this on the grounds that the Bush administration couldn’t convince me of their proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. History would have proven me right.

Fast forward to today. Whenever I speak to a Trump supporter (and I had this exact conversation a few months ago) they tell me they don’t care about his lies, or his tweets, or his xenophobia. In my last conversation with a coworker she said: “Have you looked at your 401(k)? How can you not support him?”

The last few months have been nothing but trouble for President Trump’s need to win a second term and crave the approval of the American people. Early on I think he recognized that COVID-19 would hurt the economy and therefore chances for a 2nd term. I’ve written about this before but he spent much of February and early March falsely claiming that the virus was mild and shouldn’t affect our behavior. He blamed the lack of preparedness of COVID-19 on President Obama.

Time and again we’ve seen him disregard science in his need for a positive narrative of his administration. Last month he suggested that we can use light and disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

Even President Trump recognizes that if the economy goes South he will have a hard time winning a second term. His only hope lies in the prayer that he will reopen the economy and the COVID-19 virus will magically go away. As I tell my patients, you can pray for a miracle but you can’t plan for one. If he’s wrong (and I pray he isn’t) the next several months will may well give us a horrific increase in COVIC-19 deaths and a cratering of the economy, making the Great Recession look small.

In fewer than six months Americans will go to the polls and decide if President Trump should serve another four years, or if Vice President Biden should replace him. I believe that President Trump knows that his re-election is in trouble. I believe he is desperate and the next six months will show how much damage he is willing to do to our nation and our world.

His call to roll back quarantines will cost lives and he knows it. And he doesn’t care. On November 3rd we can show how much we care.

Yom Hahshoah at 75

Earlier this week the Jewish community remembered Yom Hahshoah, the commemoration of the Holcaust. In the Jewish calendar it’s commemorated on the 27th day of the month of Nissan. We remember Yom Hashoah because every one of us needs to ensure this never happens again.

Here’s what we need to know:

  • It didn’t begin with Auschwitz. It began with blame.
  • It began with xenophobia.
  • It began when one man blamed others and abandoned the idea that we are all in this together.
  • It began when this one man saw he could advance himself by dividing others.
  • It began when he saw he could lie without abandon and be believed.
  • It ended with the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews and 4,000,000 others.
  • It ended when this one man killed himself and avoided taking responsibility for his actions.
  • It ended when the forces for Good spend billions of dollars and decades healing the world.

It began with blame. Let us not let it happen again.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 144: President Trump, Karma is Calling

Dear President Trump:

When you began your Presidential campaign in 2015 I feared that you were not up to the job. I argued that your lack of experience in governing and your penchant for bullying would make your presidency a disaster.

On the day of your inauguration I threw down and said I was keeping score.

In the last 3 years you’ve claimed victory for the progress of others and avoided responsibility for your own mistakes. Your tariffs have hurt farmers, your irresponsible promises have given coal minors false hope, and your attacks on honest journalists have given good, honest Americans doubt in those who strive to tell the truth.

All along your supporters have insisted that none of that matters because the stock market has done well. You and your supporters have argued that the bull market (stock market rise) began on January 20, 2017, the day you took office.

It didn’t. It started on March 9, 2009, six weeks into the administration of President Barack Obama. When he handed you the keys to the White House the stock market had grown 148.3% since his inauguration. You can see a fascinating graph here.

Your administration rode that wave well and at its peak grew 43.7% over President Obama.

But here’s the problem: anyone with a brain knew (knew) that it wouldn’t last. Markets go up (bull markets) and markets go down (bear market). A smart President wouldn’t have criticized the Federal Reserve demanding interest rate cuts in a bull market. A smart President would have know that if you cut interest rates during a bull market you worsen a bear market because there’s little or nothing left to cut. A smart President would know that if you claim credit for a good economy people will blame you for a bad one.

And if asked about the current market and skyrocketing unemployment statistics you and your supporters argue that this is entirely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore you and your supporters will claim there was no way to predict this would happen. In other words, absent COVID-19 the United States would have seen eight years of previously unknown prosperity during your two terms in office.

But here’s the thing: we all knew that a previously unknown virus was always lurking out there somewhere. I know you like to brag about how many times you made the cover of Time Magazine. The cover story on May 15, 2017 warned that we were not ready for the next pandemic.

In addition there was the question about whether or not you eliminated a “pandemic office” in 2017. It’s a complicated question and you can read about it here.

