Sunday, April 5, 2020

BTRTN: Donald Trump is Finally in Vietnam

Well, I'm not going to point any moral,
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

--Written by Pete Seeger in 1967, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” was made famous as a Vietnam War protest song by The Smothers Brothers

58,220 Americans died in Vietnam during that decade-long war.

Today, the war in Vietnam is nearly universally viewed as a colossal error, one that led to an ungodly toll of American lives sacrificed because of the ignorance and arrogance of our leaders, all for no good reason, and for no justifying accomplishment. In the history of the United States, never have so many died because of the incompetence of the Federal government. 

Until now. 
The Trump administration now finally acknowledges that somewhere between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die because of the COVID-19. Need some context for that number?

146,000 people died in the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima. Yes, COVID-19 is effectively dropping a nuclear bomb on a major American city. 

Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Maria, the Iraq War, and 9/11? Hardly. The combined total of American deaths from those disasters was a grand total of 13,080… one-sixth of the most conservative estimates of coronavirus deaths.

Add in the toll in from Vietnam, and the five largest disasters of my lifetime do not account for as many deaths as the conservative estimate of lives lost to COVID-19.

Donald Trump famously dodged the Vietnam war draft when his rich dad paid a doctor to swear that young Trump had bone spurs.  But now he has found his own personal Vietnam. He is waist-deep in a Mekong Delta of his own making, and he is the same overwhelmed, ignorant, frightened, coddled coward racing from responsibility now as he was then. The simple fact is that a very large percentage of the deaths that are being projected could have been avoided if Donald Trump had understood what was happening, had acted on a timely basis, and been honest with the American people.

So, why are Donald Trump’s approval ratings actually going up, when he and his administration have botched the management of this crisis about as comprehensively as can be imagined? It is a virtual certainty that historians will review the events that took place during the outset of the coronavirus and conclude that the decisions Donald Trump made and did not make determined the scope of the pandemic, and they will conclude that an enormous number of the deaths that occurred were avoidable, and indeed had been avoided by other democracies around the world. 

But we cannot wait for historians. There is an election in November. People must understand the truth now. The small group of people who have given Donald Trump better grades for managing the coronavirus outbreak than have given him positive ratings for the remainder of his presidency are simply unaware of how much Donald Trump exacerbated this catastrophe, and holds personal responsibility for an untold number of needless deaths. 

The parallels to Vietnam actually make this point. 

The American debacle in Vietnam began with a misdiagnosis of the problem (remember the “domino theory?”), was complicated by the failure to define an objective, was exacerbated by our government’s failures and delays to identify and commit the resources needed to accomplish any lasting success, and was prolonged by our government’s unabated hubris in thinking that it was so powerful that it would be easy to beat the enemy. 

Perhaps most significant: the Vietnam era was plagued by our government's failure to be truthful with the American people, as it instead chanted a constant refrain that victory always lay just around the next bend, if only we “stay the course.” The most powerful nation on earth was humiliated by its failure overseas and torn in half at home, as one part of America clearly understood that the United States government had no understanding of the situation, no clear objective, no plan to achieve it, and was not telling the truth about its epic failure. The other half? The “silent majority” meekly accepted the government’s direction and acquiesced as so many lambs were sent to the slaughter. History repeats. 

Welcome to your very own Vietnam, Donald Trump. You dodged it when your rich daddy was looking out for you. But this time, you broke it, so you own it. 

Let’s be clear on one point: no one is blaming Donald Trump for the coronavirus itself. This is a rapidly emerging Republican narrative. In a desperate attempt to head off the issue of responsibility, Republicans try to frame the issue as partisan: “You Democrats are trying to politicize this – Donald Trump did not cause this virus!” That is not our point. The issue is not with the fact that the coronavirus found its way to our shores. It is what Trump did, and did not do, about it, that matters. It is the painful twist on Howard Baker’s question: what didn’t this President know, and why didn’t he know it?

Here are the undeniable facts: Trump’s administration gutted our country’s mechanisms for identifying and coping with the threat of global pandemics, failed to understand the nature and horrific severity of this threat, were appallingly slow to act, and repeatedly mislead the public about the danger of the virus, lulling Americans into a complacency that caused them to be casual about the risks at just the moment they should have been most vigilant.  

