What a fact-check looks like

In his editorial of September 23, 2020, the Editor of The Anderson News wrote the following:

I assume the opinion piece he’s referring to is mine, and I would have gladly provided information to said editor had he asked for it. He did not ask. https://www.kentucky.com/article245786560.html

Here are the facts:

  1. I have contemporaneous text messages that I sent within minutes of leaving ACE Hardware in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky on August 2, 2020. This is the one I sent to my husband (who was out of town) and adult children at 9:52 a.m.:

  1. Within 48 hours, I filed detailed complaints with both the State of Kentucky (online) and the Anderson County Health Department (via telephone) wherein I reported employees and customers not wearing masks, and also exactly what was said to me by a customer as I was leaving the store.
  1. Through an Open Records Request to the Anderson County Health Department, I received a copy of a Nuisance Complaint Form dated August 24, 2020. It reads: “Employees not wearing masks. Customers not wearing masks,” and “Citation issued (1st) to manager Chris Dillon. Observed 3 customers in store not wearing masks – not being asked to put one on. Manager stated they will not require customers to wear them bec of potential loss of money.” 
  1. A Covid-19 Face Covering Citation was issued for non-compliance with Executive Order 2020-586 and Regulation 902 KAR 2:190E on August 24, 2020 at 1:15 p.m. 5.   On September 22, 2020 at 1:05 p.m., Lawrenceburg resident Luther White posted publicly on his Facebook page: “I just got banned by the owner or manager of Ace Hardware Lawrenceburg for employees and customers not wearing masks. That’s fine I will never buy a thing there again. And will be contacting Ace corporate about this. He asked me to come back to his office and the first thing he did was take his mask off in a little small office and proceed to accost me about some comments I made on Facebook. Telling me how he enforces employees and supposedly customers to wear a mask. And would not put his mask back on.”  (Note that prior to September 23, 2020 I did not know of, nor had I ever met, Mr. White. I was referred to his Facebook page by someone who read my column, and I stopped by Mr. White’s house to speak with him off the record.)
  1. On September 24, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. I spoke with Tim Wright, Public Health Director, Anderson County Health Department about the details in my column and my experience at ACE Hardware. 

CONCLUSION:  This is what a fact-check looks like. Based on these facts, there appears to be a pattern. And this is information the citizens of Anderson County should be made aware of during a pandemic that’s killed more than 200,000 Americans in the last 6 months.

Is this freedom?

Trump indoor rally, Nevada. Photo credit: Newsweek

“Who are you?” she wants to know. I have been on the phone with my stepmother for maybe five minutes. She is clearly agitated, having what we call “a bad day.” She wants to know why I haven’t called or visited and why I’m asking so many personal questions. I finally ask if Dad is around. “Well, he’s not my dad,” she huffs. Then, handing the phone to her husband, “And who are you? My grandfather? No wait, my great-grandfather?”

They have been married 46 years, since I was nine years old.

I last saw my dad and stepmother in November. She still recognized me in November. She still knew my dad was her husband in November, when we thought her end-stage, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the worst thing we had to worry about.

In November, the word coronavirus was not yet common lexicon.

In November, my dad and I finally made up. We had not spoken for three years, since shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration. He voted for Trump. I was sickened by Trump. And tell me if you’ve heard this one before: We had our big falling out on Facebook. Plus, he and my stepmother live 320 miles away, in a small Missouri town, so not speaking came sadly easy.

But in November 2019, I drove over to see my stepmother, and my dad and I took a long, meandering drive. We stopped for Mexican food and a beer. We talked. He had questions. What did I think of Bevin losing to Beshear? Did this impeachment thing have legs? What to make of stronger storms and hurricanes and heatwaves, this climate crisis?

Enter the coronavirus. My stepmother’s health, mentally and physically, is deteriorating, and I worry about the stress of isolation and caregiving on my dad. I worry I will never hug my stepmother again. “The good news is,” Dad reminds me over the phone, as he explains how at least she can’t wander off and get lost, “her oxygen cord won’t let her get past the porch.”

