By MIKE MAGEE
When awakening from a long sleep, there is a transition period, when the brain struggles momentarily to become oriented, to “think straight.” When the sleep has extended four years, as with the Trump reign, it takes longer to clear the sleepy 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 together observed the startling passage of a half million dead, many needlessly, from the pandemic, the President gave us a crash course on grief. He compared it to entering a “black hole”, and acknowledged that whether you “held the hand” as your loved one passed on, or were unable (by logistics or regulation) to be there to offer comfort, time would heal. “You have to believe me, honey!”, as he is so prone to say.
As important, we saw the First Lady, without fanfare or concious need for attention, at one moment, draw close to him, as she sensed that he was about to be overcome by his own sadness, and place her hand simply on his back, patting him gently, knowing that this was enough to get him through. She, by then, had done this many times before.
And we saw the Vice President and her husband, across from the first couple, there only for support. This was neither a speaking role or super-ceremonial. It was humble. It was supportive. It was human, and far away from a predecessor who for four years had to fawn, and lie, and grovel to satisfy his Commander-in-Chief.
As these four lead us back to sanity, we as a body politic are fast at work doing three things as once:
1. We are addressing this pandemic with vaccines and good public health processes, and managing our emotional and economic grief and shock.
2. We are beginning to address all the other challenges left unaddressed that demand “good government” whether they be getting kids back to school, or reforming police practice, or turning on the electricity in Houston.
3. We are relearning how to respect the truth, tell the truth, and demand the truth. As Mandela taught the world in 1995, this is not as easy as it sounds. It requires that we reconcile with our past, reform our present, and resolve together to build a better future.
A simple example of these processes at work is addressing the lie that the Obama Administration had never created a pandemic plan, or warned the incoming Trump administration of the threat. This was a false narrative surfaced in May, 2020 by Trump administration officials, and reinforced by David Popp, Majority Leader McConell’s spokesperson, to aid Republican candidates.
Ronald Klain, Obama’s man-in-charge of the Ebola respose (and now Chief of Staff to Biden) then produced the actual plan, and multiple witnesses to the transition. These included Jeremy Konyndyk, who directed USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, who said, “They were extensively briefed, to the extent that they paid attention to these things during the transition.” Then there was Lisa Monaco, former homeland security adviser to President Obama, who affirmed, “We absolutely did leave 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 playbook, but then obfuscated with a discussion of what constituted a “game plan.”
This was a tricky proposition since the Appendix Materials in the 69 page document included: I. Declaration and Mitigation Options, II. Key Department and Agencies: International and Domestic, III. Sample Exercises, IV. Communications, V. Concept of Operations for Domestic Response.
But as we have tragically witnessed, setting the past record straight alone is inadeqaute absent power and control over the levers of government. It took an election, and 5 dead from an insurrection at our Capitol on January 6th, to reclaim the present, and hopefully alter our future.
As difficult as that was, it leaves the critical third step ahead of us. Those who knowingly lied, who dishonored and spoiled the truth, must accept responsibility, apologize, and be held accountable. As Mandela taught us, this need not be punitive, but must be public, if trust and confidence in our Democracy is to be reestablished. Otherwise, history will repeat.
Mike Magee, MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.”