1.Trump decimated the agencies and personnel that had been put in place by previous administrations to identify, act on, and minimize the impact of a global pandemic. Most pointedly, Trump abolished the pandemic response team that had been appointed by Barack Obama in 2016. Trump removed and did not replace the individual who worked for the CDC in China to monitor contagious illnesses. He fired the Homeland Security Advisor assigned to monitoring the outbreak of epidemics around the world, and this individual was never replaced. The individual on the National Security Counsel in charge of medical and bio-defense resigned and was never replaced. 

2. The Trump administration was asleep at the wheel during the period from late January through early March when the die was cast. Given the geometric nature of societal spread, the coronavirus was seeping well into the population while Trump and his lackeys made light of the threat and thought they were addressing the problem by banning international travel to the United States. This was truly a pointless gesture: the virus was already here and geometrically multiplying, and Trump’s ban on travel had absolutely no impact on the time bomb that was already ticking inside the country. 

Worst yet, Trump – in what was likely a sloppy wet kiss to the pharmaceutical industry -- refused to use the already-existent coronavirus test that had been developed by the World Health Organization and issued to other nations by January, no doubt thinking that allowing U.S. companies to develop their own test would be a tasty boon to their profit streams. The failure to have an adequate testing, monitoring, and tracking mechanism in place in the earliest days that the virus was found in the United States is the single reason why our country is now in the worst shape of any nation on earth. 

3. Because Donald Trump and his team do not believe in science, they could not possible fathom the  cataclysmic impact the virus would have on our healthcare system. It is now clear that either no one explained – or Donald Trump simply did not understand -- exactly how this virus was already spreading at the speed of a wildfire in other countries. This information was not only readily obvious to many government agencies, it actually was articulated in its full measure and magnitude by my brother right here at Born To Run the Numbers on March 14, at a point in time when Donald Trump was suggesting that “gatherings be limited to ten people.” We knew it! How could the President of the United States not know it?

Trump utterly ignored all the science, all the math, and all the evidence pouring in from other countries. His administration failed to foresee the demand for medical equipment – masks, ventilators, hospital beds – that could have and should have been ordered in February. And the primary reason people will die is that we will run out of ventilators just as the number of infected individuals reaches its apex. Without ventilators, people die. It is that sad, and that simple.

4. Just as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon attempted to hide the degree of carnage and failure from the American people, so, too, did Donald Trump continuously deceive the American people about the gravity of the coronavirus. Terrified that worries about the virus would weaken his biggest argument for re-election – a strong economy – Trump consistently downplayed the threat, causing Americans to relax and not take the warnings seriously. 

The examples of this stunning program of disinformation are legion. To include them all would require a piece solely focused on this point alone. In late February, Trump said of the number of coronavirus cases, “We had 12, at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.” In this exact same time frame, Trump said: 

“We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” 
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

“It’s very mild,” on March 4.

Trump accused the media of sensationalizing the story to hurt his chances at re-election. He constantly sought to assure the American people that his administration was totally “in control,” and at one point waxed on about how knowledgeable he is about medicine. 

“I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

5.  Ah, but in the blame game… Donald Trump is in a class by himself. Trump famously grabs credit for anything, everything, and most of all things that never actually happened, and yet cannot wait to point a finger at Democrats, the media, Andrew Cuomo, and Barack Obama for his own failures. Earlier this week, Mike Pence was eager to blame China and the CDC for the administration’s failure to act urgently on the coronavirus. Trump himself tried to blame the states and their governors. Blame anybody and everybody but yourself, Donald.

The essential point is this: if Donald Trump and the hacks in his White House had been competent at their jobs, they would have been all over the science of this epidemic back in January.  

Yes, folks, we are back in Vietnam, only the body counts are coming faster, and they are not happening half a world away to young soldiers who were called to duty. Now, it is friends, neighbors, teachers, and family members who never got the message about the danger and were never told how they could protect themselves.

Now all Donald Trump can do is watch the bodies pile up at the make-shift morgues and try to convince people that he did a terrific job. An amazing job. But the truth is, by this time next month, he will have caused more American deaths than Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong did in the entire Vietnam war.

Why, then, are Trump’s approval ratings going up?

The explanation is pretty simple.