I conjure an imagine of my beloved stepmother tied-up like a dog on a chain in the yard. Her lack of freedom, and his. When we hang up, I sob like a child.

I recently stopped at ACE Hardware in Lawrenceburg for those reflective number stickers you put on mailboxes. No one was wearing masks. I asked the clerk if there was a policy. “Not really,” he chuckled.

I said, “Y’all need to be wearing masks,” and as I walked out the sliding glass doors, the customer in line behind me yelled, “Fuck you, you fucking bitch.” The laughter of men trailed me out the door. I climbed into my truck, shaking mad, and instantly recalled the words of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”

“What’s wrong with people?” my dad said when I told him.

Last weekend I called Dad as I was finishing up a three-mile run. “You sound outta breath, kiddo.” He tries to be cheerful, but he’s had to unplug the house phone because his wife has taken to calling 911 at all hours to report someone is in her house, she’s scared, can they come right away. And my dad — 75 years old, exhausted by loneliness, by repeating himself, by changing the sheets, by keeping her from throwing away her medication — has to spend an hour on the porch with police, in the middle of the night, explaining.

Where we used to avoid talk of politics, now we use politics as a distraction. “You see the big crowd at the president’s Nevada rally last night?” I said to my dad, plopping myself down on a curb to catch my breath. “Packed in like sardines, hardly a mask in sight.”

“I say it again and again, kiddo, what’s wrong with people? Sixteen thousand fans at the Chiefs game. We couldn’t have fans at baseball, but we can do this?” He told me about a 9/11 remembrance he’d watched last week, how we came together as a country back then, adding. “We’ve sure shot all that to hell, now, haven’t we.”

“Who are you?” my stepmother wants to know. Which, as it turns out, is a question I often ask of myself these days, of friends and neighbors, of men at ACE Hardware, of the thousands attending Trump rallies railing on about their freedom. Of the president himself.

As of this writing, 194,000 Americans are dead. Health experts warn that number could reach 400,000 by year end. Why? Because we won’t wear masks and we won’t social distance. Such rules, folks say, impinge on their freedom.

Is this what freedom is? Because even my once-Trump-voting dad disagrees.

Who are you?

Our Air of Robust Innocence

Shortly after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris, a Black woman, as his vice presidential running mate, President Trump — ostensibly in the White House briefing room to discuss the coronavirus, which has killed 171,000 Americans in just five months — called Sen. Harris “extraordinarily nasty,” adding that she was “probably nastier even than Pocahontas,” his racist, derogatory nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And no one was surprised.

Like many Americans this pandemic summer, I have been reading and thinking about what it means to be a person of color in this country. Not a day has gone by that I have not pictured that white police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck as he called out for his mama. Not a day has gone by that I have not imagined the horror of Breonna Taylor’s slow and agonizing death after being shot multiple times, in her own apartment, by Louisville police, and the maddening delay in bringing her killers to justice. Not a day has gone by that I have not considered the overt racism — Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, brown children in cages at our southern border, branding Covid-19 the “China Virus,” and more — that has oozed like a venom from the occupant of the Oval Office.

This summer, reading has served as both my education and my antivenin, and one of the most important books I’ve come across is “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson.

In Chapter 8, I learned that when Nazi bureaucrats met in Nuremberg in June 1934, “They were looking to move quickly with their plans for racial separation and purity, and knew that the United States was centuries ahead of them with their anti-miscegenation statutes and race-based immigration bans.” Hitler praised our “near genocide of Native Americans and the exiling to reservations of those who had survived,” and “the Nazis were impressed by the American custom of lynching its subordinate caste of African-Americans, having become aware of the ritual torture and mutilations that typically accompanied them. Hitler especially marveled at the American knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.”

A mere 84 years later, and in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, too many White Americans still maintain this air of robust innocence, all evidence to the contrary.

Consider this: On July 5, the New York Times reported “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors,” and “Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.” Could this be the reason our president — a man who declared neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “fine people” and whose gut reaction to a Black woman being nominated for vice president was to call her “nasty” and compare her derogatorily to “Pocahontas” — has no interest in a national plan to combat what he calls the “China virus?”

