Voting: The Last Stand for Democracy

The United States is in a dangerous, unpredictable situation. Trump, as I’ve been writing about in this blog for sometime now, is a clear and present danger to American democracy. He’s systematically been chipping away at the institutions that are designed to protect us from tyranny. 

He’s proven time and time again to be incapable of leading the country, unwilling to represent the whole country, and more than willing to shatter norm after norm on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. He has no empathy for the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their lives in this pandemic –most of which were preventable had he acted based on the science and with the full force of the federal government. To this day, approaching 7 months into this pandemic, we still have no national strategy or plan. 

The checks and balances in the federal government haven’t worked. For Republicans, the concept of “country over party” is part of the old order. Trump is the Republican Party. His campaign literally has no platform other than getting him re-elected. 

The stakes for the 2020 election could not be overemphasized. The literal fate of our democracy is on the line. Think of the millions of Americans who died fighting to protect and defend this country. According to Trump, these Americans were “losers” and “suckers.” This is nothing new, just look at how he attacked the late John McCain and by extension, the entire POW/MIA organization: he’s likes soldiers “who don’t get captured,” not to mention his attacks on Gold Star families. When news broke that Russia was putting bounties on the heads of American soldiers, he ignored it. Months later, he still hasn’t said a thing about it. He hasn’t said a single bad thing about Putin, a man who views America as his mortal enemy.

Trump’s an agent of chaos, as we all see on a day-by-day basis. An entire coalition of mental health professionals have told us he’s a malignant narcissist, also known as a sociopath. His former officials and even his family members have spoke out, warning us of how dangerous he is. 

Unfortunately for us, his supporters don’t care what he says or does. They’re so brainwashed by their right-wing media sources, Facebook groups, and from Trump himself, they either dismiss any negative information as “fake news” or if it’s irrefutable, they twist and contort it to fit their worldview, completely detached from reality. So there’s no swaying them. They’ll vote for Trump no matter what. He could declare himself dictator tomorrow and it would be hard to find MAGA followers who would have a problem with it. 

Trump and his Republican thugs have been actively subverting the bedrock of democracy: free and fair elections. They’ve engaged in gerrymandering, closing polling stations in parts of the country likely to vote Democratic, by literally destroying the United States Postal Service’s infrastructure to slow down mail in voting, by casting unsupported claims of voter fraud, and by refusing to pass legislation in the Senate to protect our elections from foreign interference. 

The fate of American democracy is in our hands. We cannot depend on some group of federal officials to save us. The only way out of this is by voting. It’s our civic duty to get out and vote. In 2016, over 100 millions eligible voters didn’t turn out to vote. Trump got 60 million votes and Clinton got 60.5 million votes. We need to tap into that massive group of 100 million eligible voters. We all know people in our lives who belong to this group.

If you know what’s at stake and understand the consequences, you have an obligation to do everything in your power to get as many of your family and friends registered to vote. We need to be more assertive than simply giving a friendly reminder. We need to show them how to register, follow up with their registration process, and help them follow through with actually casting their vote. 

The best option is voting in person, obviously making sure to take precautions such as wearing a mask. If you think you’ll have trouble voting on Election Day, consider voting early. If you have to vote by mail, it’s critical you submit your ballot as early as possible.

We need to communicate all of this to our family and friends who may be politically apathetic. Some people are under the illusion that a fascist state can’t happen in America –thinking that’s just something that happens in other countries or not understanding how civics works. If you’re reading this, you’re not one of the apathetic. We just need to convince the people around us that we’re on the verge on losing our country.

Trump has already expressed he’s not going to accept the results of the election if he loses. He just told a reporter earlier in the week that he’ll “have to see what happens.” This is absolutely unprecedented, yet in Trump’s America it was just another Monday. 

We cannot depend on Congress or the Supreme Court to work this out. We need to have an overwhelming voter turnout to cast this sociopath out of power. There’s no top-level working group who’s going to miraculously save us. We have to save ourselves by doing our civic duty and voting. We cannot be the generation of Americans who stood by and did nothing. This is truly the last stand for democracy. Once we lose it, it’s gone.

