That quip is the reason senior White House adviser Jared Kushner recommended “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to author Bob Woodward as one of the crucial texts for understanding his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. But remember that when Alice says, “I don’t want to go among mad people,” the Cat replies, “Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here.” Or, in the words of the Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit” — “logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.”
Americans could be forgiven for wondering what kind of rabbit hole they’ve fallen into, after taped interviews for Woodward’s new book showed that the President knew last February how contagious and dangerous Covid-19 was, even though he publicly downplayed the threat for weeks — at a time when concerted action could have saved untold numbers of American lives.
Trump told Woodward in March: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” SE Cupp wrote, “It’s hard, if not impossible, to wrap your mind around this callous and self-serving calculation, wherein the President admits to a journalist — one with deep credentials, and who has already written a best-selling, behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s White House — that he’s actively lying to the American people about a deadly pandemic that will eventually kill, as of this writing, more than 190,000 Americans and counting.”
In the language of Watergate, the scandal Woodward helped uncover nearly 50 years ago, it’s a “What did the President know and when did he know it” moment, and as Cupp wrote, “The damning words are recorded, not secondhand, and you can hear them coming from Trump’s own mouth.”
Reviewing Woodward’s book, Peter Bergen wrote, “The usual White House playbook to deny and denounce unflattering Trump stories can’t be used against ‘Rage,’ because Trump himself, in his own voice, is the book’s main source.”
Why did the President give 18 interviews to Woodward for the book? A Trump biographer, Timothy L. O’Brien, wrote for Bloomberg Opinion: “Trump is a media junkie who has a fixation on the very same reporters he loves to castigate, and he has a limitless belief in his own powers of persuasion. He has spent decades jousting with the media, successfully and unsuccessfully, to shape his public image while snaring his ultimate prize along the way: the spotlight.“
In the wake of the Woodward tapes, Trump met with reporters Wednesday to rebut the charge that he misled the American people. Michael D’Antonio, also a Trump biographer, wrote that the President “treated the country to a spin around his fantasyland, where he is a great leader besieged by meanies, and the needless death and suffering due to his failed response to the coronavirus pandemic are not worth acknowledging.”
In The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen pushed back against the accusation that Trump “knew how dangerous the virus was, but intentionally misled Americans and failed to take action.” Citing statements that Dr. Anthony Fauci made through early March suggesting that Americans faced a low risk, Thiessen argued, “until mid-March, no one knew we were facing a once-in-a-generation pathogen.” He added, “Fauci and all of the government’s smartest medical minds … expected this outbreak to be … a serious public health crisis, but one they could handle ... When they finally realized they were wrong, and advised the president to implement mitigation measures, he did so — shutting down a booming economy to protect public health.”
Joe Lockhart didn’t buy Trump’s defense, writing, “The President has repeatedly lied to the American people about the coronavirus and the government’s handling of the pandemic. He is now lying about lying.” And Lockhart, who was White House press secretary for part of President Bill Clinton’s second term, put special blame on the current press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. When asked, “McEnany had the gall to say, ‘The President has never lied to the American public on Covid.’ That is patently false … McEnany reneged on the promise she made to reporters on her first day as press secretary when she said she would never lie to them.”
The other controversy
In any other White House, the Woodward book controversy would be the biggest challenge of the month — or possibly, year. But the administration was in fact trying to quash two hugely damaging stories in the past week — the other resulting from Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article describing derisive comments Trump allegedly made in private about members of the US military who died or were wounded on duty.
The President denied making such statements. But they rang true for many observers who have seen Trump’s interactions with top military leaders and veterans such as the late Sen. John McCain, who was badly injured and endured more than five years as a prisoner of war — and yet was mocked by Trump for having been captured.
“While President Trump thrills to the ceremonial aspects of his role as commander in chief,” wrote Peter Bergen, “he finds it very hard to empathize with or comprehend the ethic of self-sacrifice that is at the core of military service.”
Frida Ghitis wrote, “He may like the big, powerful machines, and the military parades (but reportedly without amputees, since ‘Nobody wants to see that.’) But when it comes to protecting, respecting, and understanding the people who make the choice to serve the country, Trump is AWOL.”
For more on politics:
Dean Obeidallah: Nikki Haley’s risky move defending Trump
Jonathan Reiner: The American people deserve to know about Trump’s Walter Reed visit
Catherine Powell and Camille Gear Rich: Two anniversaries Trump is dishonoring
Make haste slowly
President Trump said Monday that an “incredible vaccine” against the virus that causes Covid-19 is going to be ready soon — and possibly by the end of October. Medical experts have cautioned that it will almost certainly take longer. And this week AstraZeneca briefly paused its clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine while it looked into the illness of a volunteer participant.
“The reason for all this caution is not political,” wrote infectious disease specialist Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. “It’s not because scientists are a bunch of feeble worrywarts. Rather, it is because the history of vaccines is full of alarming missteps.” Citing a number of serious issues with vaccine rollouts in the past, he added, “If rushed, the likeliest result of October vaccinations of whatever product is used will be November fevers and sore arms and headaches — and perhaps even lawsuits and actual harm. Any politically motivated grab for a quick fix once again will be stymied by reality.”
