Sunday, March 14, 2021

Biden: A "Just Tell Me the Truth" President

            With Joe Biden’s first primetime address to the nation fresh in mind, it is worth recalling that Donald Trump marked his first day as president by propagating the bald-faced lie that the crowd that witnessed his inauguration from the National Mall was the largest in history. Television networks quickly disproved his claim by showing side-by-side photos of the sparse crowd for Trump’s inauguration and the much larger crowd for Barack Obama’s inauguration eight years earlier.

            Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, dismissed the easily refuted untruth as “alternative facts.” Journalists mocked her nonchalant reply, without fully appreciating the insidious political intent behind the phraseology.

Trump’s lies were not a bug, but a feature of his presidency. He realized from the outset that he could propagate lies from the White House that his rabid followers would believe and incorporate into an alternate reality. He took this tactic to an extreme in his post-Nov. 3 insistence that he had actually won the election, Polls indicate that around three-fourths of Republicans in fact believe Trump’s lie that Biden was not legitimately elected as president.

            Biden promised a different approach in his primetime address Thursday night [March 11] by recalling the campaign vignette when he asked a voter in Philadelphia, “What do you need most?” Her reply was simple and straightforward: “I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth.”

            Biden’s 25-minute address marked the first anniversary of the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. He recalled, without naming “That Other Guy,” the slow and ineffectual response from the then president. “Denials for days, weeks, then months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness.

            Trump, it will be recalled, minimized the pandemic even as the death toll climbed steadily to surpass half a million while he was still in office. By contrast, Biden went to empathetic lengths to avoid sugar-coating what he called “the “collective suffering” and “collective sacrifice” that all of us have experienced over the past year. He noted that he carries in a pocket a card showing the current number of COVID19 deaths in the United States: as of March 11, 527,726, more he said than the number of American deaths in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and 9/11 combined.

The Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler spotted a discrepancy within two hours after Biden had finished. In fact, the number of deaths in those conflicts totals more than 583,00 by including the World War I deaths from the Spanish influenza epidemic then sweeping the world. Kessler noted that in previous statements, Biden had been more careful to refer to “combat” deaths in the four conflicts. Compare this discrepancy to any of Trump’s 60,000 lies during his four years as president.

Apart from his chastening recollections, Biden made real news in the address by announcing that he would order all states to make the coronavirus vaccine available to all adults age 18 and over by May 1. On Fox News, opinion hosts such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity complained that Biden had failed to credit Trump for spearheading the accelerated development of the vaccine. Biden instead gave credit in his address to “researchers and scientists.”

            The Fox News acolytes failed to note, however, that Trump and Melania declined to join the country’s four other living ex-presidents and ex-first ladies in urging all Americans to get vaccinated. Trump himself was vaccinated secretly while still in the White House. A PBS poll conducted in early March found that 49 percent of Republican men say they have no plans to get vaccinated. By contrast, 87 percent of Democrats included in the survey said they had already been vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated.

            Biden accurately and regretfully noted the political divisions that the pandemic has engendered among Americans. “Too often,” he said, “we’ve turned against one another. A mask—the easiest thing to do to save lives—sometimes it divides us. States pitted against one other instead of working with each other.”

            “My fellow Americans,” Biden said with reassuring confidence, “you’re owed nothing less than the truth. And for all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth. The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track is to beat the virus.”

            Significantly, Biden did not call it the “Kung-Flu” virus, as Trump did, or the China virus. Without specifically blaming Trump, Biden instead noted the “vicious hate crimes” against Asian Americans, many of them front-line workers trying to save lives but forced to live in fear. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop,” Biden said.

            Defeating the virus, Biden said, was his top priority and requires – with an acknowledgment of the seeming hyperbole – a “war footing.” He detailed the steps he had taken in his first 50 days in office to work with vaccine manufacturers in expanding the vaccine supply. By now, the number of seniors over age 65 who have been vaccinated has risen from 8 percent to 65 percent. For seniors over age 75, the numbers have increased from 14 percent to over 70 percent.

            “I need you to get vaccinated,” Biden said, pleadingly, “when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity, and to help your family and friends and neighbors get vaccinated as well.”  

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