If you’ve ever read a history book or watched a movie about some existential conflict and thought to yourself, “If I was in that situation, I would do x, y,  or z.” Well, this is your real-life chance to be a part of saving the country. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s the reality we’re living in. Remember what Abraham Lincoln said during at Gettysburg, addressing a country in a state of existential crisis. Those same people who died preserving the Union and the hundreds of thousands who died defending our constitution –our way of life– “shall not have died in vain.”

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address. November 19, 1863

Coronavirus in the US: An Unmitigated Disaster

The coronavirus has devastated the United States, as well most of the world. The first confirmed coronavirus case in the US just passed its 3-month mark. And it’s been about 7 weeks since we surpassed 100 cases. Since then, we’ve been experiencing an exponential growth of confirmed cases. Since our testing is still so inadequate, we’re likely only seeing a fraction of how bad the coronavirus has hit the country.

While we’re enduring this ongoing nightmare with the rest of the world, that’s about as far as our common, global experience goes. The era of American exceptionalism is over, and it’s never been more apparent. Since Trump took office, our standing on the world stage has fallen. All it took was one grossly incompetent president and a political party willing to not only look the other way but serve to actively enable and empower him.

The Republican Party is essentially the MAGA Party. This mutation started way before Trump. It began with right-wing talk radio and later with the rise of Fox News. To call it a news organization is like calling the WWE a professional sports organization. It’s politically-driven entertainment, produced and served by hosts who are not there to inform but to misinform. To be fair, Fox does have real journalists –they’re just sequestered to daytime slots. The primetime slots go to the opinion hosts –not journalists— who spend their time promoting and defending Trump, while attacking anyone they deem as a threat to Trump. When historians look back and analyze how the era of American exceptionalism ended, Fox News will be considered one of the driving factors.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and his allies at Fox had a relatively easy time creating an alternative reality for their viewers. Whether it be children locked up in cages at the border or Trump asking Ukraine for a quid pro quo, they could always manage to still raise doubt amongst their viewers by omitting facts and spinning the facts they couldn’t omit in their favor. Trump is infamous for his habitual lying. Most Trump supporters only get their information from Fox, other right-wing media sources, or from directly from Trump’s mouth. This cycle of misinformation is the foundation of Trump’s rise to power.

For the average American, their daily lives weren’t directly impacted by Trump and the right-wing propaganda machine. That all changed, however, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which first broke out in Wuhan, China. So, for the first time in his presidency, Trump was faced with a once-in-a-century public health crisis that he couldn’t talk his way out of. However, that hasn’t stopped him from trying.

As we’ve now learned, he was repeatedly warned about a public health crisis that could only be compared to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic with socioeconomic consequences only comparable to the Great Depression. He was warned not only by US intelligence agencies and public health officials, but by his own trusted advisors and his own Health and Human Services secretary. The only partially preventative action he took was banning Chinese nationals from entering the US in late January, but the order wasn’t executed until February 2, 2020. The first confirmed case in the US was recorded on January 22, 2020. The coronavirus was already in the country, being spread person to person with no federally sanctioned containment efforts.

Trump spent the month of February actively misinforming the American people. He downplayed the virus: calling it nothing more than the flu, saying the 15 cases we had in late January would miraculously drop to 0, and even called the virus a “hoax” created by alarmist Democrats and a “fake news” media. While the country continued moving toward disaster, Trump not only did nothing to prepare us but acted only to hurt any potential preparations by lying and downplaying, as if he truly believed his own delusional rhetoric.

Other than his inability to grasp the big picture, which effects long-term planning, Trump pushed his misinformation to not spook the stock market, as if they weren’t going to find out about it. It’s part nefarious, part delusional. He was “furious” with the CDC when they gave updates on the virus because the warnings “spooked” the markets. With Ukraine, he put his personal political interest ahead of our national security. With the coronavirus pandemic, he put the economy ahead of an unprecedented public health threat for his own personal political interest. And his priority has been on the economy ever since.