But it doesn’t really matter. You have a history of ignoring facts that don’t fit your world view and you’ve spent the last 3 years ensuring that nobody in your orbit will challenge you. You’ve gone through dozens of cabinet members and staff who proved that they loved either the truth or the American people (or both) more than they craved your support.

Looking forward I have to confess I fear the next seven months. You’ve also spent the last three years not understanding that there are limits on your power. Famously 2018 your xenophobia led you to claim you could repeal the 14th Amendment by executive order.

I predict that you will attempt to call a national emergency and suspend the 2020 election. I predict that you will call on your supporters (and their guns) to report to the White House while you hole up and refuse to leave on January 20, 2021.

I hope I’m wrong but I wish I had more confidence.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 143: I Give Him Medium Props

Last month I wrote about President Trump’s promise to send out stimulus to all Americans. Today I found out that at least one of my relatives saw a deposit in his account.

The bottom line is this: he actually made a promise he kept. That’s astounding.

But I will say that at the time he promised the checks would go out in two weeks. He made the promise on March 17th and two weeks out was March 31st. That was more than two weeks ago. Also the first wave of checks were made through direct deposit, meaning the federal government had your bank information (mostly because in past years you gave that information to the IRS for your tax refund). Paper checks have not been mailed out but are expected soon.

But today we learned that President Trump insisted that his name be placed on the check and this will delay the payments.

At the end of the day I give him credit to keeping a promise he made.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 12: Now It’s a Two Person Race

This morning we learned that Senator Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign. Presidential campaigns are famously marathons and not sprints. Last June I began the Election 2020 Chronicles with two Republican candidates and twenty Democratic candidates.

President Trump was always the presumptive Republican nominee but the Democratic field was wide open. Back then the fear among us Democrats was that the field was so crowded they would strangle each other, or to use a popular image, form a circular firing squad. On February 12th I suggested that Bernie may defeat former Vice President Joe Biden and give President Trump the opponent he wanted.

Bernie famously describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist” and that has always troubled me. A Socialist government owns the means of production and all citizens are government employees. Workers are allowed to own property and choose their jobs but there is no private industry. Critics (like me) of socialism believe that, for instance, if the government owned the auto industry we’d all still be driving Model T’s. Without the competition that Capitalism provides there’s no advantage to improve.

This is not what Bernie suggests. He does want Medicare for all, but even Medicare isn’t socialized medicine simply because doctors are not government employees. But the Republican playbook salivated at the idea of running against a Socialist. They would blow fear into the electorate by claiming Bernie would take all of their freedom away from them. It might have worked.

Now comes the next challenge: convincing Bernie’s supporters to support Joe. When Bernie ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016 many of Bernie’s supporters felt they couldn’t support Hillary because the Democratic National Committee conspired against Bernie. Frankly, they had a point.

My hope going forward lies with the warm relationship between Bernie and Joe. I hope that, unlike 2016, Bernie’s supporters will feel better about voting for Joe. If they don’t we may well have another 4 years of Trump.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 142: Mr. President, the Buck Stops With You

On the day that the United States recorded its 1,000th death from COVID-19 we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis.

The President’s response? Today he announced guidelines that will relax “social distancing” (ie, keeping a space of six feet between you and another person) in areas that are not (currently) suffering high numbers of COVID-19.

Harry Truman, who was President from 1945 to 1953, famously had a sign on his desk that said: The Buck Stops Here. In other words, when people pass the buck (deny blame) and it ends up on his desk, he cannot pass the buck to anyone.

Contrast that with our current President who famously takes no responsibility for his actions on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to relaxing social distancing he also announced that America should return to normal by Easter Sunday.

Two things are clear: he’s delusional about the the spread of the Pandemic. He can’t stop COVID-19. Nobody can. We can go back to normal only when the infection rate dramatically slows.

Second, he puts his re-election ahead of public safety. If we stop self isolating while the infection rate continues to rise, it will lead to a dramatic spike in new illnesses. But he recognizes that he won’t be re-elected if the economy is bad, if the stock market continues to tank, and unemployment continues to rise.

In other words he is willing to put American lives at risk so he can manipulate his numbers and give him another four years.

Let us pray the American people are smarter than that.

The Election Chronicles 2020; Volume 11: It’s Getting Clearer

Clearly the Election Chronicles 2020 will skew toward the Democrats because only William Weld has the courage to run against President Trump and the Republican nomination is a given.

