Ignorance as Anathema to Public Health: Suppression of Information Contributed to Pandemic in U.S.
Updated: Feb 2
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By Eric A.S. Harvey, JD
COPYRIGHT PENDING 2020
Photo Credit: Forbes
1 March 2020 The New York Times reported in an article titled, “Trump Management Style, Year 2: See Year 1,” that the turnover rate in the Trump Administration has been 34 percent, which is triple that of the Obama Administration and double that of the Reagan Administration.
Put differently, when Trump disagrees with any official serving under him, he fires them. When any of these officials attempt to expose the problematic facets of the Trump Administration, Trump fires them, sending a message to officials serving under him that disagreement and exposé will lead to termination. That Trump does this is not news.
6 February 2020 DailyMail.com quoted Trump, shortly after his acquittal in the impeachment trial, as saying, “Had I not fired James Comey - who was a disaster, by the way - it's possible I may not have even been standing here right now.”
In other words, Trump attempts to secure his abusive power by eliminating any obstacles standing in his way. Comey had attempted to expose how Trump had corruptly moved to influence the relief of criminal charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. This was widely regarded as obstruction of justice. So, Trump fired him, and Trump pushed for Comey’s criminal prosecution. Trump determined to discredit and censor Comey. Trump has referred to Comey as a “criminal,” CNBC.com reported 15 June 2018.
Our president enforces debilitating censorship, and that censorship interferes with transparency in government—a virtue hailed as needed for the maintenance of an informed public towards the security of a truly free and democratic state. It’s not just me that says this. American political activist Ralph Nader once authored an article for The Harvard Law Review titled, “Freedom from Information: The Act and the Agencies,” in which he said that a “well-informed citizenry” is “the lifeblood of democracy.” He also said that, “information is the currency of power.” In other articles on TheReframer.org, I’ve made it pretty clear that Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange would agree with this sentiment. Unimpeded access to information toward restrictions on government secrecy—and thus restrictions on government abuses of power—is the essence of democracy.
24 January 2017 Scientific American reported that President Trump, “moved quickly this week to shore up its control over communications with the public and the press.” This was in reference to a memo in which Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture elites had notified their workers that they were no longer permitted to discuss their findings outside of their respective agencies per President Trump’s orders. This restriction applied to how these researchers addressed the press, as well. They were simply barred from discussing their research with journalists, and certainly not even the public in a more direct way. Press releases were put on an indefinite hold. It’s pretty clear that Trump has denied the occurrence of global warming and the devastating consequences on the earth that global warming has had. He’s called it a hoax, and he’s lifted restrictions that would have curtailed global warming, many would agree. It’s not clear yet if these anti-environmental permissions have had an indelible and undeniable negative effect on the environment, but plenty of scientists agree that it will not make things better.
But the consequences of the absence of transparency in Trump’s government go beyond the political ramifications that his censorship has entailed during most of his presidency. It of course goes without saying that Trump’s environmental policy will likely have negative effects on the environment. Not only were species put closer to extinction in Australia during the recent brush fire conflagrations, but many human beings were also displaced from their homes in that holocaust. But the effects of secrecy in Trump's government are getting worse. It has been said that the fires were a result of global warming. More lives are on the line now as the coronavirus pandemic progresses. Lack of transparency may be putting lives on the line.
4 April 2020 The Guardian reflected on Trump’s deficiencies in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. When the CDC rolled out botched coronavirus tests, Trump was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” However, The Guardian reported these tests were indeed not “beautiful.” Accurate tests were virtually non-existent. Not all that needed tests were getting them. The state of affairs was far from that.
The Guardian quoted Trump as saying that, early in the threat of the pandemic emanating out of Wuhan, China, “We only have five people, we pretty much shut it down coming from China.” He was referring to the number of infections in the United States after he imposed travel restrictions on passengers coming from China. What Trump did not say is that a mass exodus to the United States of both American nationals living in China and Chinese citizens had occurred in the first two weeks in January.
The same day that The Guardian featured the aforementioned article, 4 April 2020, The New York Times reported that 430,000 people had travelled to 17 states by commercial airliners out of China to the United States before Trump imposed the travel restrictions. And since the restrictions were imposed, The New York Times said that 40,000 people had made the same trip. Of the aforementioned 430,000 people, many came directly out of Wuhan, China, the point of origin for the virus that has infected 742,442 Americans and killed 40,585 of those Americans as of today, according to CNN. And Trump made no mention of the mass exodus to the public. So before even remotely proper anti-coronavirus measures were taking place in the U.S., the virus was likely far more present and widespread in America than anyone in the media and the public could have known. At this time, people walked around without practicing social distancing and without wearing masks for far too long after the aforementioned exodus occurred. I would assume that this didn’t help limit the spread of the virus. It probably only exacerbated it. I am not the only one to wonder about this.
13 March 2020 ScienceNews.com reported that social distancing was fundamental in preventing the spread of the virus. The article asserted that social distancing would flatten the curve far faster than other measures would. The “too little, too late” recommendation on social distancing, which as of late has been a legally mandated practice in New York (at threats of civil penalties), probably facilitated the rapid spread of the virus.
