On the Other Hand

Last month I used this space to express the idea that in the early days of the American experience with COVID-19 it left me unsettled to move immediately to logical arguments and strident criticism. I felt weighed down by the deaths that had already occurred and the tens (hundreds?) of thousands more to come in our nation, let alone the world populace. It felt appropriate then to rest with the idea of the present specter of random death and consider how that might help us change our lives as spiritual, religious, and Christian beings, moving through this world at this time. However, as the days passed, the death toll rose, and our piecemeal response failed, I’ve had a change of heart. I now find myself in the more unsettling position of believing that part of stemming the tide is to make the argument that our national response to this pandemic has been found wanting, and the vast majority of that failure has a specific and distinct cause.

The “presidential” leadership during the early days of this unprecedented crisis was (and is) an abysmal failure. Donald Trump on the one hand has argued that his authority during this time is total, while on the other hand stating that he takes no responsibility for how this crisis has been handled.[1]To be fair, most of Trump’s mistakes are due to his ignorance and total lack of foresight. A brief list:

- One of the few transition exercises the outgoing Obama administration ran with the incoming Trump administration was an exercise in preparing for and dealing with a pandemic. One of the things members of the Trump team received was a playbook on how to deal with a pandemic, which included steps to be taken before any sign of a pandemic and what to do when the virus comes to our shores. The aimlessness of this administration’s response to COVID-19 makes it clear that the advice of the previous administration is not being followed.[2]

- The Trump administration decided in 2018 to dissolve the National Security Council directorate charged with organizing the response to a pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci said of the dissolution, “It would be nice if the office were still there.”

- Between 2018 and 2019, the Trump administration cut two-thirds of the staff at the CDC’s public health agency in China. Many of the positions were dedicated to helping the Chinese combat potential epidemics and informing the US about possible public health issues.[3]

- In 2019, the Trump administration let the contract between the government and the company responsible for maintenance of the ventilators in the national stockpile lapse. They did not replace the company until January of this year and as a result thousands of the ventilators sent out to needy states in a time of crisis were inoperable.[4]

The preceding are the well documented and unassailable missteps of this administration that led to our nation’s lack of preparedness for this crisis. To this list we could add some of the more amorphous aspects of Trump’s response, such as downplaying the problem for almost two months, uneven distribution of needed supplies amongst the states[5], or suggesting an unproven drug as a potential cure, incidentally leading to the death of one person. While causality can be a tricky thing to decipher, it isn’t illogical to believe that the missteps of the national response, and Trump in particular, has cost some Americans their lives.

Trump’s response to this crisis should have exposed a fault line amongst his biggest supporters, White evangelicals. But that fault line has not come to pass. According to the latest polling, White evangelicals still support Trump in overwhelming numbers, with 77% saying they are either somewhat or very confident in Trump’s coronavirus response.[6] Trump’s response and plan at the very least is tolerant of death tolls in the hundreds of thousands. At worst, the slow response, downplaying, and disorganization is responsible for some of these deaths, through no fault of the deceased. For almost five decades the Religious Right (under many different names) has been a stalwart champion of the “lives” of the unborn, the truly innocent.[7] I would argue that most, if not all, of the victims of this virus are also truly innocent. No one who acquires this virus and dies has done anything to deserve their fate, in the same way that Conservative evangelicals argue that no aborted fetus deserves its fate. The question that has bothered me for over a month now is how this movement, so tied to the issue of life, is now willing to stomach so much death?[8]

There seem to me to be three options, none of which give me any solace. First, Conservative evangelicals may sincerely believe that this level of death is random, and cannot be laid at the feet of Trump or his administration. I would find this option difficult to believe for two reasons – the list of missteps is long and major (see above), and this group’s criticism of the previous administration, which never had a pandemic claim this many lives. Second, it is possible that Conservative evangelicals have come to accept a utilitarian form of political ethics. Instead of their previous focus on the character of their leaders, they now believe the most important thing is to elect someone who will defend them and be responsive to their political agenda.[9] Third, it is also possible that the implications of Trump’s choices causing death, when his most stalwart base is supposed to be pro-life, has never occurred to the minds of Trump’s most loyal base of supporters.

