Looking back over the recently departed month of June in the Land of Opportunity, which, in case that rings a bell, was once synonymic for the United States of America, two images are branded into my memory. One is of a Minneapolis cop looking casually at the camera and then down as George Floyd takes his dying breaths. The other is of the President of the United States, after walking through protestors dispersed by tear gas with the U.S. Attorney General in tow, silently holding up a Bible in front of an historic church.
He never quoted from it. Didn’t even open it, but he was apparently convinced this image would elicit praise from white evangelicals and others who regard him, like Cyrus the Great in the Old Testament, as an imperfect man, a warrior and, nevertheless, an instrument of God.
I wonder what was going through the mind of that policeman, a public servant and protector, with a knee bearing the weight of his body continuing to press down, oblivious to “I can’t breathe” and a dying man’s desperate final call for his mother. Could he be so sure of the inferiority of the person under his knee, so indifferent to his desire to live that he would murder so coldly?
Then I wonder about the president. What was he thinking as he strolled so stolidly on his mission of sacrilege? There must have been a strategy, as misguided as it was, that he felt would invoke a tidal wave of approval.
You’d think he would have least come up with a meaningful Bible verse he could dramatically quote. You could almost see Martin Luther King, Jr., doing that and raising the consciousness of a nation, bringing us together. Donald J. Trump mutely holding up a Bible after a watch-this-one wink to someone off to the side, has become a farcical image, making a marketing tool of something deemed sacred by so many of his followers.
Virtual Unreality Prevails in White House
Another Trump quote I can’t shake from my memory came in response to a reporter who asked him quite respectfully if he felt that downplaying the pandemic for months may have given the virus a deadly foothold. To which Trump trumpeted: “I’m President and you’re fake news!” Again, that huge sense of entitlement breaks through the façade. He is the chosen one, and he is not subject to explaining his actions or, in this case, inaction.
Then I see Vice President Mike Pence, head of the President’s coronavirus task force, appearing for its first public meeting in almost two months, contradicting the cautionary words of his own experts by taking credit for measures taken in some of our most populous states: “We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives.”
Welcome, once again, to Bizarro World, where there is an anti-truth to everything and an alternate version of each fact.
It is hard to sustain a fictional message of everything’s back to normal when the president has to grimace through more advisories from Anthony Fauci that cases are spiking again, that remote distancing and face masks are more important than ever and may continue to be so deep into the summer.
As for Pence, he did remind us to wash our hands and keep our distance, but conveniently omitted that wearing face masks protected the public, too, as the likelihood of 200,000 deaths before summer’s end appears increasingly likely. This didn’t escape notice by one of the generators of fake news who then asked if his omission had something to do with the president crowding supporters sans masks into an Oklahoma venue where the only acknowledgement to the dangers of COVID-19 was having attendees sign waivers that they wouldn’t sue if they contracted the disease.
This is when Pence decided that the Constitution overruled public health and safety: “The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, and we have an election coming up this fall.”
That was the full quote, all in one sentence, a continuum of logic. I suspect those last nine words are far more important to this administration than the first 18. The right to assemble and freedom of expression when people are protesting police oppression doesn’t seem to carry the same weight. That’s because those people— many of whom did wear face masks— have been dismissed as irrelevant troublemakers. The constitutional right NOT to wear a mask is apparently more important— even when its merits have been verified repeatedly by science and statistics.
If there was ever any doubt about how much the President really cares for those who cheer him on, it is as a modern-day Pied Piper enticing his adorers into the deadly embrace of a pandemic.
“Slow the Testing Down, Please!”
He just can’t resist lapping up the adulation they heap upon him, where he says stuff like this admission at his last rally on June 20: “When you do testing to that extent you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’ They test and they test. We got tests for people who don’t know what’s going on.”
That only spawned another round of mixed messaging. Slow the testing? And who are those people who “don’t know what’s going on” anyway, other than the president? The word from the White House was that he was joking to make a point. The president, however, said he never jokes and suggested he’d forge ahead with more rallies in Arizona and other hot-spot states. Fortunately, sanity prevailed. Perhaps it was a turnout in Tulsa far below his expectations. He had gone cold turkey on adulation without a campaign rally for two and a half months.
He reluctantly put his boisterous revivals on hold. It had started with eight, each in a different state, between his election and inauguration alone. Then there were the 49 rallies in his first 24 months in office (2017-18), 21 last year and 10 in the first two months of this year until that pesky virus slowed him down. Why, he hardly had time to play golf since his election (122 times as of June 28), let alone actually do his job with whatever time was left after Tweeting and watching, and being interviewed by, Fox News.
This brings to mind another notable Trump quote in August of 2016: “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
Who holds campaign rallies after the campaign is over? You won, Mister President. Now get out there and do whatever you promised you were going to do to drain that darn swamp, which seems deeper and muddier than ever. Just the casualty list of fired and prosecuted appointees alone has clogged up the drain.
But the image of Trump holding up that Bible makes me wonder what motivated him to do such a creepy thing. He’ll never erase that image. Had he turned it into a spiritual, unifying moment it could have been a plus.
He could have held up the Bible and read quotations about justice, let’s say, from the Gospel of Matthew: “God bless those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied.” Or from Micah where we are urged to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression.”
He might have chosen to remind us that no one, neither by race, gender nor ethnicity, is more important than others in these United States, as Galatians tells us: “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As for those of you who see wearing masks as suppression of your liberties instead of suppressing a potentially fatal disease, your selfishness is only endangering the rest of us and lengthening the duration of the pandemic.