Our Graveyard

It’s known as whistling past the graveyard – to attempt to stay cheerful in a dire situation; to proceed with a task, ignoring an upcoming hazard, hoping for a good outcome – to enter a situation with little or no understanding of the possible consequences – that sort of thing. It’s a useful idiom.

One hundred dollars each – the White House Gift Shop is selling “Donald Trump Defeats COVID-19” commemorative coins – a snazzy Gianni Limited 2500 Edition Art Series coin. But no one knows what one will look like. There’s no image at the website. Perhaps the design has not been finalized, but anyone can preorder theirs now. This item will be shipped, they say, on November 14 – long after Election Day – one more way to celebrate Donald Trump’s landslide reelection victory.

Cynics may snap them up too. The potential bitter irony is too tempting. The man is sick with this thing. He may die, and even if he recovers, he may be weak and wobbly and useless for quite some time, and even if he snaps back to his usual sneering and vindictive vigorous self, he may not be president a few months after this coin ships. There may be no landslide victory:

Joe Biden’s national lead over President Donald Trump nearly doubled after Tuesday’s presidential debate, with voters saying by 2-to-1 that Biden has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The poll was conducted in the two days after the unruly and insult-filled debate Tuesday but before Trump tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalized Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Biden is now ahead of Trump by 14 points among registered voters, 53 percent to 39 percent – up from his 8-point lead in the previous poll, before the debate.

This was before Trump tested positive and got sick and was hospitalized. This was all about the debate. Trump was repellant, and then he got sick:

Democrat Joe Biden opened his widest lead in a month in the U.S. presidential race after President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, and a majority of Americans think Trump could have avoided infection if he had taken the virus more seriously, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday.

The Oct. 2-3 national opinion poll gave little indication of an outpouring of support for the president beyond Trump’s core group of followers, some of whom have gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the president has been hospitalized.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the severity of the pandemic as something that would disappear on its own, chiding Biden as recently as last week for wearing a protective mask, even as the coronavirus infected millions of people and forced businesses and schools to close.

Among those adults who are expected to cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election, the poll found that 51% were backing Biden, while 41% said they were voting for Trump.

He’d been stupid about this:

As President Donald Trump remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after contracting COVID-19 this week, nearly 3 out of every 4 Americans doubt that he took seriously the threat posed to his well-being nor the steps necessary to avoid contracting the virus, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday.

In two separate questions, an identical 72% said that Trump did not take the “risk of contracting the virus seriously enough,” nor “the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health.”

They won’t be buying those commemorative coins. The irony would be too bitter, but Donald Trump was, almost literally, whistling past a sort of graveyard. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman explain that:

President Trump sought to dispel any perception of weakness on Sunday with a surprise and seemingly risky outing from his hospital bed to greet supporters even as his doctors once again rewrote the official narrative of his illness by acknowledging two alarming episodes they had previously not disclosed.

He felt threatened, or at least insulted, by anyone even hinting that he might be weak in any way, so this was pure reaction:

The doctors said that Mr. Trump’s blood oxygen level dropped twice in the two days after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, requiring medical intervention, and that he had been put on steroids, suggesting his condition might be more serious than initially described. But they insisted that his situation had improved enough since then that he could be released from the hospital as early as Monday.

The acknowledgment of the episodes raised new questions about the credibility of the information provided about the commander in chief of a superpower as he is hospitalized with a disease that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States. With the president determined not to concede weakness and facing an election in just 30 days, officials acknowledged providing rosy assessments to satisfy their prickly patient.

Determined to reassert himself on the political stage on his third day in the hospital, Mr. Trump made an unannounced exit from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the early evening, climbing into his armored Chevrolet Suburban to ride past supporters holding Trump flags gathered outside the building. Wearing a suit jacket and face mask but no tie, Mr. Trump waved at the crowd through a closed window as his motorcade slowly cruised by before returning him to the hospital.

He waved at the crowd through the closed window of that airtight completely sealed Chevrolet Suburban, wearing one of those dreaded coward’s masks, which, one might assume, he thought would be seen as bold and brave, but that did seem like whistling past the graveyard, perhaps his graveyard. If he were the brave and defiant man he claims to be, he might have done the obvious on Friday morning, he could have refused all medical care. This virus had always been nothing much, and only wimps and losers run, whining, to doctors. But he didn’t do that, so he had to say things like this:

“It’s been a very interesting journey,” Mr. Trump said in a one-minute video posted on Twitter, looking stronger and sounding more energetic than he had the last couple of days. “I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s-read-the-books school. And I get it. And I understand it. And it’s a very interesting thing and I’m going to be letting you know about it.”

So now, and only now, he knows more than all the scientists and doctors and epidemiologists combined. They went to med school. They read books. They think they know about this virus and others like it. But he’s HAD it! He now knows more about this virus and just how it works and why than they’ll ever know.

The reasoning there is a bit muddled, but all of this was muddled thinking:

Mr. Trump’s camera-friendly, morale-boosting “surprise visit” may have masked the reality of his condition, and his seeming energy may have reflected the fact that he was given the steroid dexamethasone, according to medical experts. Dexamethasone has been shown to help patients who are severely ill with Covid-19, but it is typically not used in mild or moderate cases of the disease.

