Mr. Trump Has Given A Masterful Lesson In Washing His Hands — Of Leadership. If We Want National Leaders Who Will Prepare Us For And Lead Us Through The Next Crisis, We Must Take Every Opportunity To Rebut Trump’s Scapegoating, His Blame-Shifting, His Strawman False Narratives

Untitled, Oil on Panel, 18” x 26”, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

Some people, even on the left, are suggesting that the middle of this crisis is not the time to criticize Mr. Trump or politicize his failures, that we “are in this together” and must all pull in the same direction, thinking only positive thoughts and praying fervently so god will bestow wisdom on Mr. Trump. No one read that memo to Mr. Trump, and when it comes to Mr. Trump even god can do only so much.

If we want national leaders who will prepare us for the next crisis, we must challenge Mr. Trump’s blame-shifting, strawman, false narratives at every turn. Otherwise, he will control the message, and some people outside his base might believe his bullsh!t. Imagining Mr. Trump scapegoating his way through our next crisis to massive — but preventable and unnecessary — death, destruction and human suffering isn’t that hard to do.

South Korea learned of its first case the same day Mr. Trump learned of the first case in the United States. Apparently Mr. Trump is too stupid to anticipate simple cause and effect — what a pandemic could do to the only thing he cares about, his ace-in-the-hole for re-election: a thriving economy, yes, the one President Obama saved and delivered to him after the last Republican president did everything he could to destroy it. Arriving 70-days late to a ravaging crisis and having been easily outsmarted by a glob of genetic material that doesn’t have a brain but has only one purpose — survival — Trump blundered into his post-hoc singular strategy for his own survival — to take no ownership or responsibility for managing the crisis he wasn’t smart enough to contain, to announce that the federal government is “backup” to the states with no primary role in crisis or emergency management, to shift responsibility to and blame others while watching the destruction with an eye toward personal profiteering. Speaking of thoroughly washing one’s hands . . . .

This, despite the powers of the presidency and the tools delivered by Congress to the executive in times of “national emergency — two very big words,” according to Mr. Trump — when states lack the capacity and resources to meet the challenges. No one (other than South Korea, for example) could have foreseen this crisis or its devastation, according to Mr. Trump after claiming he knew this would become a pandemic before anyone else even knew what the word meant. Now he blames blue states for being unprepared, and bestows substantial emergency medical supplies and personal protection equipment on red and swing states.

So let’s see where we are. Trump’s inability to understand, or refusal to pay attention to, intelligence briefings and the advice of medical professionals has thrown into disarray normative thinking of cost versus benefit, supply versus demand, and personal choice versus utilitarianism. The unencumbered spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 created unprecedented, overwhelming demand for life-saving medical services and equipment that will easily outstrip supply in virtually every state when infections reach their apex, if not before. It already has in some quarters. The deficiency in supply of such services and equipment has forced the denial of many people’s right to make, or at least meaningfully participate in, their own healthcare decisions. That deficiency is forcing medical professionals to make healthcare decisions based on the greatest good for the greatest number, a utilitarian cost/benefit analysis made in real time that removes the will of patients. If only they had time to convene death panels.

With our flailing economy, I’m also seeing a phenomenon in certain corners of the country, in conservative media and on social media. Pundits, conservatives, libertarians and others cite statistics of the annual causes of death and their numbers in the United States. They do so, if I am reading them correctly, to show (1) the relative lack of severity of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the many other things that kill us and/or (2) the insignificance of the number of deaths as compared to the importance of sustaining the economy. They argue that COVID-19 will cause much lower numbers of deaths, by comparison to the other things that kill us, suggesting that the level of anxiety, the social and governmental responses and, in particular, the resulting negative impact on the economy are unnecessary and against the greater public interest. We are all going to die anyway, so it’s more important to save the economy — for the survivors. Some use the forum, it appears, to criticize society’s and government’s lack of response to other social ills that kill us in much higher numbers, such as the opioid epidemic. That’s a valid argument that speaks largely to corruption in politics but it belongs elsewhere. Others inexplicably argue that people are allowed to drive vehicles even though car accidents kill people in much higher numbers. What about corn syrup?

I am not a medical ethicist, actuary or economist. My views are informed by personal experience, public awareness, constitutional law and, I hope, common sense. But the foregoing state of the crisis in leadership and the argument to save the economy sound pretty un-American in a country where (a) the right to life is written into founding documents, (b) the electorate places quality, affordable, available healthcare at or near the top of the most important issues in the upcoming presidential election, (c) healthcare, it seems, is meant to preserve and extend life and improve its quality, (d) people cherish, and are deemed to have the absolute right to make, their own healthcare decisions, including extreme life-saving measures (if they have coverage for or can afford it, regardless of the prognosis — cost versus benefit), (e) the United States places such high value on life that it prohibits the practice of euthanasia and seriously frowns on assisted suicide (we can’t even unplug someone in a progressive vegetative state without a legal battle), and (f) among the most divisive issues in the United States is abortion, the definition of personhood versus the right of women to exercise personal dominion over themselves, their bodies and their reproduction. Indeed, the long-game for conservatives and certain societies has been to change the make-up on the high court in order to overturn Roe because the right to life is so precious. I assume, but am far from certain, that even conservatives believe the right to life extends beyond birth.

Anyone who reads me knows how I feel about the current administration, its near perfect failure at virtually every level of leadership, governance, competence and stewardship. Had timely science-based decisions been made by adults, we may be on a course much similar to that of South Korea. If we want to avoid a repeat of this disaster in leadership, we must take every opportunity to correct, in real time, the verbal sewage that spews from Mr. Trump’s mouth.

In my post from last week, I not so subtly drew a direct comparison between COVID-19, a virus that’s only purpose is to survive and is incapable of concerning itself with the harm it inflicts in doing so, and Mr. Trump.


*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to and

**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in and are hers.



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