7 April 2020 The Guardian reported that Trump was warned about the “devastating impact” the virus would have in America. An economic advisor, according to memos obtained by The Guardian, posited that Covid-19 would kill as many as 500,000 Americans unless measures were taken immediately. And Trump responded later by saying to the public that, “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” Trump has also been quoting as saying that warm weather would miraculously exterminate the virus.
We’ve heard New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo say Trump’s measures have been “too little, too late.” And as New York faced increasing deaths early on, FEMA sent only 400 ventilators. Cuomo said he needed 30,000. Cuomo has implied that this belated response has resulted in mass death in New York.
So, it’s not news that President Trump has reacted slowly to the coronavirus pandemic. As I have shown and will continue to show in a moment, he has enacted measures to limit the public’s exposure to the threat that the virus continues to pose for American life. These restrictions were even worse back in January.
What I am trying to say is that restrictions on free speech, such as those enacted by the Trump Administration during the coronavirus pandemic, are a traumatically great example of what failure to observe the First Amendment can mean. It is a terrible example of what the absence of transparency in government can mean in terms of loss of human life. It seems that governmental officials have been in possession of useful virus-related information from very early on. Many of those who have been in possession of such information (that has been urgent in preventing the spread of the virus) have needed to go through highly restrictive regulative channels before they can expose the public to that information. Those regulative channels have dampened the public’s sense of urgency about the lethality of Covid-19.
Shortly before his return from India in late February of this year, where he was to discuss the trade-related facet of the Indian subcontinent's relationship with the United States, a high-ranking official within Trump’s administration issued a warning about the onset of the pandemic. The administration meant to wait until Trump had returned to the U.S. to get his input on how he wanted to handle sensitive information about the virus. However, the official felt it was too urgent.
The report infuriated Trump, and that is when he placed Vice President Pence at the head of what effectively is a PR campaign for how the administration handles the public's exposure to information about the pandemic. Now, all governmental officials must clear what they plan to say to the public before that say it. And they must do so through an office headed by a guy that so badly mishandled the threat of HIV in Indiana, that would have been mitigated by needle exchanges, that a widespread problem with the virus rained down on Illinois’ western neighbor.
These officials in Trump’s Administration are not newsmen or women. However, they do function in a journalistic capacity insofar as they are responsible for official statements on the state and health of the nation. They are being restricted from saying what they feel they need to say, all in the name of not alarming the public. It is probably even more accurate to say that Trump is trying to limit the exposure of information that makes him seem inept. He is likely doing this to increase the chances of his winning the next election.
Perhaps, not alarming the public is well-intentioned. However, these officials are well-informed. What I am getting at is that the information they hold, regardless of how alarming it is, likely needs to be heard. It is entirely useful. However, the Trump administration is regulating what its officials say about the virus, and it seems that restrictions on what these officials can say has created devastating consequences these days in America.
7 April 2020 Atlantic staff writer David Frum compellingly attributed the traumatic consequences of the virus to Trump’s failure to adequately handle the threat the virus has posed. The article is titled, “This Is Trump’s Fault: The president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures.” I can’t say it any better than Frum says it. So, I’ll quote him at length:
“The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the pre-crisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.”
Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/americans-are-paying-the-price-for-trumps-failures/609532/, accessed 19 April 2020.
“For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.”
Frum’s article goes over vast swaths of evidence regarding how Trump’s response has resulted in far more acute consequences for America than otherwise would have been experienced.
In line with journalists like Frum and so many from The Guardian and The New York Times, I feel as though we need to be on the receiving end of uncensored accurate information about the virus. But that has not happened. As I have said, early on in Trump's reaction to the pandemic, he played down threats until it was really too late to do much to curb the pandemic.
Information needs to flow freely, whether it be from governmental officials or news publishers and journalists. As Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange and political activist Ralph Nader would agree, secrecy undermines the democratic process. Unless it is curtailed, catastrophic consequences can take place. How Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic is a great example of this.
Back in early January, I was in communication with the lawyer preparing to represent Assange, if Assange is extradited to the United States following his now-happening trial in the United Kingdom. His name is Barry Pollack, and he works out of Washington, DC. In an e-mail exchange with me, Pollack wrote:” […] the best thing for all of us to do is to continue raising awareness in the US about the threat to the First Amendment posed by the prosecution and extradition request.”
As I have argued, and as many would agree, Assange represents the heights of advocacy for the First Amendment and freedom of information. As Pollack says, what is happening to Assange—this century’s greatest advocate for free speech rights—evidences America’s recent antipathy for the free flow of information. And that antipathy under Trump has resulted in mass death during the coronavirus pandemic.
The First Amendment was put into effect for a reason. The Framers deeply embedded the ideas behind The First Amendment in the philosophical essence of our government and to varying degrees assembled governmental bodies that could realize those ideas out in the world. And they did so in order to prevent the reproduction of British tyranny in America. They obviously were not preparing for the negative consequences of a pandemic. But our experience these days with the coronavirus and non-observance of and even assaults on the First Amendment have been having far more dire consequences in America than I surmise we have ever experienced. It is now more important than ever to restore the Framers’ belief in constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of press, speech, and expression. Limitations on it have devastated this country.
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