While the majority of Americans were growing alarmed by the facts from the actual news, Fox News and other right-wing media sources were echoing Trump’s misinformation. They were not only irresponsible in playing games with a serious novel virus, they were putting their viewers at risk.

In March, the coronavirus was simply becoming too big to deny, so he pivoted and said it was completely under control. He spent the month of March doing a lot of talking and making a lot of promises, but there was no real action taken. The White House taskforce, led by Mike Pence, continuously made weekly promises on coronavirus testing  –a critical tool for identifying cases, clusters, and gauging the overall size of the outbreak– but never got it done.

Yet still, the right-wing propaganda machine minimized the threat every single morning on Fox and Friends and every night during primetime. They had morally compromised celebrity doctors, such as Dr. Drew comparing the coronavirus to the flu. “The entire problem we’re having is due to panic, not the [corona]virus,” Drew claimed on the Laura Ingraham show. He continued to a grinning Ingraham, “The flu virus in this country is vastly more consequential and nobody is talking about it. Again, once the coronavirus became too big to deny, Drew walked back his comments.  

By this point, most states realized there was no one steering the ship that was headed straight toward an iceberg. Just like the Titanic disaster, the Titanic’s captain was forewarned about the icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean but chose to discard the warning. Since there was no action by Trump, governors took control of the situation as best they could. They essentially lowered their respective life rafts and did what they could to mitigate the spread of the virus and prepare for the worst. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made a bold and unprecedented decision to put his entire state on a stay-at-home order. While this was a new move in the US, it’s what other countries were already doing: quarantining the public to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

The coronavirus has no cure, no vaccine, and the public has no natural immunity since it’s a novel virus. Since the possibility of containing the virus came and went in the first two months of the year, the only option left was mitigation: reducing social contact to reduce the contagion and therefore give state health systems the ability to handle the surge of hospitalizations.

New York City, the most densely populated city in the US, rapidly became the epicenter of the coronavirus not just for the US, but for the world. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo (D), quickly began issuing executive orders to steadily ramp down the workforce, systematically reducing the non-essential workforce until March 22, 2020, when the entire state was put on a stay-at-home order. Cuomo, like Trump, held daily press briefings, but didn’t mince words or downplay the seriousness of the virus. He clearly communicated his plan, briefed the public on the reality of the situation based on current projections, and displayed compassion. For most of the country desperate for strong leadership, Cuomo quickly became a household name.  

On the radio waves, the misinformation campaign was led by Rush Limbaugh, who just a few months earlier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump during the State of the Union. He told his millions of listeners “this virus is the common cold” and “all this panic is unwarranted.” He attacked Cuomo for his initial quarantine of the city of New Rochelle, NY, where the first major outbreak occurred in the state: “Do you think Andrew Cuomo knows what’s best for you? He put this little quarantine around New Rochelle. I mean, it’s just, this is just — too much of this, to me, appears to be made-to-order for objectives that have long been held by the American left, the Democrat Party, the media, what have you.”

By March 30, 2020, there were 30 states that issued stay at home orders. On April 1, 2020, statistical modelers working with the White House taskforce, estimated that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would likely die from the coronavirus, even with mitigation efforts (e.g. social distancing). Today, April 25, 2020, there are 42 states with stay at home orders. With most of the country essentially shut down, the White House taskforce altered their death projection to approximately 60,000 Americans –a number we’re rapidly approaching.

Modeling is dependent on data. The more data a modeler has, the more accurate the prediction. It’s like when a hurricane emerges in the tropics and there are dozens of different models predicting its path. The more time that passes, the more data that’s accumulated, and the more accurate the models become. However, a significant difference between a hurricane and contagion is we have the ability to mitigate the impact of an outbreak with social distancing (e.g. stay at home orders). It’s a simple concept: a virus that’s spread person to person will spread less when people are separated and therefore less people will become infected.

