There are two stories out this weekend that have more in common than first meets the eye:
In both cases, the leaders of the country spread false information and/or suppressed information that could have been useful and even life-saving.
Trump first (because he wouldn’t have it any other way):
Back in September, when Hurricane Dorian was heading for Florida, Trump sent out a tweet warning people in several states to be prepared. By accident, he included Alabama in the list. It may have been an honest mistake, he may have relied on an outdated projection, or been simply careless. Issuing a correction, an oops, even blaming it on someone else, and the whole thing would have over.
But before Trump could do any of that (even if he was inclined to), NOAA Birmingham, alarmed over the number of calls it was getting about the hurricane hitting Alabama, put out a statement saying that Dorian wasn’t coming anywhere near the state and Alabamans should calm down. Even though NOAA didn’t know about Trump’s tweet at the time, Trump took their message as NOAA saying that he, the Very Stable Genius Who Knows More About Everything Than Everyone, was wrong. That could not be allowed to stand. The Very Stable Genius, in a fit of fury (his natural state), yelled and screamed and threatened until NOAA brass issued a statement scolding the Birmingham office for accidentally telling the truth. The emails that have just now been released thanks to FOIA show just how upset everyone at NOAA was about having to deal with the ego of The Very Stable Genius.
Now, on to China. Here’s a key paragraph from the New York Times front page story:
The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.
Notice anything similar?
The point of this diary isn’t about the Chinese cover-up itself. (I expect there will be diaries about that soon. Hint hint.) The point is that the United States under His Sniffling Lowness is moving in the direction of China in suppressing information, even life-threatening or life-saving, that makes the boss look bad.
We don’t know yet how high up the chain the China suppression effort went. It’s possible the central government in Beijing didn’t know, or didn’t direct, the coverup. But local authorities all know that allowing news to spread that makes puts makes the head office uncomfortable is a great way to lose one’s position, career, even freedom. (I saw this when I was in Beijing walking through monstrous air pollution that the Beijing city government kept denying even existed.)
In the United States, on the other hand, we do have a long tradition, however spotty, of letting the facts be known, of telling truth to power, of saying what needs to be said so that the American public can be well-informed. This is what motivated Amb. Yovanovitch, Lt. Col. Vindman, Dr. Hill, and others to speak out about Ukraine. This is what caused NOAA Birmingham to instinctively move to correct false information, not knowing or caring where it came from.
That’s what at stake now as struggle with IMPOTUS and his ego. This is about more than the survival of our democracy, critical as that is. It’s also about survival, period.