1. In times of war and crisis, Americans generally rally around their President. There is nothing mysterious here. George Dubya Bush enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity after 9/11, even though his administration ignored the warnings that such an attack might happen, and he appeared in those early days to many to be a deer in the headlights, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the events, and outsourcing his job to Dick Cheney.

2. Most Americans were not paying serious attention to the coronavirus until very recently – probably in no small measure because Trump himself was categorizing it as no big deal. As a result, they only began to pay attention at a point when Trump began doing daily press briefings in which he wildly exaggerated his accomplishments and lashed out at any reporter who challenged his narrative. Trump now claims that he was all over this from the beginning and that he is the one who is providing all the solutions. Because most Americans do not know the real background, many simply buy Trump’s act at face value.

3. Most people want to hear the best possible spin on horrific circumstances. They want to be comforted that everything is going to be ok. However grossly misleading it has been, Trump has been feeding that need.

Americans need to know the truth. 

If Donald Trump was a competent President, the death toll from coronavirus in the United States would be dramatically less than the carnage we will witness. Perhaps half. Perhaps far less.

On what basis do I support that assertion? 

All the usual suspects: Math. Science. Evidence from other countries like South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. These are all  free-market, strong business-oriented democracies led by people who knew what they were doing. They studied what was happening in Wuhan. They developed centralized game plans to enforce social isolation. Their rates of contagion are dramatically lower that what we see in the United States. Their infections per capita (given the same number of days after the first documented case) are far lower that the United States. They will be less likely to have the acute shortages of medical equipment, staff, and hospital beds that we will have. Dramatically fewer people will die. 

It is of course irony’s keen justice that the Trump administration is being brought to its knees by the one thing it could not bluff, could not spin, could not blame on Obama, and could not force to exist in an alternate reality. A malignant virus cannot be conjured away by Fox News anchors. Trump is going to be crushed by science. By reality. By fact. 

In the Vietnam era, families were torn to shreds when some World War II era fathers who retained a blind faith in their government turned in rage on sons who sought ways to avoid being shipped to a far-off war that appeared to have no justification, no point, and no purpose. Sons left homes, many abandoning their country to find safety in Canada. In the years that followed, those fifty-something fathers in the United States lived broken, crushed lives, having lost sons to death in Vietnam, or to permanent alienation in Canada. Those men ultimately realized that their faith in their government was foolish, naïve, and cost them their families. They ultimately came to understand that their children were right, and they were wrong. 

There are still millions of people in the United States who cling to their faith in Donald Trump because they applaud his racism, his misogyny, his xenophobia, or simply because they felt that he would be the best servant of their personal greed.

Those people will soon pay for that allegiance with the death of a mother, a father, a grandfather, a favorite teacher, an admired celebrity, a favorite minister, a son, or a daughter. When nearly a quarter of a million people die in a country of 350 million, the math tells you that we will all know someone who dies.

Yes, it’s that darn math again. 

And when that happens – when we all know someone who died needlessly, alone, separated from their family by a walled-off hospital -- only then will the parallels to Vietnam being fully realized in America.

It will be when people know people who died from a President’s incompetence and deceit. 

Then, perhaps, Donald Trump’s grip on the ignorant, the selfish, the unintelligent, and the naïve will ultimately be broken. 

Donald Trump, it took you fifty years to get here, but you are finally in Vietnam. 

The rest of us? We’re waist deep in the big muddy, and the big fool says to go on.


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  1. Great post. I’m skeptical of the task force projection that we will lose 100k to 240k Americans to this horrible virus. I think Trump is gambling something less than 100k will die, even pleased if the number comes in at 90k. He will then go out and sell it as a ‘huge victory because of all I did! Remember, the experts said 2.4 million could die. Maybe more, who knows?’ and he’ll blame New York democrats for ‘not being ready, causing a lot more deaths’. His followers will all bow down and praise his ‘achievement’.

    1. While math and science are for sure better than shoot-from-the-hip criminally-motivated (not to mention "tacky")bravado, the stark fact remains that we are now challenged just to live through the next few months. I now consider hindsight to be a great benefit I hope that everyone who reads this post will be able to enjoy. Very hard to distort the facts as they happened, and I am sorry to say that anybody that imagines there to be a future waiting much less a future with Trump as president is straining the limits of fake happiness.

  2. Outstanding Steve!


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