I often hear Trump voters dismiss the idea of systemic racism. George Floyd was killed by a police officer for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police inside her apartment on March 13, the same week we went on Covid-19 lockdown, and her killers have still not been brought to justice. As of this writing, 171,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and those deaths are disproportionately people of color.

If this is not systemic, what is?

Some weeks from now, Americans will vote to decide if Donald Trump deserves another venomous four years. What example will we set as the world looks on? Another literal guidebook for Nazi-like regimes, as in 1934, or something new and, in a word, anti-racist?

I leave you with this chilling paragraph from Wilkerson’s book: “Hitler had risen as an outside agitator, a cult figure enamored of pageantry and rallies with parades of people carrying torches that an observer said looked like rivers of fire. Hitler saw himself as the voice of the [people], of their grievances and fears, especially those in the rural districts, as God’s chosen savior, running on instinct. He had never held elected office before.”

Sound familiar?

In November, let’s vote for the democratic America we profess to be. The world will be watching.

___________

If you’re looking for books on race, I’ve recently read and loved the following:

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — Isabel Wilkerson (non-fiction)
Real American — Julie Lythcott-Haims (memoir)
Citizen — Claudia Rankine (memoir)
How to be an Anti-Racist — Ibram X. Kendi (memoir)
The Nickel Boys — Colson Whitehead (fiction)
Brother, I’m Dying — Edwidge Danticat (memoir)
Between the World and Me — Ta’nehisi Coates (memoir)

Being president is too hard for this president

Congressman John Lewis to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda (photo by the New York Times)

Always go to the funeral. That was the rule, and it was non-negotiable. “Going to the funeral is the least you can do,” my mother would say. “You show up to show your respect, because it is the right thing to do.”

On July 17, Congressman John Lewis, Civil Rights icon and revered leader on both sides of the political aisle, died from pancreatic cancer. His body lies in-state in the Capitol rotunda. When asked if he would be attending the ceremony or stopping by the Capitol to pay his respects, President Trump said unequivically, “No, I won’t be going, no.”

Always go to the funeral, my mother said. How hard would it have been for the president to stop by the rotunda, to do the right thing, to pay his respects — respect John Lewis inarguably earned — to one of the last living leaders of the Civil Rights Movement?

And yet sadly, we are not surprised, because rarely does this president choose to do the right thing, the hard thing, the presidential thing, the thing that would bring comfort and peace.

Consider the state of unrest and pain in this country since the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. How hard would it have been for the president to talk about police brutality or systemic racism, to listen to communities in pain, to say the words “I am listening, I hear you, how can I help”?

How hard is it for President Trump to calm tensions, to bring peace, to say the words Black Lives Matter?

Apparently, too hard.

It has been widely reported that a Russian military intelligence unit was offering the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and allied troops. On July 29, Axios reported “Trump has spoken to Putin at least eight times since intelligence about the alleged Russian bounties was reportedly included in the President’s Daily Brief — his written intelligence briefing — in late February.” When asked if he has ever asked Putin about the bounties, the president replied, “I have never discussed it with him.”

How hard is it for President Trump to tell a hostile power not to pay bonuses for killing American soldiers?

Apparently, too hard.

And then there is Covid-19. I keep reading news from other countries like New Zealand, where the federal government led from day one. Schools and workplaces have opened. They can already have weddings, funerals, sporting events, and concerts. Imagine (can you even imagine?) this.

But unlike New Zealand, our president chose to slough-off his responsibilities and turn everything over to the states: 50 states with 50 different plans. We are now more than four months in, with 150,000 deaths and counting. Here in Kentucky, some businesses are closing again. Travel is strongly discouraged. We do not know if or when schools will open. We cannot have sports or weddings or funerals. We are still — inexplicably, still — arguing about wearing masks and not crowding into bars.

How hard would it have been, back in February, for the president to pull all of the governors together with Drs. Fauci and Birx and Redfield, and lead with a singular, centralized plan? How hard would it have been for him to work with the states instead of fighting with them about everything from PPE to opening for church on Easter Sunday?