Moreover, some medical experts said Mr. Trump’s trip out of the hospital was reckless, unnecessarily putting both hospital staff members and Secret Service agents at risk for a stunt. Others questioned the president’s statement in his video that he had met soldiers while at Walter Reed.

“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, wrote on Twitter. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”

And had he met those wounded recovering soldiers? Did he wear a mask? He was and is highly contagious. He might have killed them. Or perhaps that was bullshit. That might be the problem here:

In a telephone interview on Sunday night, Dr. Phillips also said the trip raised the alarming question of whether the president was directing his doctors.

“At what point does the physician-patient relationship end, and does the commander in chief and subordinate relationship begin, and were those doctors ordered to allow this to happen?” he said, noting that it violated standards of care and would not be an option open to any other patient. “When I first saw this, I thought, maybe he was being transported to another hospital.”

Yeah, but the guy was just restless, and thus making things worse for everyone:

Mr. Trump, who historically hates hospitals and anything related to illness, has been hankering to get released, according to two people close to him, and some aides expressed fear that he would pressure Dr. Conley into releasing him by claiming to feel better than he actually does. But advisers were also troubled by the doctors’ prediction that they might release him on Monday because if they do not, it would signal that the president is not doing as well as indicated. They also worried that a premature return could lead to a second trip to the hospital if his condition worsens.

He didn’t care:

The president has been watching lots of television, even more than usual, and has been exasperated by coverage of Saturday’s calamitous handling of his medical information by Dr. Conley and Mr. Meadows, as well as speculation about him transferring powers to Vice President Mike Pence.

He was also angry that no one was on television defending him, as he often is when he cannot inject his own views into news media coverage, aides said. As a result, Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, was expected to appear on several television shows, as was Corey Lewandowski, who was Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager in the 2016 race.

Those are two mean and nasty and ghoulish men, always incredibly angry, but as Philip Bump reports, Rudy jumped right in:

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called his old friends at the New York Post to pass along a message from his most prominent legal client, President Trump.

“I am the president of the United States. I can’t lock myself in a room,” Trump told the world through his lawyer Saturday. “I had to confront [the virus] so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly.”

In a video message published on his personal Twitter account a few hours later, Trump offered a similar sentiment.

“I had no choice,” he said, “because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House. I was given that alternative. Stay in the White House. Lock yourself in. Don’t ever leave. Don’t even go to the Oval Office. Just stay upstairs and enjoy it. Don’t see people. Don’t talk to people. And just be done with it.”

“And I can’t do that,” he continued. “I had to be out front. And this is America. This is the United States. This is the greatest country in the world. This is the most powerful country in the world. I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs and totally safe and just say, ‘Hey, whatever happens happens.’ I can’t do that. We have to confront problems. As a leader, you have to confront problems. There’s never been a great leader that would have done that.”

And of course he is a GREAT LEADER (imagine him screaming that out in order to silence all those who might doubt that) but Bump wonders what this particular “great leader” has actually confronted:

The choice Trump presents here is as bizarre as his conclusion. It is not the case that one must either remain in a windowless room or necessarily contract the novel coronavirus – as he has. One can use social distancing and mask-wearing – as he hasn’t – in an effort to drastically limit the risk posed by the virus. The idea that the proper way to confront the pandemic is for the president to expose himself to it is like saying that Franklin D. Roosevelt should have taken on Adolf Hitler by airdropping into Dresden. FDR managed to fight World War II while not drastically increasing his chances of being shot by a Nazi.

Trump did seem a bit delusional here, but everyone has to play along:

At a news conference earlier Sunday, Trump’s medical team tried to clear up the muddled picture it had created the previous day when White House doctor Sean Conley falsely suggested that Trump had not been given supplemental oxygen.

But Conley continued to avoid directly answering specific questions about Trump’s health Sunday, even as he revealed that the president had been given dexamethasone, a steroid that is typically reserved for severely ill coronavirus patients needing oxygen. Conley openly admitted to withholding truthful information about Trump’s plummeting blood-oxygen levels Friday, indicating he did so to put a positive spin on the president’s improving condition.

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness, has had,” Conley said Sunday, explaining why he told reporters Saturday that Trump had not been given oxygen Friday.

Trump wanted him to be upbeat. What else was he supposed to do? And then there was this:

White House communications director Alyssa Farah defended the lack of forthrightness Sunday, telling Fox News that the positive spin was part of an effort to help improve Trump’s health.

“It’s a common medical practice that you want to convey confidence, and you want to raise the spirits of the person you’re treating,” she said.

It’s a common medical practice to lie to the patient about how bad things really are? No doctors on Fox or any other network agreed with her, but what else was she supposed to say? This is political, not medical:

Trump told advisers on Sunday that he was getting bored being in the hospital and was tiring of watching coverage of his hospitalization. The ride past supporters was so impromptu that officials in charge of assembling the White House press pool were not even told.