We should have been better prepared to deal with this pandemic. Some of the reasons we weren’t can be traced directly back to Trump. When every warning alarm was sounded, it fell to deaf ears. The Obama Administration, having dealt with their own pandemics, created a “pandemic playbook,” which created a step-by-step guide on how the federal government should proactively respond to an emerging pandemic. The playbook was never opened by the Trump administration. Trump ignored the warnings like a tooth ache –what could have been resolved by a filling soon required a root canal, and what could have been resolved by a root canal resulted in the loss of the tooth.

We’re now at a dangerous crossroads when it comes to the coronavirus. Since a majority of the country has been shut down, the projections improved. And since the projections improved, some people, aided by misinformation, make the false assumption that the coronavirus really isn’t as bad as we thought. The transmission of the coronavirus didn’t just magically dissipate. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of why the projections improved: they improved because most of the states decided to shut down.

However, having states shut down has consequently led to unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. There are millions of Americans out of work, which has led to Congress passing the CARES Act, which among other things, added an additional $600 a week in income to people on unemployment (on top of whatever they collect from state unemployment benefits). The problem is many Americans have been unable to collect their unemployment benefits due to systems that were designed to deal with a fraction of the claims.

There’s also been a vocal minority of Trump supporters protesting against stay at home orders in states across the country. The protests can partly be traced back to Fox News and right-wing media rhetoric about the decision to shut down states in the first place. Back in late March, as coronavirus cases were rapidly climbing, Fox News host Brit Hume literally told his viewers that it was “entirely reasonable” that the elderly –those most at risk of dying from the coronavirus—would be willing to die to save the economy. This kind of inhumane rhetoric has bounced around right-wing media circles since then.

The protests truly started to rev up once Trump began sending out tweets in rapid succession on April 17, 2020: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE VIRIGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” The President of the United States told American citizens to “liberate” their states. Just let that sink in for a moment. All of these tweets were directed at states with Democratic governors. This brought out all kinds of different fringe groups, most of them Trump supporters, who can easily be identified with the MAGA hats, MAGA and Trump flags, and even some Confederate and Nazi flags.

These are the self-declared “patriots” who claim they’re being ruled by tyrant state governors. In the middle of a pandemic, Trump incited mass protests when people are supposed to be social distancing. This will more than likely cause infections to rise in those states in the coming week. Most people were not wearing masks and most people weren’t socially distancing. It was a collection of every right-wing fringe group in America, from anti-vaxxers to neo-Nazis to your average brainwashed Fox News viewer. They held signs saying things like “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Don’t tread on me” –phrases from the Revolutionary War, and most recently the Tea Party movement, which has folded into the MAGA Party.

You would think these states shut down for no reason. And if they’re unable to think rationally, why wouldn’t they think that? They have blind loyalty to Trump and will believe whatever he says, no matter how crazy or absurd he gets. Then Trump’s rhetoric is echoed by a right-wing propaganda machine that misinforms them. Some of them still believe the coronavirus is a hoax, as if the entire medical community is part of a grand conspiracy to take away their rights.

Who’s really living under a repressive system: the Trump supporter who act against their own best interest? These are the same people who call non-Trump supporters “sheep,” yet when their dear leader told them to liberate, they left the safety of their home and put themselves at risk in support of an idiotic protest. Trump thinks a strong economy will get him re-elected, which is why he’s instigating protests to reopen. He doesn’t care about the public health; he only cares about himself. He put his own supporters in danger to put pressure on governors to reopen their states for his own self interest. They are the sheep, being led by their false shepherd to the slaughterhouse.

These aren’t patriots, they’re ignorant and selfish idiots. They walk around with their assault rifles and their tactical gear, as if they’re going into battle. The people going into battle and confronting death are the healthcare workers, not these selfish cowards.

Most Americans are in support of a careful and measured response to the coronavirus. You don’t see counter protests because the rational Americans understand the coronavirus is serious and they’re staying at home. That’s what it means to be a responsible American. The rational majority knows that not listening to scientists and experts will make the situation worse. They understand that they may not die from the coronavirus, but they can pass it onto other Americans who can get sick and die. They respect and appreciate the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save their fellow Americans, regardless of their politics. There were a few counter protestors: nurses in scrubs and their masks, standing their ground against the Trump supporters because they know better than anyone how serious the coronavirus is. They know as long as this pandemic is a threat to our society, they’re the ones who will have to put themselves at risk because of irrational behavior.