How hard would it have been, from the start, for him to lead by example and wear a damn mask?

Apparently, too hard.

We cannot, as my mother would say, go to the funerals. But we can do what the president seemingly cannot: We can show up and show respect. We can do what is right.

So, let us pray for the souls of George Floyd and Congressman John Lewis. Let us pray for everyone fighting to make Black Lives Matter. Let us pray that no U.S. soldier is killed for a bounty because our president lacks courage. Let us pray for the 150,000 families who are suffering, families our president never mentions.

I leave you with the words of Robert F. Kennedy from the extemporaneous eulogy he shared the night of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s death: What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of injustice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or black… Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, “to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of the this world.”

A love letter to Lawrenceburg

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“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.” ~ Thornton Wilder, OUR TOWN

A few years ago, a woman born and raised here in Lawrenceburg told me she loves it here so much she would never, ever live anywhere else. When she met her future husband, he owned a nice home in the next county over. If he wanted her, she told him, he had to sell his house and move here. And he did. What better testament of love could there be?

I thought about this yesterday morning when I arrived in town to walk my dogs. There were 2 women on the corner carrying assault rifles, their fingers next to the trigger. There were some men with guns on their belts milling around the courthouse. Next to the door of the Judge Executive’s office stood the man who, over Memorial Day weekend, had hung an effigy of the governor at our State Capitol. He was smiling and chatting with another man.

I did not bother walking my dogs. I turned around and drove right back home.

Apparently, there has been a debate brewing here over whether or not to remove a statue of a confederate soldier on our courthouse lawn. A meeting was taking place at the Judge Executive’s office. I’ve been gone for a month, so I knew little about this.

But this I do know: If there are civilian men and women openly carrying weapons up and down Main Street, you will not see me on Main Street.

As a prominent, local woman whose family has lived here for generations said yesterday about these armed militia, “They are ruining our downtown. I’m afraid to go anywhere downtown.”

Yes, it is legal to open carry weapons in Kentucky. Legally, there is nothing city leadership or law enforcement can do. But consider the economic impact.

This was the top story on WKTY’s website yesterday. If you saw this story, would you consider opening a business here, investing your money here? Would you bring your family to spend the day? Stop for dinner after dark?

I love our town. I love my neighbors and friends. I love the county park. I love stopping for coffee and saying hello to Laura. I love the many specialty foods carefully stocked by Eric at Tastefully Kentucky. I love shopping at Sweet Mash and chatting with Tamara and Dawn. And everyone knows there is not a better sandwich in the state of Kentucky than at Heavens to Betsy.

I do not love being bullied off Main Street.

I do not love feeling threatened.

As a local woman posted on social media yesterday: “I like guns, I ENJOY guns! I own many. They’re fascinating. And some are just drop dead gorgeous. Others are brilliant! But this is threatening. And these women are intentionally using the guns to BE threatening. WHO is going to visit our downtown right now? Who is going to go to lunch or dinner? I obviously don’t know these women or I would call their cellphones and ask them to stop. This hurts our downtown and it hurts our Tourism. We NEED our tourists.”

In keeping with the language of Thornton Wilder, it is something has to do with human beings. And it’s going to take the human beings in power, in Lawrenceburg leadership, to tell these armed militia they are hurting our livelihood and our businesses, and that they are not welcome in Our Town.

The earrings

Today, I found a pair of earrings glistening in the bottom of my purse, tiny gold loops with a dangling, pale blue stone. The earrings are new. I wore them only once, on March 11.

Finding earrings in the bottom of your purse sounds trivial, doesn’t it? And yet, I have such vivid memories of that week, the last week things were normal. New earrings worn for the first time. Lunch with a new friend and his wife. The last time I saw my 10 month-old grandson. A small gathering of Lawrenceburg city leadership to celebrate our county attorney, Bobbi Jo Lewis, leaving to work in the Beshear administration.

Bobbi Jo, the last friend I hugged.

I teach personal essay and memoir writing at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. My students tend to be over 50, brand new to writing, and most importantly they have been waiting decades for this moment, for the time to finally tell their stories, to try to make some sense of the thing that keeps them awake at night.