The decision by Trump, who announced on Friday that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, to defy public health guidelines and leave quarantine to greet his supporters confounded medical experts. Several agents from the Secret Service, which has already suffered from coronavirus outbreaks in recent weeks while protecting Trump, were also in the SUV with the president.

The car ride was designed to show strength, advisers said, and by the end of the day, campaign officials were touting Trump for doing more than Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden that day even while suffering from the virus.

Biden didn’t ride down the street and wave to his people from behind the thick bulletproof tinted window of  any completely sealed big black Chevrolet Suburban. Trump did. He’s no coward.

The Biden team didn’t respond. Republicans are now in despair. Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey explain that:

President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis shook Republicans like an earthquake. Then came the troubling aftershocks.

There was the positive test result for a prominent conservative GOP senator, Mike Lee of Utah. Then another for Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Then the same news from Trump’s campaign manager, the chairwoman of the Republican Party and his former White House counselor.

And then on Saturday, as the president remained hospitalized, came word of two more high-profile Republicans close to the president testing positive for the virus – Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had helped Trump prepare for last week’s debate.

After months in which Trump and others in his party questioned the danger of the virus and refused to take precautions such as wearing masks, the Republican Party is now coming face to face with the scientific realities of the pandemic.

The drip-drip-drip of positive tests, coupled with the specter of a president who as of Saturday was “not on a clear path to a full recovery,” as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows put it, has prompted some Republicans to question whether the party is responsible for its own potential undoing.

The answer is yes:

“There was a panic before this started, but now we’re sort of the stupid party,” said Edward J. Rollins, co-chairman of the pro-Trump super PAC Great America. “Candidates are being forced to defend themselves every day on whether they agree with this or that, in terms of what the president did on the virus.”

“The president and the people around him flouted the rules,” said Republican strategist Michael Steel, who was an aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. “We wish him and his family a speedy recovery, but he has been reckless, and voters dealing with the health and economic effects on them and their families won’t look on that kindly.”

Stuart Stevens, a veteran Republican adviser who works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said “there is fatalism” among GOP officials and donors. “They wonder, ‘What can you do? How can you spin this?’ ”

Stevens said, “If I were running a Senate race, I’d run out and say the White House should have taken this more seriously.”

But it’s too late for that now:

Striking images of last weekend’s event, where influential Republicans and lawmakers mingled without masks, seemingly played on a loop on cable television, fueling critics who called the party reckless and enablers of superspreader events.

“Their extraordinary rejection of what scientists have been recommending is coming home to roost,” said Irwin E. Redlener, founding director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

That had to happen. That political party has been ruined. Trump did that. But he’s ruined much more. Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung report this:

The U.S. president is hospitalized with a virus he refused to treat as a grave threat, in the final weeks of an election whose results he will not pledge to accept, as the nation confronts a struggling economy, an unyielding pandemic and racial unrest.

The combination of these crises has plunged the United States into a vortex of potential vulnerability that national security experts said is probably without precedent.

Consumed by its own difficulties, the country is in a poor position to respond to provocations by adversaries, advance its foreign policy interests with support from allies, or serve as a credible model of functioning democracy, former senior national security officials said.

“I see weakness and division and above all else distractedness,” said Nick Rasmussen, who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Obama and Trump administrations. “Any problem anywhere else is just a third- or fourth-order problem right now because we are so self-absorbed, inward looking and consumed with our own toxicity. And when you’re distracted, you make mistakes.”

Expect mistakes, but it’s not just Trump. Trump has distracted the rest of the government:

The outbreak came as members of Trump’s national security team faced accusations that they were using their positions to ensure his reelection.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe was excoriated by his predecessors last week for declassifying discredited intelligence reports supposedly implicating Hillary Clinton in an effort to “stir up a scandal” against Trump in 2016 involving Russia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was rebuffed in his effort to secure a meeting with the pope by Vatican officials who reportedly regarded his approach as an election ploy to please Catholics. And Attorney General William P. Barr was accused of being the source of unsubstantiated claims of voting irregularities cited last week by the president.

“In a normal government, you could probably absorb some of this dysfunction,” said John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the CIA who now teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “But this government, on national security policy, has had a very sketchy – to say the least – process for making foreign policy decisions.”

And the only good thing is this:

Russia and, to a lesser extent, China are already seen as interfering in the U.S. election with relative impunity. And Iran has yet to follow through on its vow of further retaliation for the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad in January that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

But the leaders of those countries, as well as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, could be reluctant to challenge the United States more forcefully in the coming weeks out of concern for the impulses of an ailing president or the potential consequences from a future administration led by Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he is elected.

In short, don’t provoke the scattered and impulsive Donald Trump. He might just nuke the whole world because he’s momentarily pissed off, and Biden might win. He’d work on recreating all the old alliances and stopping all the nonsense that allows all the current freedom of action of everyone and anyone.

It’s best to wait, but for what? Trump whistles past this graveyard, to stay cheerful in a dire situation, ignoring upcoming hazards, hoping for a good outcome, with little or no understanding of the possible consequences of anything he does. So be it, for now, but this is now our graveyard.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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