In the end, interestingly enough, my concern is the same as many Conservative evangelicals, although I would not count myself among them – I want to be able to share the gospel of Christ with a world desperately in need of Him without interference or impediments. I believe that Christian support for Trump in our nation is a burden on our religious witness. I believe that was the case before his response to this pandemic, and I believe that Christian support, in tandem with his response, has not made our witness any easier. I am glad and ultimately hopeful that we serve a God who is bigger and more powerful than our partisan divides. But that same God called us to be His witness to the world, and sometimes it is just plain embarrassing how unhelpful we can be.

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[1] Somebody somewhere has to see the dissonance in this argument. If your authority is total, then all the responsibility lies with you. You failed in either not handling the crisis correctly, or, if you had the correct plan, for not being able to address why no one wanted to submit to your total authority.

[2] This is particularly upsetting because Trump during this pandemic has attempted to blame the previous administration for problems with the pandemic response. The issues that he has raised are issues that his administration knew about before it entered office because they were told by the previous administration that those issues needed to be addressed before any sign of a pandemic.

[3] This one is particularly galling because Trump has taken to blaming the Chinese for misinformation about the coronavirus. While one cannot say with certainty, it isn’t a stretch to believe that more Americans on the ground in China would’ve been helpful in gaining accurate information about the virus.

[4] This one is particularly vexing because Trump has said that he inherited “horrible ventilators,” which is just inaccurate.

[5]Which Trump himself has implied, and stems from whether the officials of a state are nice to him or not.

[6] To be fair, the latest polling is approximately a month old. It is possible that opinion has shifted in the interim. However, the stunning silence from evangelical leaders (or in some cases stalwart support) on Trump’s response to the pandemic leads me to believe these figures will hold true.

[7] I put “lives” in quotations here because the issue of whether a fetus at certain points is a human life is the very thing being debated.

[8] In the intervening time the parallel became even deeper. Protests are now occurring where people are arguing that they should be able to ignore social distancing guidelines, despite the fact that those guidelines are in place for the public good and help save lives. The arguments being made by these conservatives (some of whom I am sure are Conservative evangelicals) sound eerily similar to the arguments made by women defending their choice regarding termination of their pregnancies.

[9] There is at least some credence to this argument, as I believe this is a boiled down version of the argument Dr. Tim Jennings made here in February.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

Image Credit: Wikimeda Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10385
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Mr. Hines,
While I have little or no disagreement with your article. I think that we have beaten this horse to death. The obvious responses to your piece are going to fall along the same ideological lines as previous articles and I honestly don’t think any minds will be changed one way or another.

Those that want to support this president will, obviously, continue to do so. Because, if the tape that was released just prior to the election about him grabbing women… then these same supporters will be unwilling to condemn him for anything.

The people that find this president disgraceful will continue to find him disgraceful.

Piling on only deepens the divide. We have bigger issues to deal with like helping our fellow men and telling them there is something much better in the end of this journey.

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Piling on only deepens the divide.

On the other hand, speaking up may be the only way left to get the attention of the millions who are unaware of his systematic destruction of our government.

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While I agree minds won’t change, It is still needed for valid voices to speak out. We can see from history when ‘voices’ were silent, great harm came to be. We are apart of this world, live in it, work in it, attend church in it, breath in it, etc. Yes, Christianity can ‘tell them there is something much better at the end of this journey’, but that doesn’t help in the present. The following opinion may shed more info ‘helping our fellow (humans)’,Evangelical Christianity

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on the other hand, there is value in a church entity like Spectrum airing our deep misgivings over trump…otherwise onlookers may very well associate us with the rest of evangelical christianity…

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I agree with all the commenters. I guess I am simply exhausted pointing out all of the insanity that this president is responsible for, and every time I have spoken out, it doesn’t seem to change the responses from the Trump believers. They look at any opposition to this man as “Fake News” and that we are “haters”. I am sure that will never change no matter how often his arrogant, egotistical, rude, misogynistic, racist, lying positions are spread out for all to see.

I just wish there was a more intelligent electret in this country. I doubt that many of you would disagree.

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I personally would like to see far less focus on the domestic secular political situation of a country that represents about 5% of the global SDA membership.

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Well, there’s always hope that some will finally get it. It’s been said that “Repetition is the best teacher”.
I am appreciative of your comments here on Spectrum, Lynden.
Caddy

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Lynden Williams, wrote: Piling on only deepens the divide. We have bigger issues to deal with like helping our fellow men and telling them there is something much better in the end of this journey.

