Dog and pony show – An elaborate act of bullshit, generally used to distract attention away from the sheer uselessness of the actual project or act. ~ The Urban Dictionary
It was a widely ballyhooed event last Friday, the first briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force in nearly two months. At the outset of these briefings in what seems like decades ago I’d watched the briefings almost religiously until it became clear that the daily menu would consist of a small side order of statistics and real information on a plate dominated by a large indigestible, fatty main course of presidential self-congratulations with an occasional purgative of medical advice from “doctor” Trump.
The briefings fizzled out shortly after “doctor” Trump floated the idea that COVID-19 might be defeated by either mainlining Clorox or shining bright lights into the body. After a million laughs and a few ER trips by people who actually followed “doctor” Trump’s advice the briefings were mothballed. In fact it’s been reported that any daily closed door meetings of the task force have for some time been reduced to twice weekly meetings with the president mostly absent.
And so given the surging cases of coronavirus in many states and metropolitan areas (California included) I looked forward to Friday’s briefing. With America setting alarming records for new cases, with hospitalizations on the rise and the continuing deaths I expected to see no less than some severe reprimands from the task force and then a laying out of firm plans for the coming weeks and months to reverse the backsliding. Clearly America needs a stern rebuke along with a boost of confidence that we are a can do nation that can get back on track. You know that whole, “when the going gets tough” thing.
What was I thinking? The meeting started with Vice-President, Mike Pence playing his familiar role of lap dog to his master, Donald Trump. While it’s well established tradition that the VP is expected to play second fiddle to the president, Pence has taken fawning and adoration to the point that I’ve been compelled to dub him Fluffy the lap dog.
Fluffy the lap dog didn’t disappoint on Friday. It took him only two minutes to scamper, with his little tail wagging, into a fantasy land of presidential infatuation, saying that we’ve made “truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward.” What? I thought. We’ve literally recorded 25% of the coronavirus’ deaths in the world and the EU is about to ban travel from the United States, placing us in the dubious company of Brazil and Russia because we can’t get our shit together. Ah but then he got to the heart of the matter, what really matters to Fluffy and his master, as he moved right to job creation and improving retail sales.
Fluffy moved on to boast about “the American people” and their dedication in helping to “flatten the curve” (which only appears flat if you tilt the graph in one direction and your head in the other). As Fluffy spoke glowingly of the responsible behavior of “the American people,” the mayor of Santa Cruz, California backtracked on plans to keep the beaches closed on the Fourth of July weekend because people will show up and flaunt the rules anyway, following the flawed logic that if you don’t put up speed limit signs then nobody will be speeding. The more current version of that flawed logic is that if you stop the COVID testing you won’t have so many troublesome cases. Meanwhile on the other side of the country people in Palm Beach, Florida were losing their minds over the notion of having to wear masks; invoking satan, pedophiles, crimes against humanity and the ever convenient villain, 5G. One woman even compared mask wearing to wearing undies, “I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear, things gotta breathe.” Thank you America for your responsible behavior.
Fluffy went on for 25 minutes and all the while looked and stammered like a man who didn’t believe a word he was saying. He was that guy who’s at every meeting who tries to bluff his way through the presentation that he never bothered to prepare.
Doctor Birx was next and she quickly served up a words and numbers salad dressed with charts and graphs that were rushed through so quickly that nobody could make any real sense of what they meant. She went through her presentation like someone who had a date waiting, or needed to take a leak or, hmmm, maybe she just felt foolish and wanted to get it all over with.
After Doctor Brix, left with what was probably the biggest sigh of relief of the day, Doctor Fauci took the podium and straightaway gave the most chilling assessment of all, at least from my point of view.
“As you can see we are facing a serious problem in certain areas,” he said, accentuating the obvious. He went on, “I don’t think there’s time all day to try and analyze and figure out the multi-faceted events that went into that, (my highlighting) you know from maybe anything from opening too early on some, to opening at the right time but not actually following the steps in an orderly fashion to actually trying to follow the steps in an orderly fashion but the citizenry did not want to do that (see Palm Beach) for a number of reasons likely because everyone feels the common feeling to being pent up for such a long time. So we’re not going to say blame, we’re not going to try to analyze it but there is something that’s very important about it that I’d like to get a message to the country in general.” “No time to analyze?” “We’re not going to try to analyze?” Isn’t that what they’re supposed to be doing? Are they just playing Texas Hold ‘Em during those task force meetings?