My students are brave. And with rare exception, their stories are about loss.

One month into social distancing, we are all experiencing varying degrees of loss, our frustration and questions building into a crescendo over days that blend inexplicably together. When can I go back to work? Will my kids return to school? What happens if my elderly parents get sick, who will take care of them? When should I go to the grocery store, and how carefully do I need to disinfect the packages I bring home? I miss my friends, my routine, the life I had before. When will this be over? we want to know. When will life be back to normal?

I am trying to absorb less news and more art. On March 31, I listened to writer Brene Brown interview grief and loss expert, David Kessler. “We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” he said. “The world we knew is now gone forever. We talk about 9/11. Remember what the airports were like before 9/11? [One day] we’re going to talk about what the world was like before the pandemic. I don’t know how this is going to change, but it will. We are going to find meaning. We are going to come out the other side of this, and we are going to say things like ‘remember the old days when we used to shake hands, how crazy was that?’”

I was set to start teaching a new class at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort on March 12. As silly as it seems now, I remember going back and forth several times with the owner of the park, the host, and the students. Surely we could figure something out, couldn’t we? We’d all been looking forward to this class so much! What if we postponed a week, would that help? What if we met in a larger room and spaced ourselves a few feet apart? We checked and rechecked the weather. It might be 70 degrees soon, could we meet outside?

And on and on until we surrendered. It was, after all, not the class we were fighting for. We were fighting for a normal that was already lost.

A month later, a month into social distancing, the losses are piling up. And yet I finally find myself looking more forward than back.

Kentucky poet Jayne Moore Waldrop’s “Eclipse” closes with these lines:

Last night we retraced our steps
in the moonlight,
over worn brick sidewalks in need of repair but still in service.
Beyond the quieted tower and darkened
windows we found the place
where we once toasted and laughed
and smiled for the cameras.
This time we took our own photograph,
the two of us,
then strolled on, fingers interlocked,
in wonder of everything to come.

Yes, there is so much loss, so much to keep us awake at night. We are scared. We are grieving. But in conversations and on social media I also see us finding new paths, new joys, and making our way to what comes next.

Today, I found new earrings in the bottom of my purse. And though no one will see them but me, I am going to put them on and wear them to a Zoom meeting (something I’d never even heard of back when I bought them) with my baby grandson. Here’s to the wonder, yes wonder, of everything to come.

The year of reading Sue Grafton

 

We began with “A is for Alibi” and Kentucky Hall of Fame author Sue Grafton’s opening lines: “My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.”

It was February 2016. My husband had lost his job; we were in the process of moving from city life in northern California to rural Kentucky, leaving a life we’d been building for a decade to save money and be closer to family; and though my husband had no symptoms, his doctor had called with news: prostate cancer.

To say we had a hard time focusing on anything but sickness, moving, and money would be an understatement. We were both big readers, but who could read at a time like this? He’d recently made it through Shelby Foote’s Civil War series and everything Cormac McCarthy; for me it had been Jane Hamilton, Mary Karr, Ann Patchett, the collected short stories of Grace Paley. And yet, we both knew we needed an escape, maybe something fast-paced and light and out of our ordinary, and wouldn’t it be fun to read the same books for change?

“I ordered the first one, A for something,” he said one morning over coffee, handing me his New York Times crossword with less than half the answers filled in. “You want to read it first or do you want me to?”

We were tag-team crossword solvers, yes, but regardless of who started our puzzles we both wanted to be the one who finished, the one who could claim victory. I took the folded newspaper and went to get my own pen. “You start,” I said. “You read faster than me, and that way you can move on to “B is for Burglar” without having to wait on me.”

“Wait, is this a trick?” he said, laughing.

Two weeks into social distancing, with mounting fears about the spread of coronavirus and the lack of enough ICU beds, healthcare providers, and ventilators, I’ve been thinking about 2016 —not about the Donald Trump getting elected-part, but about the year we spent trying not to panic. The year we spent escaping into Sue Grafton’s 20-plus books and the fictional life of private detective Kinsey Millhone — and how I couldn’t wait to get through it all so life could get back to normal.

