Katy Burns: COVID, confinement, and confusion

  • President Donald Trump talks with reporters at Andrews Air Force Base after attending a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pa., on Thursday. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/6/2020 7:00:05 AM

For a lot of us, this summer of COVID-19 has been a summer of confinement – and bafflement.

As we’ve huddled in our homes – our confinement broken only by mad dashes to grocery stores, masks in place, and sanitizer in hand – we’ve watched the country outside in perplexed wonder and more than a little exasperation.

Who are these largely maskless fools, captured by omnipresent TV cameras, who are downright gleefully gathering in exuberant crowds at beaches and bars, defiantly daring the pandemic gods to strike them down? Nor are they just the feckless young. We’ve seen plenty of feckless geezers and geezerettes as well.

More important, who are the foolhardy authorities – ostensibly responsible for overseeing the public health and safety – who view this irresponsibility with equanimity, even approval? Some are governors, of course, giving vocal support to some warped notion of rugged individualism, even if it imperils some of our society’s less rugged individuals.

But most of them have been taking their cues from our national ultimate authority, our very own president. Donald Trump has dithered for months over what to do and has ended up doing nothing constructive, defying the advice even of his own top medical authorities as the country has become a pariah among nations because of the rampant plague.

President Donald Trump has been a toxic presence in our country for four years. Unlike most previous presidents who have at least given lip service to trying to unite Americans, Trump has spent nearly four years sowing discord, poisoning the way we talk to one another, poisoning the way we treat each other, pitting one group of Americans against another.

And last week, he gave a massive symbolic finger to even the notion of a unifying American president, commandeering the White House – our White House, where he is temporarily privileged to live – for a massive light show and fireworks display celebrating, well, himself and his re-election campaign.

So much for the cherished notion of “president of all the people.”

And later in the week our president of some of the people, still keeping to a political theme, firmly advised his supporters to vote twice, once by mail and once in person.

Yes, the same president who for months has predicted that the 2020 election will be rife with fraud and rigged against him, was asked by a television reporter if he had any confidence in the vote-by-mail system many COVID-fearing Americans intend to use this year.

Trump, who has railed mightily against voting by mail despite the fact that he himself customarily votes by mail, had a ready answer.

People, he said, should indeed vote by mail, then “send it [the mail ballot] in…. and then they are going to have to check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that…. So, let them send it in, and let them go vote,” Trump said Wednesday.

“And if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they will be able to vote. So that’s the way it is, and that’s what they should do.”

Confused? Clearly you are not the only one.

The White House, hastened – as this White House so often has to do – to set the record straight, or at least to insist that Trump was not urging Americans to vote twice, no matter what their lying ears might have heard.

Okey doke. It’s worth noting, I think, that we are talking here about the man our country’s voters – or at least members of the Electoral College – have chosen to entrust with the country’s nuclear codes.

And that wasn’t all. Our president managed to get in an interview with Laura Ingraham, one of his stauncher enablers at Fox News, and he decided to divert attention from himself to his opponent, Joe Biden.

“People that you’ve never heard of … people that are in dark shadows” are secretly pulling the strings of the former vice president,” the current president said. A conspiracy? asked Ingraham.

No, said Trump. “They’re people that are on the streets. They’re people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane.”

Warming to his theme, he added that “the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, rioters, people looking for trouble…. I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now.”

Maybe it was, as our president suggests, a case of thugs on a plane. Or – more likely, I suspect – Donald Trump, who likely hasn’t flown commercially for decades, simply doesn’t recognize a description of ordinary Americans in comfortable flying apparel.

This summer of confinement – with temperatures in Concord higher than then they have been since the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant – will soon be over, and we can hope our pandemic will wane as well. And also, with luck, in November, the reign of our seriously confused present president will come to an end.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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