In Canada, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per capita is less than a fifth of the level in the US, and Michael Bociurkiw wrote that one theory to explain the difference is that Canadians, who “entered confederation with the motto ‘peace, order and good government’ are much more compliant than our southern neighbors with their attachment to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ — even if it means potentially killing others by refusing to wear masks in the name of freedom.”
The sun never rose
“Dawn was murky, and by 8 a.m., it seemed to get darker,” wrote Tess Taylor, on Wednesday from the Bay Area. “It was as if the sun never rose.” Living through her fourth consecutive “fire and smoke season” in California, Taylor and her family are like millions of others navigating a worrisome reality.
“In case you’re wondering, the decision tree when the sky resembles Mordor during a fire and smoke storm that also happens to be during a pandemic looks like this,” she reported. “Check the air, send the kids to carefully chosen pods where rotating masked parents trade off watching masked kids learn outdoors. Go home. Try to get some work done. If the air quality gets too bad, get the kids. Juggle again. Feel lucky even to have these options. Be grateful that everyone is still safe enough.”
Another writer from Northern California, Matthew Albracht, is mourning what’s been lost in the fires. “This year, at least for me, the stark reality is finally settling in: this isn’t going away. So much of what I love about this magnificent area, both physically and emotionally, is already gone or seriously damaged … So many magnificent creatures gone. The pristine land itself scorched and scarred, millions of acres with countless trees, including redwoods more than a thousand years old.”
9/11 and unity
The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 arrived as Americans coped with the widespread illness and loss of life resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. “Though the present situation is different in many ways, the war on terror offers a useful model for the years ahead,” wrote Jonah Bader. “Mindful of the many pitfalls of that effort, we should nevertheless learn from its example and gird ourselves for another long-term fight, fortifying our government agencies and bringing the international community together in a concerted campaign against this shared global threat.”
Farah Pandith and Jacob Ware, who study extremism, wrote that “the threat against America today is no less serious than it was in 2001. A steady drumbeat of violence continues — just enough to ensure that our society never quite feels completely safe. Now, it has metastasized to include an alarming amount of evil actors within.” The US needs “a comprehensive strategy to fight hate, with the effort focusing on countering Us vs. Them ideologies” and “marginalizing those who engage in hate speech, with better intervention efforts to protect young internet users and people with mental disorders.”
Mansoor T. Shams was an active duty US Marine when hijackers crashed planes into New York’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. “I, like any other American, sat horrified, confused and frustrated.” It was “heart wrenching” to learn that the terrorists wrongly claimed to be acting in the name of his Muslim faith.
In the months following the attacks, Shams said he saw signs of bigotry and suspicion directed against him by some fellow Marines.
“Let’s honor those innocent lives lost, together, hand in hand, in solidarity as Americans. But whatever you do, please don’t bring our Muslim faith into it. Because if you do, you are not only disrespecting my honorable service to this nation but every Muslim American living or dead who has given their all (whether in uniform or without) to this America.”
For more on national unity:
John R. Hibbing: The reason America’s two sides can’t agree
Justin Gest and Wendy Feliz: Our country is tearing itself apart. Here’s one way to bring people together
Miles Taylor served in the Trump administration as chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security. Now he is revealing what went on behind the scenes.
When the department’s top intelligence official told Congress that “Moscow had sought to sow discord in the United States in 2016 and had shown a preference for Trump,” word reached the President and he demanded the official’s firing, Taylor wrote.
“We were astounded. All the man had done was tell the truth. But seemingly consumed with fear about the ‘collusion’ narrative and the Russia investigation, the President was dead set on burying the truth by attempting to purge those who embraced it. After a late-night scramble of phone calls — and with the help of senior aides at the White House — we kept the President from tweet-firing the head of DHS intelligence.”
In 2020, US intelligence officials have said, Russia is mounting an anti-Biden disinformation operation. But in doing so, is the Vladimir Putin regime making a wise move, asked Peter B. Zwack, a retired Brigadier General who was the US defense attache to Russia from 2012-2014. Yes, Russia has derived benefits from Trump’s presidency, but if Biden wins, it could face much more determined opposition from the US.
“Putin may remain in power through 2036, but tenuously so,” noted Zwack. “Might he begin to see advantages to improving its relationship with the West? Could Russia’s increasingly restive and demographically challenged population, shaky economy and vast, hard-to-defend borders motivate the Kremlin to opt for better relations and a less stressful dynamic both internationally and domestically?”
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RIP Diana Rigg
Viewers who only knew Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell in “Game of Thrones” have a lot of binge watching to do. As David Bianculli pointed out, the actress who died this week at 82 became famous in 1966 as Mrs. Emma Peel in “The Avengers,” “a tongue in cheek Sixties spy spoof.”
“Rigg played her as a very liberated modern woman, decked out in wildly colored catsuits and fighting villains handily, with her own hands, as a martial arts expert at a time when very few female protagonists on TV did anything but cower when the fighting started.” She went on to star on stage in Shakespeare, on screen in James Bond and in meaty roles in television miniseries.
In 1989, when she became the host of the PBS “Mystery!” series, Bianculli met Rigg on the TV critics’ press tour and has an extraordinary tale to tell about what happened next. Read his appreciation of Rigg to find out.