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In a moment of looming crisis, there are two reactions that should be avoided. The first is panic. The second is complacency. Faced with the coronavirus epidemic, the president, many other officials and the general public are avoiding the first mistake by falling into the second.

A look elsewhere shows the folly of relying on hope as a strategy. On Jan. 31, Italy had two confirmed cases of COVID-19. By Tuesday, it had more than 10,000. South Korea has gone from one on Jan. 20 to more than 7,700. The disease, once it emerges, spreads rapidly, even in the face of efforts to contain it. And the efforts to contain it in this country have been tardy and feeble.

The Trump administration dallied for weeks before putting someone (Vice President Mike Pence) in charge of the federal response. Time after time, President Donald Trump has minimized the risk and claimed everything was under control, cultivating a false sense of security.

On Feb. 27, Trump tweeted, “Only a very small number (of cases) in U.S., and China numbers look to be going down.” The next day, he blurted: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

The virus hasn’t disappeared, and the number of cases was small then because there was so little testing. Since then, the number has risen more than tenfold. Even that figure is a gross undercount because testing has been so sparse. Fewer than 8,500 people have been tested in this country — while South Korea has been testing 15,000 per day.

The numbers in China, where the virus was first detected, have indeed fallen, but only after the government took draconian measures: locking down 50 million people in Hubei province and canceling sports events, closing theaters and extending school breaks throughout the country. In contrast, life in the U.S. has gone pretty much as though we enjoy an inborn immunity.

One obvious remedial step is banning large gatherings. But plenty of them — rock concerts, church services, festivals — are still taking place.

Some big conventions, notably South by Southwest in Austin, have been called off. Boston and Chicago have canceled their St. Patrick’s Day parades, but as of Wednesday, New York has not. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden took the responsible step of scrubbing rallies Tuesday. But on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign announced one in Milwaukee next week. [Editor’s note: The Milwaukee Trump rally was later postponed.]

Across America, theaters, concerts and other events are mostly proceeding as usual. NBA and NCAA basketball games are being played before crowds of fans. Likewise with the NHL and Major League Baseball’s spring training.

In Italy, by contrast, the great majority of soccer matches are taking place without spectators. Similar policies are in effect in Spain, Portugal and France. One U.S. exception: A high-level professional tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, was canceled.

No one wants to see restrictions that prevent Americans from enjoying experiences that involve big crowds. In reality, though, the epidemic is likely to make restrictions unavoidable at some point. The earlier such policies are adopted, the better the disease can be contained and the sooner we can all return to normal.

The natural human tendency is to put off unpleasant actions in the hope that they won’t be needed. The prospect that strong steps would push the economy into a recession also gives pause to policymakers.

But there is no reason to believe the U.S. can escape the full force of this outbreak. Dragging our feet allows it to grow more rapidly and do more damage — in sickness and death for people, in costs to health care providers, governments and individuals, and in the disruption of everyday life.

Scott Gottlieb, who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Trump, offered a stiff dose of reality Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation: “I think no state and no city wants to be the first to basically shut down their economy. But that’s what’s going to need to happen. States and cities are going to have to act in the interest of the national interest right now to prevent a broader epidemic. Close businesses, close large gatherings, close theaters, cancel events.” This is a necessity that most Americans have yet to grasp or accept.

It’s easy, confronted with a danger of uncertain impact, to mock those calling for such steps as alarmists. But at the moment, if you’re not alarmed by the coronavirus, you’re not paying attention.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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