I Blame the Adults

A lot has been said about the competency of the leadership during the worst pandemic since the early 20th century. A lot of anger, a lot of confusion — it’s still not clear exactly what Jared Kushner does — and self-induced isolation has a way of pulling you to the nearest window in reflection. And the musings that have been made seem to be reaching the same conclusion — despite hopes for the contrary, Donald Trump has failed repeatedly and vociferously to lead the United States through one of the worst crises in modern history; and anyone who isn’t tasting sand at this moment would have to agree with that verdict.

At a time like this, it’s never too late to contemplate exactly how we got to this place. This over 42,000 U.S citizens dead — and surely more to come — place. Many of the logistical failings have been well documented: the entire month of February wasted as means to prepare, the gross lack of ventilators, and the inability to test on the scale that is required. However, I would argue that the mitigation of this disaster could have begun as far back as July 21, 2017.

In mid-summer 2017, Donald Trump accepted the resignation from one of his most public and vocal defenders — Sean Spicer. The fact that his tenure of 182 days was amongst the shortest in history, coupled with his seemingly kamikaze-like brand of Trumpian loyalty, made for a peculiar exit. And while Mr. Spicer wasn’t the first resignation (or firing) of the Trump administration, he was someone who was witness to president Donald Trump quite early. It doesn’t seem plausible that Sean Spice resigned from being the face of a presidential administration merely to wait out the possibility of being on Dancing with the Stars (which he was). The more likely explanation is that he simply grew tired of being on janitorial duty for many of Trump’s early public blunders and xenophobic policy initiatives.

But his voice could have set an important precedent for former Trump officials and allies who could have spoken out about the gross misconduct they were witnessing. The drip-drip of investigative reporting would paint an even more grim picture over the next three years. Within due time, Spicer’s voice would be joined by a chorus of others who would speak out as a form of conscientious objection.

Sally Yates and James Comey have attempted to speak out, but it has fallen mostly on deaf ears — the two Obama-appointed officials didn’t make it past the first six months of a Trump administration — and that trend appeared likely to continue given the early signs of Republican spinelessness. And perhaps it is that very reason that those who have witnessed Trump’s disruptive nature have opted to stay silent in order to avoid the character assassination that would inevitably follow.

Silence for the sake of ease was tolerated when, for example, Trump deemed white nationalists “very fine people.” It approached unsettling when he attempted to use the powers of his office to garner dirt on a political opponent. But now, that same silence which seemed reluctantly digestible in the beginning, it has formed a chasm that threatens to swallow us up.

All who have worked with, and for, Donald Trump, that felt it prudent to resign, had a solemn obligation to voice their concerns. They failed us, and the country. And now people are dying as a result of their cowardice.

It’s illogical to crucify President Trump for a virus that would have made its way to our shores, inevitably. However, who can be faulted for the gross incompetence that has exacerbated this current health crisis are the “adults.” The wishful-thinking apparitions from the “steady hands” of government and bureaucracy that were to stabilize Trump’s (and his inexperienced allies’) shaky grips on the levers of power. Their silence is indicative of a career-preserving necessity that comes with leaving, as many of them did, in the proverbial dead of night — many setting ablaze their credibility on the way out.

We saw this with independent counsel Robert Mueller. An unwillingness to disrupt tradition and precedent has left ample room for Trump to declare victory, and decry a Democratic “witch hunt,” even in the most indefensible of times.

These so-called career professionals have diluted themselves into believing that silence is noble, but the only thing they achieved was to erect self-imposed roadblocks in the name of institutional protection. Paradoxically, their silence is part of the reason Trump has, with such ease, undermined American institutions. All of this hinges on a denial of who Trump has proven himself to be time and time again; and in the process, he has maintained an uncanny ability to seem the underdog, even while occupying the most powerful position in the country.

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has kept relatively quiet following his resignation in January of 2019. He has been quoted as referring to a “duty of silence.”

“If you leave an administration, you owe some silence,” he says in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. An act that is akin to a shoulder shrug and a declaration of poor taste in criticizing the commander in chief.

The Trump administration has seen 68 departures as of this writing — only 6 of which were President Barack Obama’s appointees. 62 former employees, when comparing notes, could paint an abysmal portrait concerning a government, and a man, of biblical proportions.

But a moment of reflective inquisition is long overdue. One can’t help but look to these individuals and demand an explanation: how does one vanish from the public eye and ignore the glaring fact that the president of the United States has shown, on numerous occasions, that he is incapable of rising to the challenge of an international calamity? All that is left behind are the pale echoes of half-baked condemnations — from those who have chosen to speak out at all.

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