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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Washington Spectator.

America prides itself on peaceful transitions from one president to the other. No coups. No backstabbing. No backward glances at what might have been. We witness this every four years or, at the most, every eight.

No matter how bitter a presidential campaign or how antithetical an outgoing president’s policies and ideology may be from his successor’s, the newcomer is ushered into the highest office in the land with dignity and courtesy. Such continuity is a fundamental tenet of the United States.

Only in the weeks preceding the Civil War was it violated, when the southern states seceded after the election of Abraham Lincoln. What followed took the lives of roughly 620,000 men over the next four years—approximately two percent of the nation’s population.

Also part of our tradition is the absence of any remonstrance from one president toward another, regardless of the ideological gulf between them. Almost since the founding of the nation, it has been considered unthinkable for a former president to criticize a sitting president.

But as these are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls, such niceties must cease. Since January 20, the nation’s most fundamental values have been distorted, as the man who spoke of “carnage” at his inauguration presides over a divided and fractious nation. This carnage—a blow to our comity and polity, to our sense of union and of purpose—Trump has personally unleashed. If this is what is in store for us over the next four years, the United States may be unrecognizable by 2020.

If this is what is in store for us over the next four years, the United States may be unrecognizable by 2020.

Confronted by such conditions, it is incumbent upon the five living former presidents—Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—to disregard tradition and form a Presidential Committee of Conscience that would have one purpose: to admonish and correct a sitting president whose actions are a threat to the defining ethos of the nation; whose policies contribute to the shredding of the fabric that bind us together as a people and fracture alliances that have been the foundation of a reasonably calm and sensible global order; whose cavalier utterances betray the dignity and purpose of the office of the presidency.

The first weeks of Trump’s presidency—our introduction to this man as chief executive—visited havoc on the nation. His tweets were impolite, immature, and menacing, from targeting a sitting federal judge to attacks on The New York Times. His executive orders defy any logical and accepted manner of shaping the federal government to a new president’s will: witness his Muslim ban which is a rebuke to the nation’s history of welcoming the stranger, regardless of faith or origin.

As he moved into his first month in the Oval Office, the transgressions continued: He has insulted the leaders of Australia and Mexico; attacked the concept of an independent judiciary; affronted a revered civil rights leader, John Lewis; excommunicated leading news outlets from White House briefings while slandering the press as the “enemy”; suggested a moral equivalence between state-sanctioned killings in Russia and actions of the United States; turned his Florida resort into an open-air situation room; pandered to anti-Semites and racists; persistently lied about his electoral college “landslide;” and impugned the integrity of his predecessor with baseless claims of wiretapping.

There have been exceptions to the veneer of politeness we expect of former presidents. For example, when Teddy Roosevelt was disappointed that his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, was abandoning TR’s pioneering progressivism, he attacked him as a “fathead,” a “puzzle wit” (apparently, an insult 100 years ago), and having “brains less than a guinea pig.”

Unlike TR, a Presidential Committee of Conscience would be dignified while being resolute and constructive. It would comment only when the nation’s rule of law, principles, and values are at risk. It had better be formed soon. And if not a committee, then one or more of the former presidents must begin to speak out. George W. Bush, who for eight years refused to comment on the Obama presidency, has taken the lead. Bush took issue with Trump’s immigration policy, his name calling, and his characterization of the media as the “enemy of the people.”

“I consider the media to be indispensible to democracy,” Bush said. “We need an independent media to hold people like me accountable.”

The other “exes” should join him, speaking with the moral and political authority that only they possess.

 

Arthur J. Magida is writing for W.W. Norton a biography of Noor Inayat Khan, the Sufi heroine who fought the Nazis.

 

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.