As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Well, his being Scottish, it was actually “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley,” but I digress.
After the revelations last week about Trump’s disparaging remarks about American military service members, both living and dead, it seemed reasonable to think the story as presented by multiple news outlets, including Fox News, would have the legs to carry through the Labor Day weekend. Sure, there would be a distraction or two, but the “losers” and “suckers” comments would surely still be the top thing to talk about this week.
So I started composing, at least in my head, a column devoted to the subject of the military. After all, Karl is retired Navy, his father was career Air Force, and my mother-in-law (the Dowager Baroness and one of the strongest women I’ve ever known) has lived a life that could serve as the basis for multiple screenplays about the sacrifices made by military spouses. Both of my grandmothers lost soldier sons, either killed in action or later from injuries sustained in battle. But that idea turned out to be one of those best-laid plans.
It didn’t go awry because of that Trump boat parade-cum-regatta that provided some comic relief last weekend when the boats sunk on Lake Travis. I suspect there were no veterans from the U. S. Navy involved in the planning of that little flotilla fiasco.
Nor was the planned column washed up because of the publication of Michael Cohen’s book. (Imagine a sentence referencing Mr. Cohen in which the expression “washed up” doesn’t refer to him.) No, it was another book that did the trick.
There is one thread, however, from the original idea that I wish to pull forward. The words “losers” and “suckers” as used are notably the language employed by only two types of people. One group is made up of those who see the world as made up of winners and losers. The other is mostly con artists describing a mark.
But it was Bob Woodward’s Rage that made me drop the balance of the military column, including the section about my life with Karl when he was in the Navy. (Well, it can’t always be about me, now can it?) The tape recordings of interviews with Trump conducted by Woodward—although I doubt tape was actually involved—have proven as incendiary as fireworks at a gender reveal party.
Some folks still have the energy to get incensed by new lies from Trump. I admire their consistency. The revelation that he knew back in February how dangerous the coronavirus was has ignited some of the rage about his mishandling of the pandemic that has been just below the surface for several months. This is the “Trump Lied; Americans died” business that, quite frankly, isn’t news to anyone who has been paying attention. The fact that he said it on the record while being recorded begs the question of whether the word “sucker” was floating around in Woodward’s mind at the time.
Trump’s rationalization for “playing it down” as he didn’t “want to create panic” may be one of the most damfool explanations I’ve ever heard. And that’s saying a mouthful considering how many damfool explanations I’ve come up with during my lifetime.
Using the avoidance of panic as a reason for doing something when one’s entire political career is based on fear mongering is really quite precious. From birtherism to migrate caravans to violence coming to a suburb near you, fear and panic is as much a part of the Trump brand as gold plating and reproduction art.
There are indeed times when it would be appropriate to lie or to withhold the truth from the American people. For example, should an asteroid be headed for impact in Kansas next month that would send humans down the same path as the dinosaurs, don’t tell me. Or, if Darth Sidious has let Angela Merkel know that he’s coming to Earth “to serve man,” I have no need to know it.
But when it comes to a pandemic, we need a plan, not obfuscations. Without a plan, we become losers. If we only listen to what we want to hear, sooner or later we’ll end up being someone’s sucker. P. T. Barnum knew it, and Howard Beale knew it. They’re not the only ones.
So when lying leads to dying, I’ll take a little toilet paper panic. Just don’t test me when it comes to Cheetos.