Less than a year ago I listed 20 candidates for the Democratic nominee and many of us feared that their campaigns would beat up each other and Democrats wouldn’t coalesce, giving President Trump a path to his reelection.

I’m feeling better now.

Early in the race the candidates divided into two camps: moderates and “socialists.” I put socialists in quotations because none of them were true socialists. In a socialist society the government owns the means of production and everyone who works is a government employee. If you’re a doctor you work for the government. If you build cars you work for the government (and there is no Ford or Honda or GM. There is only government built cars). In short there are no private employees.

In any case, in the last month or so several candidates have dropped out leaving the race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. And frankly, Bernie really doesn’t have a realistic path toward the nomination and will probably suspend his campaign in the next few days.

The Biden campaign needs to figure out its next step. Four years ago the supporters of Bernie Sanders felt that their candidate was pushed out unfairly by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment (and in fairness they were right) and many of them stayed home on election day. I hope that Joe Biden can reach out to them and say this:

“OK, I get that your support for Bernie Sanders didn’t end up with his nomination. I get that I’m not your first choice. But I also hope that you aren’t looking for another four years of President Trump. If you vote for me I promise that I will work hard to ensure that you have health care. If we are still suffering from this pandemic I will work hard to ensure that our health care workers are safe and able to care for the sick. And assuming we are still suffering from a recession I’ll work to regain confidence in our economy. I’ve been this way before. The last time a Republican President left office we were in the middle of the Great Recession. The only reason it didn’t become the Second Great Depression was because President Obama and I pushed legislation through Congress that turned things around and started the bull market that the current President claims credit for.”

Overwhelmingly the Democratic candidates who suspended their campaigns have endorsed Joe. Democrats like myself need to joint Team Biden. At the beginning of the campaign I supported New Jersey Senator Corey Booker. I’m not sure why but his campaign never took off. When he dropped out I moved my chips to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The weekend before the California primary Mary Pete suspended his campaign and I voted for Joe Biden.

If you’re reading this I ask that you vote for the person who can defeat Donald Trump.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 141: Let’s Keep Track of This Promise

Yesterday, March 17, at a White House Press Conference Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke about ways to improve the economy. Today’s Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed at 19,898.92; when President Trump took office on January 20, 2017 the DJIA was 19,847.25 and it’s understandable that the White House is nervous.

But if there is one thing we’ve learned with this administration it’s this: they are long on making promises and short on keeping them. And Secretary Mnuchin said that he is “looking at sending checks to Americans immediately” and said that he is looking at doing this in two weeks. He didn’t say how much they would be, though many are looking at $1,000 or who would be eligible except that he doesn’t support paying millionaires.

So here’s the deal: two weeks from yesterday is March 31st. I’ll be checking my mailbox that day and I encourage all of you to do the same. And if we don’t see a check, we’ll know that this is yet one more time the White House promised something they didn’t deliver.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 140: The President is Getting More Irrational

President Trump’s troubles appear to be continuing. In a previous post I spoke about how he’s bragged for three years about the healthy economy but has no plan for a downturn. This past week we’ve seen the economy go from a market correction to a bear market.

But on this post I want to concentrate on his mishandling of the Coronavirus. There’s an excellent article timeline on the spread of the disease.

As we learned more about this virus President Trump continued to attempt to wish it away. You can read the background here. On March 9th he tweeted this: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, “The risk is low to the average American.”

This past Wednesday he appeared in the oval office hoping to assure us that he knew what he was doing and had a path forward. He failed on all fronts. Without notifying any of our European allies he instituted a travel ban for much of Europe. Well those countries where he doesn’t have a golf course or hotel.

He also made serious errors that the White House had to walk back. He proclaimed a travel ban to everyone except Americans. The actually edict blocked foreigners who had been to European Union countries. He also claimed that health insurers would waive all copayments for people suffering from the Coronavirus. The White House later clarified that they would only waive copayments for testing for the virus. Finally he claimed the embargo would cover cargo coming from Europe. That wasn’t true.

Finally, he continues to blame everyone else. He recently blamed President Obama for his handling of the H1N1 virus in 2009.

The speech he was supposed to give? For a contrast (and yes, I know it was a movie) was a speech given by President Beck in the movie Deep Impact.

Mr. President, you need to step up or start packing.