A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: There’s cringe-worthy and there’s cringe-worthy; in fact, these amazing actions are a pandemic

One of the most cringe-inducing moments amidst the chaos surrounding the coronavirus pandemic came last week when, during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, credited “the UK’s” handling of the crisis, noting “it’s got the border, it’s got very strong borders, and they’re doing a very good job.”

Now, forget for a moment that the United Kingdom is an island nation, rising to prominence because it was protected by the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, so, yeah, you could say it’s got very strong borders.

But the rather awkward point was Trump conflating the Republic of Ireland for the United Kingdom. In fact, the two have been at odds since long before the Easter Rising of 1916. And just how, in the name of Eamon de Valara, the president of the United States can make such a miscue shows the precarious position the nation is in on several levels.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

And then of course, Trump followed up the meeting by subsequently closing the border with both Ireland and the United Kingdom, after questions were raised both here and abroad over why he failed to do so in the first place.

Trump, from any perspective, has not fared well during the coronavirus crisis, despite his protestations to the contrary. His approach has displayed signs of improvement over the past few days as he acknowledged the peril of the situation after dismissing it as a “hoax’’ earlier on.

But even then he couldn’t keep from boasting about his near divinity, telling reporters “I’d rate it a 10″ on a one-to-10 scale, when queried about his administration’s approach, citing an early decision to prohibit travel to-and-from China, the incubator of the disease.

Missing from that assessment was his early assurances that what is known as COVID-19 was pretty much in hand, consistently downplaying its risks, providing the nation he is sworn to defend with a false sense of security. Throughout that early period, he displayed greater concern for the impact on the economy and, of course, his own political standing than the health of his constituents.

And problems remain. The U.S. under Trump was simply ill-prepared to deal with a pandemic of this sort. The most damning evidence is the federal government’s inability to provide all those displaying symptoms with the test necessary to determine if they are, indeed, carrying the bug. The testing infrastructure remains a shamble, with many concerned patients being turned away. Some estimates place the U.S. about seven weeks behind where it ought to be.

Since testing is hard to come by there’s no accurate way to tell just how widespread the disease is. On the economic side, the stock market has reacted by losing all the gains it achieved during the three-plus years of the Trump administration and there are increasing fears of a recession on the horizon.

Despite the obvious sloppy handling of an extremely serious and deadly situation, Trump retains the approval of about 44 percent of the nation, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, a number approaching cult status. Trump appears incapable of doing anything to alienate his worshippers. Had he displayed the least bit of competency early on he would have been coronated the nation’s first king by now.

If any heroes emerge from this tribulation, and you can bet it won’t be Donny boy, they’re likely to come from among the nation’s governors, many of whom are consistently taking action to limit the spread by taking politically precarious actions like forcing the closure of businesses and limiting travel.

Foremost among them, surprisingly, has been Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who has performed a yeoman’s job of keeping the public informed while ordering drastic but necessary actions.

Beshear, a Democrat in a Republican-trending state, was essentially untested upon assuming office despite serving four years as the commonwealth’s attorney general. Critics considered him a lightweight who benefitted from the name recognition provided his father – former Gov. Steve Beshear – and his general election opponent — former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a disaster of the first order who likely would have suffered third-degree burns from watching the coronavirus challenge explode in his face had he been re-elected, Beshear has remained, cool, direct and honest in his almost-daily assessments to an anxious commonwealth, offering advice and making the lets him earn his pay. All done to keep as many people safe as possible.

Then there are those on the other end who apparently view public health as a nuisance. Foremost among that group is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who successfully delayed action on a $104 billion House-passed measure to provide free coronavirus testing to all citizens while financially bolstering unemployment insurance so he could present a doomed amendment to, among other things, require the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan.

Paul said he was acting to “pay for this economic stimulus package by removing less important spending from elsewhere in the budget.”

“Because next time, maybe in the not too distant future, our children may not even be able to borrow their way out of a crisis,” Paul said, citing the growing budget deficit under Trump. “Our dollar will be devalued. Our economy ruined. All because we will have been profligate fools with our resources.”

The Paul amendment died in a 95-3 vote. The bill finally passed – with Paul voting no.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Paul’s the sky-is-falling plaint would be better received had he not voted for a worthless tax cut bill in 2017 that primarily benefitted the wealthy and corporations and ran up the debt by $1.9 trillion over a 10-year period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Otherwise it’s hard to take the guy seriously.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, didn’t cover himself in glory, either, choosing to send the Senate home last weekend rather than take up the House bill as soon as possible to relieve the nation’s anxiety. A small misstep, perhaps, but one that remains on people’s minds.

And, of course, there’s our boy, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, who always comes through in the clutch. The Wonder Boy, unfortunately, missed the vote on the $104 billion package but later acknowledged he would have voted against it.

“When this is over, the greatest harm to society will have been the public’s unquestioning acceptance of the unchecked authority of governments to force private behavior and disrupt economies,” Massie said in a Facebook post. “I fear the actions taken by our government will make FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans look like a ‘light touch.’”

Remember in reading this that the Spanish Flu pandemic, which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, infected about 500  million people worldwide – about 27 percent of what was then the globe’s population. The number of deaths was placed at anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, perhaps reaching as high as 100 million.

If you think imposing restrictions to avoid an untold number of deaths, as occurred in the Spanish Flu pandemic, is akin to Japanese internment, you have a problem. And you certainly don’t belong in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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  1. Penny Gaffney says:

    I check this website at least once every day and generally find much very useful, even if I don’t always agree with the slant of a particular article. That being said, I cannot express strongly enough how tired I am of seeing Straub’s byline. From time to time I open his opinion piece to see if he has a cogent argument to offer. So far all I have seen is hackery. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion and KY Forward is entitled t run his pieces multiple times a week. I am just going to stop scroll down I guess or find another concise source of commonwealth news.

    • judyclabes says:

      Bill Straub writes a column only once a week and it always appears on Thursdays.

      • Penny Gaffney says:

        I suppose I just see it every other day, even when it is not the feature. I admit I rarely open and read his columns.

  2. Ray Foushee says:

    Hey, Penny —

    How about being specific about one or more things you object to in Bill’s column instead of using the hit and run tactic of labeling it “hackery” without an ounce of evidence to back that claim up?

    Or could “hackery” — in your world — simply be the crime of pointing out unpleasant truths about people who espouse views that you apparently find laudable?

  3. Judy Oetinger says:

    Thank you, Bill

  4. Penny Gaffney says:

    You are right, Bill. Labeling his columns as “hackery” is lazy, but in order to give you specifics I would have to re-read one, which I will not do. In my world (and I suspect you think you know what that is) truth, convenient or inconvenient, rarely comes from the opinions of blowhards of any stripe.

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