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Eight senior advisors were members of Trump’s Team specifically as it pertained to the pandemic. Each was in some way directly and heavily involved in how the president managed/mismanaged America’s worst public health crisis in over a century. Discussed in the chapter are senior advisor, Jared Kushner; chiefs of staff Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows; assistant to the president Peter Navarro; national security advisor Robert O’Brien and his deputy Matthew Pottinger; and counselors to the president Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks. During the coronavirus crisis, each of these advisors, like everyone else named in Part III of the book, prioritized the president’s political interest over the national interest.
This chapter is the first in a series of four that together comprise Part III of The Enablers, “Trump’s Team.” This final part of the book focuses on key individuals, each of them named, who were the most prominent and important of Trump’s enablers. As the title of this chapter suggests, it focuses first on Vice President Pence, who played a critical part in the president’s enablement. Then it proceeds to the four members of the president’s cabinet who during the period under discussion were the most involved with the administration’s management of the pandemic, and to the president himself. The four cabinet members are: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Attorney General William Barr, and Secretary of Heath and Human Services Alex Azar.
This chapter tracks what happened when America’s virus crisis became heavily politicized, even weaponized. Moreover, the pandemic was politicized not only at home but abroad, specifically regarding Sino-American relations, which deteriorated significantly from what they had been for four decades previous. At home were two obvious casualties. The first was the truth. The president’s proclivity outrageously to lie, now also about Covid-19, and his enablers’ proclivity no matter what to protect him, became increasingly costly. Now the cost was not only public trust but people’s lives. The second casualty to be chronicled was the comity of the American body politic. The growing divisiveness was symbolized by the wearing, or the not wearing, of masks which came to be emblematic of what here is called the politics of the pandemic.
Chapter 2 provides a brief history of the Republican Party – which explains in part how it became the Party of Trump. It describes the Republican demographic, how it differs from the Democratic demographic, and how it was possible for Trump essentially to take over what only recently was an establishment conglomerate. One better known for its institutionalist orientation than its outrageous attacks on political norms – norms that in most cases go back to the beginning of the Republic. The chapter further explores the links between the Republican Party and the house that Roger Ailes built, that is, Fox News. As the book makes clear, the importance of Party media, and for that matter Party Money, to the Trump phenomenon is impossible to overestimate. Above all the chapter begins to explore the party’s remarkable fealty to a man who demanded it with every fiber of his being, but who at an earlier moment in Republican Party history would have been dismissed with the flick of a wrist.
The Epilogue returns us to the Prologue. To the big questions as they pertain to leadership and followership. To leaders and their followers. To what is the role of and the responsibility of followers who find themselves in situations that are uncomfortable. That are uncomfortable because their leaders, those more highly positioned then they, are either incompetent, or immoral, or both. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings,” wrote Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar.” In other words, if we are followers, not leaders, we are not, not at all, absolved of responsibility. If things go wrong, we share blame for not speaking up and out, for not having the guts to speak truth to power – even if doing so comes at a cost.
The chapter singles out two senators, two governors, and four Fox News heavyweights as having played especially important parts among the president’s enablers. The two senators – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and inveterate Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham – were remarkable for the prominence, persistence, and importance of their fealty. The two governors – Florida’s Mike DeSantis and Georgia’s Brian Kemp – were standouts for standing strong in Trump’s corner, no matter the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in their respective states. And the four Fox News heavyweights – Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity – were striking for their staunch and some would say slavish clinging to the president’s coattails. As with every enabler, most notably those singled out by name in this book, Trump’s presidency, and even his subsequent electoral viability, would not have been possible without them.
The chapter explores the prequel to the coronavirus crisis of 2020. Our knowledge of plagues dates back almost to the beginning of recorded history. They have haunted and hounded us for eons, now being no exception to the historical rule. The pandemic that most vividly predates this one, the deadly “Spanish Flu” that spread the world in 1918/19 provides an apt backdrop to the arrival of the new coronavirus for which Americans were prepared, but only poorly. Certainly, poorly in comparison with other countries loosely thought of as US peers, such as Germany in Europe and, in Asia, South Korea. The chapter concludes with a discussion of why people do a poor job of preparing for “predictable disasters.” Disasters which, though they are foretold, we prefer to avoid.
Chapter 3 traces the nature and trajectory of the Trump administration – especially given he was a president who came into office without any political, government, or military experience whatsoever. While for a time there were several “adults in the room,” for example Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in relatively short order they disappeared from the administration. This left the federal government in the hands effectively of only those who were reliable and relentless Trump loyalists. Trump’s extraordinary need for, insistence on, almost slavish personal and political loyalty meant that turnover in the administration was inordinately high which, among other things, explains why it was so poorly equipped to cope with the pandemic.
Chapter 1 tells how even early on, as a presidential candidate but still a political novice, Trump had a special connection to some considerable number of the American people. It describes the demographic to whom he particularly appealed, the nature of his appeal, and the reasons for his appeal. It references how Trump’s candidacy could easily have stumbled, referencing an incident that shows how it nearly did. But then the chapter goes on to describe how and why he was able to survive near political disaster with relative ease. The visceral connection between Trump and his diehard followers explains why, despite so much gone wrong in 2020, a public health crisis and an economic crisis, Trump’s base held firm. The chapter finally makes clear how it is Trump’s base that explains everything – that explains how he was able to be so bad a president and get away with it, until Joe Biden finally pushed him out of the Oval Office.
The chapter is a careful chronicle - specifically of what happened between January and June 2020, after the new coronavirus was introduced into the United States. The narrative proceeds on roughly a month by month basis – it is intended to provide readers with precise reminders of what happened when, and of who did what when. The progression of the disease – Covid-19 – is in stark evidence. This against the backdrop of an administration that prefers to deny what actually is happening, that opts to address the economic crisis without first addressing the health crisis, and that gradually ensnares a large cast of characters in a wide web of deception and destruction.
As the title of the chapter makes clear, it is all about the role played by medical experts in enabling President Trump, in enabling his presidency, and in enabling his administration badly to manage/mismanage the pandemic. This chapter will be controversial, for among other reasons the widely admired Dr. Anthony Fauci is among the cast of characters. So be it. Questions must be asked, and answered, about what should be the response of a good follower who has a bad leader. Some of the physicians discussed in the chapter are the previously mentioned, Drs. Fauci and Birs – and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield. In each of these cases their professional credentials should not inhibit us from asking what was, what should have been, their proper role. Their proper response to a president who was as unethical in his management/mismanagement of the pandemic as ineffective.
Trump did not have an “inner circle” as this term is conventionally understood. That is, he was a lifelong loner, so did not have personal, professional, or political intimates. He did, however, of course, have some people around him to whom he was, relatively, close, most of whom stayed for the duration of his administration. Trump’s inner circle is divided into three groups: 1) outer ring: 2) middle ring; and 3) inner ring. In the outer ring were people such as longtime immigration maven Stephen Miller, as well as Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway. In the middle ring are key players such as Vice President Mike Pence and Don Jr. And in the inner ring are Trump’s well-loved daughter, Ivanka, and her indispensable advisor-husband, Jared Kushner. The First Lady, Melania Trump, is separately discussed.