And yet, isn’t “normal” simply code for wanting our old life back? For what Joan Didion famously called “magical thinking” in her 2005 memoir?

In 2016, we read Sue Grafton during a year of magical thinking. Our adult son who now lived nearby would come often for dinner. My husband would finally, after decades away, get to spend time with his parents. After he finished treatment, and if he was healthy (which of course he would be!) he would find a new job, which likely meant a lot of traveling. And I’d be home alone, out in the country with no distractions, so I’d get back full-time to the book I’d been researching and writing. Everything would be back to normal.

The good news is that my husband is cancer-free, for which we are so very thankful, but he decided to retire, to stay home. Then his parents died within two months of each other, our son moved to Boston (you saw that coming, right?), and with Trump’s shocking election, I set my step-parenting book aside as I started writing about Kentucky politics and teaching at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

A normal — a life — I could not have imagined in February 2016.

I bailed on our Sue Grafton reading marathon after “N is for Noose“—I’ll give you the win,” I said. “I need to read something else.”— though my husband, as is his character, kept his commitment and read all the way through “Y is for Yesterday,” Grafton’s last book before she died.

In these terrifying and uncertain days of 2020, I worry for all of us and wonder what our new normal might one day be, how on earth we are going to come out on the other end of this, and I try not to panic. Try.

I have four stacks of new books on my bedside table. I can’t make myself care about any of them. Not a one. I’m too scattered, too scared.

But I remember the year we read Sue Grafton and how it helped. It’s time to go back, I think, to pick up “O is for Outlaw” and find out how Kinsey survives her next close call. To find out what happens. To see how her story ends. There’s still time, right?

 

______________

The comments section is open. Please share the books you’re reading, the shows you’re binge-watching, how you’re getting through these unfathomable days. I wish you and your families good health and good spirits. Here’s to fighting on.

The president’s war is not on the press. His war is on us.

Photo credit: Business Insider

We knew this day was coming. The day President Trump’s unAmerican war on the free press would take a dangerous turn.

After years of rallies and Twitter rants calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” many have grown numb to the way the president demeans and disrespects the press. And it is both notable and infuriating that the last, official, daily White House press briefing took place over a year ago, on March 11, 2019.

Maybe the president feels outmatched by the White House press corps. Maybe he would prefer to skip the “nasty questions” asked by women like PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor and answer directly to us, the electorate. Maybe he thinks we would ask less “nasty” questions. Here are few that come to mind.

1. Why did you refuse the coronavirus tests from the World Health Organization? We want to know why you refused a test that might have saved the lives of our families and neighbors. What was your rationale for such a decision? Where are the tests?

2. You are stoking racist, xenophobic fears by calling this the Chinese virus. What does this accomplish? Are we not all terrified enough? You used to call it the coronavirus like everyone else. Why the sudden change?

3. My dad is a retired, Frito Lay, delivery driver. He voted for you in 2016, but has grown tired of your hateful, misleading rhetoric. He voted for you because you said you were a good businessman, and he’s scared now that the stock market is crashing. What are you doing to save his retirement?

4. You claim to be a religious man. You even declared March 15 National Prayer Day. And yet you recently mocked Speaker Pelosi’s comments about prayer, you play golf most Sundays, and we have never once heard you offer up a prayer of well-wishes for anyone. How do you explain this?

5. We are exhausted. We are scared. But instead of offering support to our local leaders with their coronavirus efforts, you have publicly disparaged governors of New York, Oregon, California, and Michigan. In the words of Adlai Stevenson, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Donald Trump has been our president for almost four years, and what do we have to show for it but a daily Twitter feed filled with the rantings of a childish, fearful, incompetent narcissist who cannot be bothered to answer the press’s most basic questions without calling them the enemy.

