By MIKE MAGEE
When you wake up from a long sleep, there is a transition period, when the brain momentarily struggles to orient itself, to “think correctly”. When sleep has extended for four years, as with Trump’s reign, it takes longer to erase the sleeping lies from your eyes.
We are emerging, but it will take time and guidance. This week President Biden and our First Lady showed us the way. As we watched the astonishing half a million deaths, many needlessly, from the pandemic together, the President gave us a crash course in mourning. He likened it to stepping into a “black hole” and acknowledged that if you “held hands” when your loved one passed away or you couldn’t (through logistics or regulations) be there to provide comfort, time would heal. “You have to believe me, honey!”, As he is so inclined to say.
Equally important, we saw the First Lady, without fanfare or a conscious need for attention, at one point approaching him, feeling that he was about to be overwhelmed by his own sadness, and place his hand just gently patting him on his back, knowing that was enough to get him through. She had done this several times before.
And we saw the vice-president and her husband, in front of the first couple, there only to support each other. It was neither a speaking role nor a super-ceremonial. It was humble. It was favorable. It was human, and far from a predecessor who, for four years, had to wander, lie and crawl to please his commander-in-chief.
While these four things bring us to our senses, we as a body politic are quickly at work doing three things like once:
1. We are fighting this pandemic with vaccines and good public health processes, and dealing with our grief and emotional and economic shock.
2. We are starting to tackle all the other unresolved challenges that demand “good government”, whether it’s getting kids back to school, reforming policing, or bringing electricity to Houston. .
3. We will relearn to respect the truth, to speak the truth, and to demand the truth. As Mandela taught to the world in 1995, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires that we come to terms with our past, reform our present and decide together to build a better future.
A simple example of these processes at work is to address the lie that the Obama administration never created a pandemic plan or warned the new Trump administration of the threat. It was a fake story that appeared in May 2020 by Trump administration officials, and reinforced by David Popp, spokesman for majority leader McConell, to help the Republican candidates.
Ronald klain, The man in charge of Obama’s Ebola response (and now Biden’s chief of staff) then produced the current plan, and several witnesses of the transition. These included Jeremy konyndyk, who headed USAID’s Office of Overseas Disaster Assistance, which said, “They were widely briefed, as long as they paid attention to these things during the transition. Then there was Lisa Monaco, former Homeland Security Advisor to President Obama, who said, “We absolutely left a plan. It was called a playbook. “
Four days later, White House press secretary Kayleigh mcenany was forced to acknowledge the existence of the Obama pandemic manual, but was later obscured by a discussion of what constituted a “game plan.”
It was a delicate proposition since Annex material in the 69-page document included: I. Declaration and Mitigation Options, II. Key ministry and agencies: international and national, III. Examples of exercises, IV. Communications, V. Concept of Operations for Inner Response.
But as we have tragically seen, reestablishing the past alone is inappropriate in the absence of power and control over the levers of government. It took an election, and 5 insurgency deaths on our Capitol on January 6, to reclaim the present and, hopefully, change our future.
As difficult as it has been, this leaves us with the crucial third step before us. Those who have knowingly lied, who have dishonored and spoiled the truth, must accept responsibility, apologize and be held accountable. As Mandela taught us, it does not need to be punitive, but must be public, if confidence in our democracy is to be restored. Otherwise, history will repeat itself.
Mike Magee, MD is a medical historian and health economist and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex”.