Editorial: “You’re Supposed to Keep Us Safe:” When Life Imitates an ABC After School Special

“You’re supposed to keep us safe.”

That was Senator John Kennedy’s (R-La.) response on Tuesday to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on the agency’s inability to give a satisfactory briefing on how well the U.S. is prepared to deal with the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Wolf’s answers to many of Kennedy’s questions were vague, or differed from the information Senators had received during an earlier Senate briefing that day.

“You’re supposed to keep us safe and the American people deserve some straight answers on the Coronavirus and I’m not getting them from you.”

This brings to mind one of the episodes of ABC television network’s After School Special from the 1970s. (For some reason, living under this administration brings to mind a number of applicable episodes.) In this particular episode, at least the way I remember it, the mom had a drinking problem that she thought she was hiding pretty well from her kids.

She repeatedly endangered her kids by doing things like falling asleep drunk while smoking in bed. The kids, who of course knew that mom drank too much, were so afraid that she would accidentally burn the house down that they decided to craft a fire exit plan and practice a fire drill so that they could get out of the house safely in case it caught fire.

Like this mom, the Trump administration also makes poor, dangerous decisions, as well as hiding things from “the kids,” the American people. Unlike this administration, however, when the TV mom realized the peril she was placing her kids in, and how unsafe the kids felt (and were) because of her, she got help so that she could stop endangering her family.

In contrast, the Trump administration, whose job it is to keep us safe, doubles down on defending its actions or further trying to cover them up when an error in judgment (or a lapse in ethics) comes to light. It has demonstrated that it values personal opinion over science and facts, and loyalty over competence.

Similarly to how it was for the After School Special kids, it’s left up to us to figure out how to keep ourselves safe from the ones who are supposed to keep us safe.

On Wednesday, President Trump held a press conference in which he updated Americans on the novel Coronavirus and how this administration was handling it. After allowing several infectious disease and public health experts on his newly formed task force to speak briefly, he contradicted much of what they said by downplaying the severity and the inevitable spread of the virus in the U.S.

He then announced that he was appointing Vice President Mike Pence to head up the task force. “He’s very good and I think — and he’s really very expert at the field,” Trump said about Pence, who has no health care background, who is not a fan of science, and who has had perilous public health failures such as failing to respond in a timely manner to an HIV crisis in his home state of Indiana.

One can’t forget, either, that Pence once wrote this in an op-ed: “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

Apparently in an effort to prevent contradictory statements, the Trump administration has instructed experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, not to speak to the public or the press about the Coronavirus without clearance from the White House.

If nothing else, the Coronavirus press conference served as a reminder that we can’t be sure that anyone in the Trump administration will keep us safe from a potential U.S. outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Come to think of it, neither is anyone keeping us safe from a treacherous Russian president who manipulates our president as if he were a marionette; or from election tampering; or from financial ruin if we have an expensive illness; or from unfair or injurious treatment if we’re a member of a marginalized group; or from the corruption in our own government and its impact on how our laws are interpreted and obeyed (or ignored).
While many aghast Americans place their hopes in the 2020 election to save us from this fire, others continue to say that they do, in fact, feel safer under Trump. They are the people who think Stephen Miller’s immigration policies are the best thing since sliced bread. They are the people who keep believing that their coal mining jobs will come back. They are the people whom Trump assures, “We won’t let them take away your guns.” And they are the evangelical fundamentalists who are willing to hand over their integrity in exchange for the pandering that they have convinced themselves means that Trump really has their backs.
They are the people who, through their enabling of this out-of-control and inept leader, hold a share of the blame for making the rest of us a little less safe.

Coronavirus: “You’re supposed to keep us safe,” Sen Kennedy to Chad Wolf – Appropriation hearing | C-SPAN/Sense in That [2020-02-25]

Trump frustrated by CDC’s coronavirus severity warning |
CBS This Morning [2020-02-27]

National Conservatism Conference: “…But We’re Not Racist”

The first National Conservatism Conference may have reinforced the very image today’s conservatives say doesn’t define them. Though many don’t fit the labels, conservatives as a group, and especially Trump supporters, have come to be frequently categorized as racists, exclusionists, and “white nationalists.” And though conference organizers repeatedly announced that white nationalists were not welcome, the National Conservatism Conference, seeking to establish a new identity and solidarity for American conservatives, had threads of racism running through it.

The conference aimed to define and assert the existence of “Intellectual Trumpism,” perhaps attempting, in part, to distance itself from the fact that the 2016 Trump campaign appealed most to non-college-educated white males, many of whom saw immigrants and non-whites as a threat.

If there was an elephant in the room at the National Conservatism Conference, it  was perhaps the spate of racist language tweeted out by Trump in the days before and during the National Conservatism Conference. First, there was the set of Tweets Trump had sent out earlier in the week, telling the four American congresswomen of color known as “The Squad” that they should go back to the countries they came from, and accusing them of “hating America.” Then, there was Trump’s fabricated claim that Ilhan Omar (one of the four congresswomen) was an al-Quaeda sympathizer. 

Conference speakers avoided mentioning or dealing with these heavily reported comments by the president. The few times they did, it was with verbal eye-rolling aimed at the media or at those calling the comments “racist.” Since this “Intellectual Trumpist” movement claims to want to distance itself from the racist elements of Trump’s actions, taking a more definitive stand to denounce the tweets certainly could have helped.

Some speakers at the National Conservatism Conference were less subtle as they expressed their racist-tinged platforms (while still denying that they were racist or exclusionist).

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, for example, during a panel on immigration policy, commented that immigrants are “too loud,” and that they are responsible for the increase in litter. Though she was quick to say she supported immigration, she also said she advocated an immigration policy favoring those from Western countries over non-Western countries (Echoes of Trump’s early 2018 “sh**hole countries” comments).

“…Our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,” said Wax. She denies that her statement indicated racism, because, as she says, her issue with non-white immigrants is not biological, it’s cultural.

So, though “some of their best friends” may be non-white, the National Conservatism Conference will need to try harder to show that they’re not racist, exclusionist, or white nationalist, but perhaps we should ask, does that really even concern them?

Penn Professor Under Fire For Saying Country Will Be Better Off ‘Fewer Non-Whites’ CBS Philly | [2019-07-18]

Senator Hawley’s keynote at the National Conservatism Conference | National Conservatism [2019-07-17]