Lindy I disagree. We need to continue to pile it on. Perhaps there is a Trump loyalist out there who will listen to our President’s lies and advice and ingest Clorox or Lysol into their body to cure Coronavirus. But, if we are to get through this with minimal damage, and if the government’s failures are to be met with any semblance of accountability, all of us will have to continue to “pile it on”. We will have to hold strong in the face of Trump’s efforts to destroy public faith in truth.

Donald Trump once said “I love the poorly educated,” after having won the Republican primary in the state of Nevada. Nevada schools, notably, are the lowest ranked in the nation but the then-candidate was widely understood to have meant that he loved those people with relatively less formal education, who make up the majority of his base and his election-winning margin.

In other words, it may well be that one of the greatest truths Donald Trump ever managed to tell was that he does, indeed, love the poorly educated. The thing is, really smart people don’t have to lie: Either they have the courage of their convictions, the intelligence to think through the consequences before they act and/or they don’t tend to screw up stuff that’s easy to not screw. Lying is how you try to fix or cover up a screw-up, because you don’t respect your audience enough to be honest and you don’t respect their intelligence enough to believe they’ll see through the lie. Lying is something you do, or feel you have to do, because you’re a little bit dumb – or maybe just a little “poorly educated.”

Please continue to “pile it on”.

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We do need to speak-up, we need to make truth available. Just this morning a leader in my conference posted on facebook how that leader was thankful for a “President who Prays”. I gave a respectful response.

Jason Blesses us with setting a good example in this essay.

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Hello everyone,

I find this to be a fascinating conversation. I am also a little surprised that after almost 24 hours the normal critics have yet to emerge. Lindy, I sympathize with your argument. I actually wrestled with whether I wanted to write this piece this month, and last month I wrote about how I purposefully avoided writing this type of piece, despite the fact that most of what I present here was also true a month ago. So I sympathize/empathize with the feelings of frustration, hopelessness and futility that led to your original comment. And I wrestle with that almost every time I write about Trump (which is more than I would like actually. I wish he would just not do anything critic-worthy for just one month). I don’t know if I’m going to say anything too different from all the other things mentioned, but I thought I would give my personal reasons for why I soldier on, despite the trepidation.

  1. You never know when it is someone’s first time engaging with an idea- I think sometimes we assume that everyone has been following as closely as we are or that everyone is working from the same set of facts. You’d be surprised how many times someone reaches out to me and says something to the effect of “You told me something I didn’t know and it changed my thinking.”

  2. You never know when someone is reaching their breaking point- Now I can either be upset that it took a pandemic for you to see it when there was all this other evidence, or be happy that you saw it at all. I go with the latter.

  3. I write selfishly- I’ve tried to explain this to people and I’m almost sure it comes off bad but it’s the truth. Many of the writers I know write because of their need to say, not the audience’s need to hear. I am among that number. The point of this piece is a point that needed to be made, so I said it. Now do I hope that certain people read it, hear it, and make changes? Sure I do. But I did not write this specifically for that outcome. I wrote it because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I hadn’t.

As always I thank you all for reading and engaging.

God Bless,

Jason Hines

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Our compassion for even the clueless should motivate us to shout,“DON’T DRINK THAT LYSOL!”. :astonished:

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President Trump’s only real mistake was listening to the deep-state public health establishment when they told him to shut down the economy. Now that significant blood serum anti-body testing has been undertaken in California and New York, we know two very important facts about this virus:

First, the death rate per total number of infections is comparable to seasonal flu, at about 0.1 to 0.15%. We do not destroy our economy, pitch 26 million people into unemployment and our economy into a great depression over seasonal flu. The elderly in nursing homes are the most vulnerable to this infection; we need to take steps to quarantine and protect them, and let everyone else get on with their lives.

Second, this virus has already spread too far for a partial economic shutdown to contain it or have any meaningful affect on its spread. There may be 900,000 “cases” in the U.S., but in all likelihood 30 or 40 million people have already been exposed to the virus. To continue with shutdowns now is simply adding extreme economic hardship to whatever loss of life the virus will inexorably cause.

Trump’s only chance at losing the evangelical vote, or the votes of other sensible people, is to continue to slavishly follow the advice of so-called “experts,” who have been wrong about every important aspect of this epidemic, and continue to do needless and pointless damage to the economy, which will cause loss of life through suicide, substance addiction, domestic violence and other sequela of poverty and despair.

