Memo to media: We still don’t know why Trump is doing this

Press needs to tackle troubling questions

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One month into our mounting crisis and we still don't know why Trump won't help key states secure desperately needed medical equipment to deal with the growing coronavirus pandemic. Or why Trump is touting a dubious miracle cure, fills marathon pandemic briefings with ceaseless contradictions and lies, and has silenced scientists. Why he purposefully ignored detailed intelligence warnings about Covid-19, placed his unqualified son-in-law in charge of a national emergency, and refused to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel private companies to manufacture needed medical supplies. Or why the government airlifted 18 tons of donated respirator masks, surgical masks, gowns and other medical supplies to China in February.

If Trump had done just one of these things, it would've been considered shortsighted and represented a shocking lack of leadership. Trump's done them all. Yet that still doesn't prompt most journalists to address the bigger picture and ask disturbing questions about a president who seems to be okay with watching America crumble and decay, in very real ways, on his watch.

As I stressed last week, the media's preferred storyline that suggests Trump is simply incompetent doesn't add up because Trump has made the wrong decision every single time in terms of how crises like this are supposed to be dealt with. (i.e. Be consistent, transparent, factual, and credible.) It's increasingly not believable for the press to suggest Trump has been distracted or inept during this crisis, in part because of the level of White House uselessness has become so staggering.

Maybe Trump’s vengeful. Maybe he wants to wreck the economy to create investment opportunities? He's under the thumb of a foreign entity? He wants to cause panic and cancel the November elections? He’s a fatalist? Who knows. And honestly, the specific "why" isn't what matters now. What matters is asking the difficult questions and pondering what the Trump presidency is truly about, no matter what lurks in the shadows.



Note that there doesn't seem to be any ideological reason why Trump has opted to  oversee a monumental government failure. It's not like he's so committed to a small government worldview that he refused to allow the engines of big government save people. It seems Trump just didn't want to save people. Instead he’s opted for relentless misinformation and constant contradictions from the White House podium.

The scale of today's failure is truly unprecedented and at times hard to comprehend. It would be like if President George W. Bush had screwed up the on-the-ground disaster relief in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and allowed Americans to drown in the streets —for four straight weeks.

From the Associated Press:

After the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment.

A Washington Post deep dive into the government's months-long coronavirus fiasco found "denial and confusion" at the center of the failure. "The United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation," the Post reported. "Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck."

Jared Leopold, former communications director for the Democratic Governors Association summed up the chaos for states this week: "[Trump's] basically playing political game around life-or-death issues and leaving states to fend for themselves, which is unheard-of for a president to show zero federal leadership in the middle of a national crisis."

But it's actually worse than that — it's not just that Trump is refusing to provide national leadership in a time of crisis. He's actively and purposefully making everything worse, starting with spending most of the winter downplaying the risks by making misleading and false proclamations. ("Anybody who wants a test will get a test.") That's a helluva story that can no longer be averted.

One month into this nationwide emergency, the press has done an excellent job documenting the almost unimaginable failures of the federal government to protects its population from a slow-moving medical risk that appeared half way around the world four months ago. (Joe Biden rang the alarms in January.)

Now the press needs to shift some of its focus and ask the truly alarming questions about Trump and his motives. Because we still don't know why he essentially ordered the federal government to stand down for the virus invasion.



We need so much more of this — stay healthy, be kind.


The Bottle Rockets, “Kerosene”

The pride of Festus, Missouri, the Bottle Rockets are certainly on my list of top ten favorite bands, maybe top five. A roots rock powerhouse, they sing about bars and cars and thanks Brian Henneman’s brilliant eye for details and perfect guitar hooks, they do it masterfully. And they’re Democrats! Meaning, they’re red state rockers who stand up for the working poor.

The quiet, contemplative “Kerosene” is one of band’s best. I remember asking them about the song after a show I saw at the Mercury Lounge in NYC a long time ago, and they explained that a buddy of theirs who is a school teacher, Scott Taylor, wrote the song, even though they didn’t know he wrote songs. One day he just gave it to Hennman who looked at the lyrics and said, ‘Wow.” (Ha. I hope I’m remembering that story correctly.)

The song is one of the most piercing portraits of poverty in America that I’ve ever heard, wrapped in a perfect piece of morbid story telling. "It's a story of a family that just weren't making it, and didn't really have the money for kerosene, so they put gasoline in the heater of their trailer," Henneman once told NPR. "The rest is history."

Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo, sing backup on the song, It’s from the Bottle Rockets’ stunning 1993 self-titled debut album, which was recorded in two days. (If you want to hear the band rock, check out “Indianapolis.”)

In a pure perfect world that tells no lies,
Burn you down you try to... improvise

If kerosene works why not gasoline
If kerosene works why not gasoline
If kerosene works why not gasoline
If kerosene works why not gasoline