I’m wild again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I
Rodgers & Hart 1940
Forgive me. I’m going to break my pledge (which you didn’t even know about but, I hope, may have sensed and welcomed). About a week ago I told myself that I’d lay off my decades-long custom of writing criticism of whatever seemed bothersome to me and, instead, offer up nothing but positive, hopeful pieces “for the duration” of this pandemic. And I’ve been doing that. But today I just have to fall off that wagon for a moment.
A few minutes ago I turned off the morning news and stepped into the shower. The news had utterly stupefied me. No wonder those lines from the showstopper in “Pal Joey” are what came to mind as I rotated slowly under the cascade of warm water, trying fruitlessly to make sense of what I had just heard (again) (again) (again):
The President of the United States activated the Defense Production Act (DPA) a week ago to give him the power to order—order—manufacturers in the United States to immediately begin all-out production of the specific medical items that would save thousands of lives during the coronavirus pandemic. Governors and medical authorities from coast to coast are literally begging him to say the word—the word he has the power to utter at any instant. And yet he chooses to ignore their pleas, refusing to issue any such order, insisting that everything is going as fast as it could without such federal intervention (which he blatantly mischaracterizes as “nationalizing” those companies).
Hordes of officials and medical leaders, including the political odd couple of Governor Mario Cuomo of New York to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas are my partners in this stupefaction:
Cuomo: “Only the federal government has that power, and not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me.”
Cruz: “In this moment you should not hesitate to use the significant powers of the Defense Production Act […] to do what is necessary to ensure that Americans who contract this virus are not denied life-saving care because hospitals lack the appropriate machinery. Time is of the essence.”
Perhaps you, like me (and the Governor and the Senator), are puzzled by President Trump’s failure to simply speak the command that would immediately mobilize what is left of America’s manufacturing capacity in an all-out effort to “flatten the curve” by ramping up the lifesaving clinical tools of protection, detection, prevention, and cure.
Well, the hideous truth is that he may have waited too long. The American companies in the business of producing these critical items are already turbocharged, and others whose production capacities can readily be converted to making them are already getting started. But it would take many months and maybe a year or more to acquire and assemble everything that is needed to start from scratch to build a manufacturing process and train a staff who could add significantly to our stockpile—perhaps coming on line just as the crisis recedes.
For a more comprehensive, well-reasoned overview than I can offer you of the perplexing pro’s and con’s of this DPA issue, click on this Washington Post link:https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/25/is-trump-using-defense-production-act/
No matter how well-balanced and factual the WashPo piece is, it can’t help revealing to us “what might have been” if the Trump administration had been attuned to such important matters all along and taken timely action.
And I’m really more interested in pondering why “what might have been” didn’t happen. I have been captivated by curiosity about human psychology as long as I can remember. My childhood questions that began with “Why…?” were most often about someone’s behavior. During my teen years, I wrote about how I imagined this newfangled thing called “TV” was going to affect human beings individually and societally. Later, I dove into studies of psychology in all three of my degrees in higher education.
Eventually, my enduring respect for the inescapable effect of each individual’s own psychological makeup nudged me away from firing off any more rants about the absurdity of Donald Trump’s many ridiculous and/or dangerous statements and actions as President. I finally and painfully recalled the words of a favorite hero, John W. Gardner, who once dismissed venting like mine as “high IQ whining on a cosmic scale”. He always reminds me that whining is no substitute for seeking to understand and to contribute something.
That prompted me to write few pieces trying to think through how Donald Trump may have become who he is (e.g., https://eliotdaley.com/why-donald-trump-lies-so-much/) Surely, he was not born this way, whatever “this way” may mean. But for the life of me, no matter how hard I try to marshal whatever tools of understanding human behavior I have acquired, I simply cannot comprehend how or why this man is seemingly so utterly immune to facts and hostile to truth. Facts, and truth. Is there really an alternate universe with “alternative facts” of which I am unaware? Who lives there?
Surely everyone who is paying attention at all knows how immune this coronavirus is to Trump’s wishful thinking about its spontaneously abating in time for Easter. Everyone knows that the robust economy which is his main boast will not and cannot return unless we “flatten the curve” through millions of tests which will reveal the dynamics of where and how it’s active, so tactical patterns of suppression can be launched. Everyone knows that his firing in 2018 of the White House team expertly equipped to detect and respond swiftly to emerging pandemics was unspeakably witless and will now cost many people their lives. Everyone else knows, so why doesn’t he?
Oh. No. Not true. Everyone else does not know.
Or, more chilling yet, everyone else does know but find themselves driven to forgive, forget, or discount the grievous mismanagement of this crisis by this President. How else to explain the latest Gallup poll showing 60% of Americans actually approve of the way he’s “managing” it? How to explain the recent leap in approval of his overall performance as President, from its unbudgingly static 43% to some 50% or more now?
Somehow his utterances this past month—to so many well-informed minds almost maniacally wishful and/or deceitful and/or simply false—are eliciting a widespread Bush-like “You are doing a hell of a job, Donnie!” It was soon evident that Brownie wasn’t really doing a hell of a job managing the Katrina catastrophe then, and neither is Donnie doing a hell of a managing the coronavirus catastrophe right now. That now-legendary “somebody” Trump famously boasted he could forgivably shoot dead on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is now legion—more than a dozen corpses lying in a refrigerator truck at 79-01 Broadway in Queens, outside the Elmhurst Hospital. When the history of this calamity is written by sober and truthful minds, there will be no doubt that Donald Trump’s bungling “leadership” cost many Americans their very lives.
But that just doesn’t seem to register, to matter, to be a judgment that a majority of the Americans Gallup polled can stomach, can dare to see and cope with. Is Trump’s unholy lethal stew of nonfeasance, misfeasance, and malfeasance really acceptable to most Americans? Yes? Really? Is this what we mean by “the fog of war”—that it literally confounds our ability to discern what is and is not happening?
Well, I warned you right up front: I’m bewitched, bothered, and definitely bewildered today. I have just proved it beyond any doubt. So I’m going to bail out of this hopelessly garbled piece and try to make amends by creating a little game you can play during Donald Trump’s next few daily coronavirus press briefings.
I told you I studied some psychology, and at one point I learned a lot about blinking. We normally blink about 15 times per minute, to keep our eyes moist. When our blink patterns change significantly, it’s a function not of physiology but psychology. It a signal that our intellect and emotions are reacting (largely unconsciously) to what we are seeing or hearing. When Donald Trump next speaks, flanked by his coronavirus team, observe the blink patterns of the genuine medical experts. Exaggerated blinking is a sure “tell” that they are resisting what he is saying, that they are trying to disappear, to fly away, to dissociate themselves from his tragically misleading, misguided palaver.
In particular, note the blinking pattern of Dr. Deborah Birx, the hugely respected leader whose success in dealing with the HIV/AIDS plague prompted her inclusion as part of his coronavirus team. When Trump is talking, her blinking is rapid-fire and nonstop, except for occasional moments when she actually holds her eyes closed beyond a blink to shut herself away. By contrast, when Dr. Anthony Fauci is speaking truth to us and to power, she relaxes into the much more modulated normal pace of 15 blinks per minutes. Enjoy. And for God’s sake, don’t let Trump know I told you about her. He’d fire her in the blink of an eye.
Okay, I apologize. That’s the best I can do for today. Perhaps by tomorrow this simpering, whimpering child will be recombobulated.