August 8, 2020

COVID-19: Our Failures and the Path to Correction

Guest Opinion
By David Frederick | July 18, 2020

Prior to COVID-19 no one alive today had witnessed a worldwide pandemic. The last pandemic, also caused by a virus, resulted in the death of millions. It occurred just over a century ago.

It would seem reasonable to assume that Americans would be comparatively well protected from the reoccurrence of such a plague. Our country is home to many of the most sophisticated scientific research facilities; and in the case of one particularly deadly and disabling epidemic, which occurred in the first half of the 20th century, the United States successfully led the effort to destroy it. That epidemic ended in the 1950s, when publicly funded American universities played a pivotal role in the development of the poliomyelitis vaccine.

Quite the opposite has occurred with the COVID-19 virus. Pandemic statistics demonstrate that the United States — with less than 5 percent of the world’s population — has experienced close to one-quarter of all COVID-19 deaths. It is to our shame that the United States has been one of the least effective nations in protecting its citizens. Four months after the pandemic had been declared, the federal government had not yet completed implementing adequate testing. Testing remains a necessary prerequisite for identifying and tracking the contagion, as well as developing vaccines, treatments, and public policies necessary to prevent, cure, or control the disease.

How could this happen? One contributing factor is the extreme narcissism demonstrated by Donald J. Trump.

The Mayo Clinic has published an online report that identifies the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. Of the 20 symptoms listed, at least 18 are displayed by the president — in his Tweets, disinformation campaigns, and the firing of competent public servants for fulfilling their duties.

Although not specifically stated in the Mayo Clinic report, it seems reasonable to assume that the greater the number of symptoms displayed, the more likely it is that the narcissism will be cognitively disabling. For example, exhibiting four out of the 20 defined symptoms — e.g., lacking empathy, unable to express remorse, pathological lying, demanding absolute allegiance from others — demonstrates a level of narcissism, which although dysfunctional, may be less than disabling.

On the other hand, demonstrating 18 out of 20 symptoms is a strong indication of a more serious incapacitation, wherein afflicted individuals would be unable to confront problems in any context other than how those problems impact them personally. As such, an extreme narcissistic personality disorder would make it virtually impossible for an afflicted individual to have the ability to fulfill obligations defined by the president's oath of office: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. In other words, to serve the collective good.

What can be done to protect the nation when leaders either cannot or will not fulfill that duty? A good first step would be to protect our republic from inept or corrupt leaders. One step in doing that is to recognize that normative protocols — which have worked for decades — are no longer sufficient. Laws are now necessary. An example of this is requiring financial disclosure of all presidential candidates.

Citizens have the right — as verified by the Supreme Court decisions of July 10, 2020 — to access verifiable information that enables them to determine if candidates for federal elected office have financial or other interests that constitute a potential conflict of interest with the duties of the office they seek. Their submission of income tax returns has been the way this information has traditionally been made available. There have been only two presidential candidates who refused to comply with this norm.

One of those was Richard Nixon. During that era the Republican leadership gave him a choice: He could either submit the tax returns or not be their candidate. The other who refused to comply was Trump. However, in this case, the Republican Party stood mostly silent and watched. Trump not only did not submit his tax returns — and repeatably lied about his reasons for failing to do so — but also faced no consequences. He had the protection of the GOP, which controlled the Senate.

The second step in protecting our republic from corrupt leadership is the preventing of incessant lying. The pattern of lying goes well beyond Trump. This was demonstrated by the mock impeachment trial conducted in the Senate, wherein Republicans demonstrated their commitment to disregarding traditional norms pertaining to subpoenas, testimony, truth, and justice.  

The First Amendment is frequently used as either an explanation or excuse for being constitutionally unable to prevent politicians, news media, and social media from promoting disinformation and propaganda. That’s just nonsense.

The First Amendment is composed of a single sentence containing 45 words. It was created by revolutionaries who, having just liberated the country from a tyrannical monarchy, were distrustful of placing too much power with the government they were creating. As such, the intent of the amendment was to prevent a government from: “. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In essence, the Founding Fathers’ intent was to enable the ’governed’ to take truth to power without being subjected to political or judicial retribution. The First Amendment does not provide foreign or domestic propagandists the right to corrupt public discourse any more than it allows an individual to create panic by screaming “fire” in a crowded theater.

Establishing public perjury laws will be difficult, but they are necessary. If We the People do not take the actions necessary to prevent elected officials from committing perjury without consequences, the world will likely witness the end of the American experiment in developing a democratic republic.    

David Frederick, a centrist-based Independent, regards extremist political partisanship as a dangerous threat to the well-being and security of middle-class Americans. He further believes reestablishing coordinated grassroots truth-to-power messaging is a prerequisite for diminishing that threat.


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