At any rate Doctor Fauci explained how a pandemic works. One person catches a virus and passes it on to a couple of people who pass it on to four people, etc, etc. And then you have a problem that you aren’t going to try to analyze.
He went on to gently chide millennials, while stressing that he wasn’t blaming, for going out to bars and beaches and maybe they should try to be more judicious. This moment might have called for something more along the lines of, ‘What in the fuck do you think you’re doing you fucking clueless idiots? Do you really want to bring this thing home to your parents because you don’t have the gumption to ride this thing out?’
He looked and sounded like a man who’d been told to tread lightly and stick to the company line if he wanted to keep his position. I believe the operative word is “cowed.” While it would be instant gratification to see him come out and say that the administration doesn’t give a shit about your lives as long as the economy bounces back, everyone, especially the good doctor knows that would be the end of his job and the end of some voice of scientific reason coming out of the administration.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar came next and with a straight face told fantastic yarns of the great deeds that the administration has done in blunting the spread of the coronavirus. Just as that self same virus is cutting a swath through the south and west.
At the end of it all Fluffy the lap dog asked for questions. Fluffy was asked about masks, a subject that was noticeably absent during his 25 minute presentation. During the entire 83 minutes of the briefing, Fluffy the lap dog never once uttered the word “mask” even when he was ticking off all of the recommendations for avoiding the spread of the coronavirus; social distancing, hand washing and staying out of large groups indoors. When asked about masks he remarked that people should refer to the advice of their state and local officials, still not uttering the word itself. He avoided the word “mask” as if it were, well, a virus. At times he went through such contortions to avoid the word mask that he no doubt made Olympic gymnasts the world over green with envy.
When two reporters pressed Fluffy the lap dog about the wisdom of holding rallies with no social distancing and sans masks in complete contradiction of White House guidelines he hid weakly behind the First Amendment.
The task force took about five questions and then turned and headed for the hills.
My takeaway, besides utter disgust? Pence and Azar, (and Trump in absentia) are afraid of the American people. They have nothing to offer, they know that the people know that they have nothing to offer and so they tried to bluff their way through a pathetic song and dance. The whole crew, doctors included, gave the appearance of a group that, to use the vernacular, doesn’t know whether to shit or go blind.
And where was Donald Trump? The President of the United States couldn’t be bothered to face the American people during one of this nation’s biggest crises. The President of the United States was busy signing an executive order making it a crime to deface the statues of traitors who fought a war to perpetuate slavery. He wasn’t playing Lincoln, he wasn’t playing Churchill or FDR or Truman or Kennedy. No, Donald Trump was playing hide and seek.
There are times that demand leadership, from the serious, the life and death, to the trivial. Maybe it’s the platoon that’s cutoff behind enemy lines. Maybe it’s the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series and you’re trailing by two runs and down to your last out. Maybe the doctor says that the mass in the x-ray looks suspicious. Maybe the CEO has called a company meeting to say that business is down and the outlook is bleak. These are times that beg for a plan, a light to lead the way forward. What Americans hungered for, particularly on Friday when we’d heard nothing for two months, was a concerted voice laying out firm steps, a timeline, a list of measures and countermeasures and a show of resolve. Instead Americans were fed scraps from the last meeting of two months ago.
Was it all a bundle of lies? No, it was worse, it was more sinister than lies. A reasonable person can often pick up on political mendacity. This was a case of misdirection and sleight of hand that had the appearance of being thrown together for the purpose of holding off the rabble for a couple more weeks.
To say that they offered nothing isn’t entirely true. At the end of his own presentation the best that Fluffy could offer was, “I encourage every American to continue to pray” (as if every American puts his or her faith in prayer)…”just continue to pray.” That was the best he could come up with. Might as well I guess. It’s either that or take up day drinking.
Meanwhile, on the home front.
The carrot seeds that Lucy planted have sprouted into a bright green strip.
We’ve been playing Scrabble and it’s impressive to see the grandchildren’s growing vocabulary.
We’re still dancing around the notion of having an extended outdoor family gathering. One day it seems like a harmless idea and the next, well, not so much.
The consensus now is that we’re going to try and pull back a bit to where we were in April and try to limit the forays that have become more common. We need to give it two or three more weeks and see if the virus starts to trend down again.
Our own county has scaled back its reopening plans. That pedicure is still a couple more weeks out.
On a personal note I’d like to see some teeth behind the mask mandates. You violate the mask rule you get a hefty fine, and by hefty $500.00 might be a good place to start.