If you want to assess the fallout of this president’s years-long attack on the credibility of the free press, look no further than small, Trump-voting counties like mine. On March 16, I was scanning The Anderson New’s Facebook page for the latest, local business closings and instructions. I read a comment from a man named Hank: “Just doing minor bit of research will tell anyone that there are flu viruses out there way more serious then this strain. But the media has many in a follow me over the cliff mentality. Oh look we’re relevent again. bs.”

A man named Adam wrote: “People get sick and die. That’s life. This has been completely overblown.” I click on Adam’s name. His profile photo shows a boy holding a “Trump 2020: Keep America Great” sign.

In May 2018, “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl told PBS’s Judy Woodruff the president explained why he continually attacks the press. “He said you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

This president’s war on the free press—his war on facts, information, and the truth—was never about the press at all. It was a war on us. On our freedom of thought. On our press’s freedom to ask hard questions and demand answers, especially in a time of crisis. Like now.

Hang in there, friends.

This hour, this trial

Doug Mills / AFP – Getty Images

Within hours of the president’s Oval Office address on the coronavirus, in which he stared into the camera and insisted, “We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship and unify together as one nation and one family,” he was already tweeting, “Nancy Pelosi all of a sudden doesn’t like the payroll tax cut, but when Obama proposed it she thought it was a brilliant thing that all of the working families would benefit from because if you get a paycheck, you’re going to take home more money.”

Back when I played sports, my teammates and I used to talk about how we and our opponents handled the pressure of the moment, how we became our truest selves when we were out there alone with our fear and our nerves, when our facades were stripped away. If you fell to bullying or cheating or name-calling, the stress of the situation was not the problem, your character was.

The president has been in office more than three years. He is running for re-election. He can no longer claim to be new to politics nor shocked by the vagaries of Washington D.C. And what we are witnessing in this time of global crisis is the man behind the boastful facade, a man who remains hopelessly entrenched in the bitterness, petty jealousies, and long-running grievances that fuel him.

Why? Because this is his true character. This is who he is.

Like many of you, I have found myself stocking up on things I don’t normally buy—hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, bags upon bags of frozen vegetables, an entire pallet of canned chicken, six huge bags of dog food instead of one—all while calmly moving through the store, smiling and saying hello to neighbors, like everything is fine, just fine, as we sneak knowing glances at the contents of each other’s shopping carts.

But as late as the morning of his Oval Office address, the president remained seemingly oblivious to the mounting fears and preparations of the American public, tweeting, “Vanity Fair Magazine, which will soon be out of business, and their third rate Fake reporters, who make up sources which don’t exist, wrote yet another phony & boring hit piece. The facts are just the opposite. Our team is doing a great job with CoronaVirus!”

The president, laser-focused on his coverage by a fashion magazine, as Dr. Anthony Fauci testified on Capitol Hill that the coronavirus is ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu and “repeatedly corrected the president by saying the real timetable [for a vaccine] is a year to 18 months.”

On Sunday, March 8, as I was flying home from visiting my baby grandson in Boston, acutely conscious of every coughing passenger and pulling disinfecting wipes from my purse to clean and clean and clean again the armrests, seatbelt buckle, and tray table for my two-hour flight, the president was playing golf and tweeting, “The New York Times is an embarrassment to journalism. They were a dead paper before I went into politics, and they will be a dead paper after I leave, which will be in 5 years. Fake News is the Enemy of the people!”

Erik Larson’s new novel, “The Splendid and the Vile,” opens in the spring of 1940 and tells the story of Winston Churchill’s first months in office at the start of WWII. On his first night, Churchill wrote that “coveting power for power’s sake was a base pursuit, adding ‘But power in a national crisis, when a man believes he knows what orders should be given, is a blessing’ … I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

Eighty years later, we must ask: Is President Trump prepared for this hour, for this trial? Can he rise to lead in a crisis? Can he put aside his petty and divisive rhetoric and consider the welfare of the American people before his own financial and political interests?

Or, like the athlete who reveals his true self in the pressure of the big moment, will he continue to lie and bully and tweet at his perceived enemies? Will he point his finger at #FakeNews and insist this is yet another hoax, as he called it at his recent North Carolina rally, in his long list of imaginary hoaxes?

If past is prelude, God help us all.