Anyone living in a free and open society knows for a fact that repressive regimes spend an inordinate amount of time and effort lying to their own people. Usually one shrugs and says: “well, what did we expect?” But why lie to one’s own citizens about matters of life and death? Because it directly affects that leader’s ability to govern, however badly. It affects their financial status and it affects the opinion of other countries towards them and how they might respond in times of unfolding tragedies or international affairs. We expect repressive regimes to lie to their citizens; what we do not expect to see is lying by our own elected officials in a free and open society in times of dire circumstances.
Depending on who you ask in our own government, we are not in the opening stages of a worldwide pandemic brought about by a potent and deadly corona virus strain. Clearly, we cannot expect people who do not believe in the science of global warming to believe we are currently seeing the beginning of an international health disaster in the making. Twenty-five million people died of influenza worldwide after World War I. One can argue that that was a century ago, and in those days, few medical advances could save anyone. We cannot make that same claim today, because people are now dying, both in the epicenter of this new virus in China and in Iran, North Korea, Japan and Italy. Hundreds of Israelis have already been exposed to the virus. Some of the harbingers of the disease who tried to sound the alarm have died and so have some of their close relatives. They died because their governments were too afraid to admit they made mistakes in ignoring the threat for too long and too afraid to immediately ask for international assistance that might have contained the disease, but is now outside their borders thousands of miles away.
You can see people panic, as they are wont to do, when they hear of a new disease for which there do not seem to be any barriers to acquiring. I saw panic being manifested just by being taken to lunch for my birthday this past weekend. The Chinese restaurant we enjoy visiting nearby was for all intents and purposes, deserted. It had been crowded during the holidays, but not now. The financial toll on ordinary people is forgotten in this panic and that is a great shame. In some ways, it is an embarrassment to look the establishment’s owner in the eye because we are our neighbors’ representatives in this community and we have failed these hard-working individuals by not ignoring the panic and going about our regular lives.
Sadly, whatever our president thinks is whatever he has seen most recently on Fox “news.” His comments concerning the unfolding pandemic range from the ridiculous (the virus will go away in April when the weather is warmer) to the downright idiotic (the disease is not affecting the stock markets). If you lock down a province of 11 million Chinese people, whatever production of whatever product you care to name will not be forthcoming. Apple factories will be closed. And you can forget about any other item of Chinese origin leaving for international markets. As the Chinese stock market collapses, so, too, the world stock exchanges will crash and burn. This is not a good scenario and compounding this health crisis with a financial one could reverberate for many years in the future.
For those supporters of Donald Trump who think his chronic tendency to lie about any and everything that pops into his head “hurts no one?” Guess again. He emulates tyrants and authoritarian figures and freely admits it. These are not people to be trusted with the lives of billions of human beings.