Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the efforts of white people in the confederate states to rewrite history after the Civil War. Combined with a reign of terror, they were largely successful in re-establishing white supremacy, as we have seen in their defense of things like confederate statues and flags over the last few years. Just this week, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a proclamation declaring April to be “Confederate Heritage Month.”
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, we’re witnessing a similar attempt to rewrite our recent history with this pandemic. While many of us have been horrified at the way Donald Trump denied the threat during the first two crucial months of its spread here in the United States, his enablers in right-wing news are spreading propaganda like this, which comes from Brian Kennedy.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s instincts have been far superior to the mass of government health care professionals who, to varying degrees, seem to have either their own agenda, were ill-prepared, or were trapped in a bureaucratic mindset that prevented them from addressing the crisis. This matters because we are about to engage in a full-throated debate over when to re-open the U.S. economy. Here is the common-sense case for doing it at the end of April.
That is the opening paragraph of an article titled, “The Case for Getting Back to Work.” As he indicates, Kennedy doesn’t make the case by consulting experts to determine whether it’s safe to go back to work. Instead, he completely rewrites the history of what happened.
[W]e have compromised the health of the economy, put millions of Americans out of work, and destroyed businesses. In the process, we have exposed a deep flaw in our national response system that must be addressed. Namely, the experts had it wrong, as they often do. The government’s medical professionals misunderstood the virus, misspoke about it in the media, and undercut the president. After initially being caught flat-footed, they overcorrected and caused panic and confusion while insisting that our only choice was a destructive economic shutdown. Once launched, there were no mechanisms to bring the public back from the brink of total lockdown lest it was thought that the president was favoring the economy over human life.
That is the kind of argument we’re seeing permeate the entire right-wing media ecosystem right now. What it comes down to is an attempt to suggest that the experts overhyped the threat, Trump handled the crisis perfectly, and it’s all over now so we can get back to work. That is certainly the theme we’re seeing at Fox News.
Fox News in lockstep tonight: The war against coronavirus is over pic.twitter.com/npGxP7UVNu
— John Whitehouse+ (@existentialfish) April 8, 2020
Of course, any theme that dominates right-wing news is going to be echoed by the president.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump is preparing to announce another coronavirus task force. This one will be focused on making recommendations about reopening the nation’s economy. But rather than staffing the task force with experts on pandemics, the names being mentioned include people like chief of staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Just to be clear, here is how badly Kudlow missed the mark back in February.
— CNBC (@CNBC) February 25, 2020
It is worth noting what the president would hear if he listened to the people who actually know something about how to recover from a pandemic. Aaron Carrol summarized four criteria outlined in a report from the American Enterprise Institute titled, “National Coronavirus Response: A Roadmap to Reopening.”
- Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care.
- A state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms.
- The state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts.
There must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.
The first one is self-explanatory. But the remaining three rely on a national plan for testing and monitoring.
A robust system of contact tracing and isolation is the only thing that can prevent an outbreak and a resulting lockdown from recurring. Every time an individual tests positive, the public health infrastructure needs to be able to determine whom that person has been in close contact with, find those people, and have them go into isolation or quarantine until it’s established they aren’t infected, too.
That is very similar to what was initially needed to contain the virus, which this administration failed to do because the president was so focused on denial. The same kind of system is needed now for us to be confident that reopening the economy will not trigger another outbreak. Instead, this administration is ending federal support for coronavirus testing sites.
I have no doubt that over the next three weeks Trump will announce the easing of federal restrictions. He will do so based on the propaganda being spread by right-wing media and the advice of people like Kudlow. That will surely lead to yet another massive failure by this president. But he can always count on his enablers to rewrite history.