The protests have continued popping up across the country. Trump has done nothing to stop them. He’s the one who incited the civil unrest. When asked about it during his daily briefings, he said the protestors “seem very responsible to me,” as we can all see the video evidence of mass congregations of ignorant, brainwashed Americans who are not social distancing and the majority are not wearing masks.

The great irony of the Trump supporters protesting is Trump, as the head of the federal government, is responsible for how bad this pandemic hit the US. Trump never listened to the warnings, never followed the advice of the experts, and when it was too late to contain it, he never took a leadership role in mitigating the disaster. He pawned off all responsibility onto the governors because, like all of his failed businesses, he’s incapable of managing anything. He also pawned off the responsibility for governors to decide to shut their states down because he thinks he doesn’t have to take any blame for the pandemic. If things go well, he’ll take credit. If things go bad, he’ll blame the governors as he’s already done.

Trump can blame whoever he wants. At the end of the day, the majority of Americans have witnessed enough to understand we’ve gone through, and are still going through, a crisis without a leader. They know this is the United States of America. That’s why he have a federal government: to unite the states for the people’s collective interests.

To put it into context, the US makes up about 4% of the world population. However, the US has approximately 33% of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases: the US (902,072) currently has over four times as many cases as the second hardest-hit country, Spain (219,764). And the US has 24% of the world’s coronavirus deaths: the US (46,243) currently has more than twice the number of deaths than the second-hardest hit country in coronavirus deaths, Italy (25,969).

This is what losing looks like. This is what happens when an unqualified, narcissistic idiot becomes the president. The presidency is not a reality TV show, it’s reality. This is what happens when you don’t listen to experts and scientists because they make your fragile ego feel inferior. This is what happens when you don’t value the facts and the truth.

Source: Vox analysis of Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University data, through April 22; Financial Times

The irony of the slogans “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great” is lost on the loud-mouth minority of this country who are still Trump supporters, but it’s not lost on the rational majority.

Any American who still supports Trump after his complete abdication of constitutional duties is no patriot. You’re either ignorant, a fascist, or likely both. You can wave your American flags all you want, it doesn’t make you a patriot. During his last press briefing he talked about injecting disinfectant inside the body and lungs to kill the virus. A child knows Lysol doesn’t go inside your body. If you support an idiot, you are an idiot. You can be forgiven for making the mistake of voting for him, but there’s no forgiveness for continuing to support him.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Activate the Defense Production Act NOW

The novel coronavirus has put the country in the throes of a crisis, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II. This crisis doesn’t require bombs and bullets; it requires personal protective equipment (PPE), tests, and ventilators.

During World War II, the federal government was producing up to one bomber plane an hour in plants that were previously used to produce cars. It’s been nearly a week since Trump enacted the Defense Production Act, but the powers have yet to be wielded.

The Defense Production Act gives the president the power to demand factories to produce the PPE, tests, and ventilators the country desperately needs. The need has been here for weeks. Trump has said, “let’s wait and see.” Wait and see? The projections have come to fruition and future projections are imminent and much worse. Trump says if we should “wait and see,” as if he could snap his fingers and all the needed supplies would instantly appear.

It takes time to get plants setup to begin manufacturing new equipment. It takes time to manufacture the equipment. It takes time to distribute the equipment. Time is something we don’t have.

“Wait and see” is reactionary. It’s not the strategic approach that’s needed during times of war or crisis. We can’t afford to be reactionary —we must be proactive. We know the surge is coming. FEMA has already declared New York a major disaster zone. The time for decisive action to arm our frontline soldiers in this war —our healthcare providers— is now. The time to produce ventilators to keep our citizens alive is now.

Trump needs to use his authority, under the Defense Production Act, to produce these critical supplies NOW.