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it’s so interesting that the coronavirus pandemic is coming during the trump presidency, known for its lying…like coronavirus, trump’s lies have permeated every aspect of society - they’ve infected the world…some stand up and resist these lies, but many others lie down and die to all sensibility to the truth…

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For President Trump to gloss over his ill-chosen words by saying it was just sarcasm is compounding his error. He disrespects journalists who ask him questions he does not like. He is rude, intemperate and unfair in his responses. His so called toughness with the press reveals his fear of the truth about his ignorance and inability to be civil or fair to others.
The sad part of all this seems to be that Trump’s “base” brings out the worst responses in all of us.
Has Trump led us?
Has Trump United us as a nation?
Has Trump Inspired in us to be the best of ourselves?
I’ m afraid he has not on all counts!

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this hits the nail on the head…what i wonder often is that when trump calls a journalist to his or her face Fake News, why they just sit there and take it…don’t they feel any responsibility to defend the institution they represent…

i think trump gets away with things because people allow it…they seem so shocked at the lengths he willingly goes to that they don’t and can’t respond…but i don’t think they should give him this kind of deference…they should be as rude to him as he is to them, regardless of their personal preferences…

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In reference to which president? All of the ones in my lifetime have actually prayed in public, or claimed that they prayed.

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Hind sight is 20/20. Jason Hines, why didn’t you write this in January?

I think it is interesting to see the timeline of events of how different people reacted to the virus stages. Trump haters blame the one they hate the most rather than look at the facts, comparisons, obvious political maneuvering, and the whole picture. Supporters of America tend to see the results of the behaviors and actions taken by government officials and news reporters that report twisted narratives to meet their bias (Trump did not say to innoculate or injest with Clorox or Lysol; sheesh!). Trump presented a factual timeline the other day that showed the responses of various people and his decisions based on advice from his team. Much of this and more can be found on hannity.com, including the insensitivity and out-of-touch with reality from Pelosi with her chocolate and ice cream bragging.

Currently, an interesting subject is the herd immunity subject (look it up if you do not fully understand this). Maybe we can only wonder where we would be if we continued our normal way of life and let nature take its course. Would the economy still be strong? Would the number of deaths killed off be 50% of the citizens and then lead to a weaker economy like it is now? Would only the weak have been thinned out of our population? Would the virus have suddenly curved downwards while immunity would have left the virus with no where to go? All this hiding we have been doing may only result in the virus returning because we have not built an immunity. One thing all this hiding and distancing has done is instilled fear and who of the great spiritual powers values that?

We will learn more as time goes on and can again use 20/20 perfect vision to chastise bad decisions and foolish statements.

Just some thoughts I felt compelled to share.

A doctor named Dr. Maria Danilychev, M.D. recently published a graph online that was featured in many news articles about how Covid -19 is at this time the leading cause of death daily in the United States. Heart disease comes next, then cancer and the flu is way down there with an average of 153 deaths a day. Even if the flu deaths are packed in together in a season instead of spread out over a year to average it out it Covid-19 ends up way higher. It’s only been a few months of growth of Covid-19. Even the data from the cruise ships which had an enclosed environment show that it has a much higher fatality rate than the flu. Also, the SARS-2 virus that causes the disease is quite unique and latest news finds that it can cause blood clots in some people that lead to heart attack and stroke as opposed to mostly the pneumonia that SARS-1 caused. Some heart attacks and strokes from this year are being investigated as being caused by Covid-19. And also there’s not been a vaccine for the colds caused by coronaviruses and a vaccination that would work long term for it probably won’t be available for at least 5 years as evidenced by how long it took the other vaccinations to get developed. It’s true that the vulnerable should be protected and the economy should open up but with great precautions and measures and life will not be like before again. Expect some future television shows and movies coming out to reflect these changes when culture imitates society.

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these are not antonymic with “trump haters”, as you imply…it can be argued that people hate what trump stands for because they support america and what it stands for…despite what hannity has made you believe, trump and america don’t stand for the same things…

we all saw the videos…there’s no point at any attempt at revisionism…

yes, this is interesting, and sweden is now being closely watched, and will be watched in the fall, when covid-19 resurges…

what cannot be gainsaid is the fact that no-one wants to die, nor does anyone want to see loved ones die…applying herd immunity models because they offer greater protection in theory doesn’t remove the reality that some people must die who may otherwise not die if viral spread is contained until a vaccine or effective cure is developed…