Truth or Consequences

As calls ramp up for the nation’s leaders to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as if we were at war, it’s worth remembering the advice Aeschylus, the Greek tragedy playwright, gave nearly 2,500 years ago: “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Indeed, if there’s been one thing notoriously lacking in the months since the first coronavirus infections appeared in the U.S. it’s been the pure, unvarnished truth we need in order to deal with our lives, our families, our communities and our future.

Congress knew what was likely to happen and how unprepared the nation was for this pandemic. How do we know that? Why, simple — just look at what some of the senators on the Intelligence Committee did after being privately briefed in January about the potential impacts a pandemic would have on the nation.

As reported by Politico, “the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.” Adding insult to injury, Burr sold off his stocks right after he published a column on how well-prepared we were for the pandemic.

Unfortunately, Burr was not the only one to “unload” stocks after receiving the truth that was withheld from the rest of America’s 327 million citizens. As reported by The Hill: “According to financial disclosures, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) each sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks within days of the Senate holding a classified briefing on Jan. 24 with administration officials on the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Of course these senators deny that their inside information had anything to do with dumping their stocks prior to the stock market crash that has wiped out virtually all gains since Trump took office. Some might wonder, however, at the coincidence that all of them sat on the same committee and got the same private briefing prior to the disposition of their stocks.

One might even wonder what the rest of the populace would have done had the truth been revealed publicly instead of behind the closed doors of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For millions of Americans, the lack of truth from our politicians did indeed bring dire consequences, especially considering that those now-crashed stocks represent their life savings and retirement funds.

What else may have happened had the populace been given the whole truth about the pandemic and our federal lack of preparation? Unfortunately, we’ll never know — but it’s fair to say we may have begun taking a number of economically, socially and medically prudent steps to deal with what’s now so unavoidably upon us.

The truth is that millions of lives are totally disrupted by job, income and investment loss. But if the Trump administration has its way, we won’t be getting that truth, either. As reported late last week, his Department of Labor issued an email noting that “unemployment figures are closely tracked by financial markets judging the strength of the economy” and advising: “States should not provide numeric values to the public” and instead “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase).”

Truth is obviously a casualty under Trump, despite the fact that this is a public health crisis, not a war. What we deserve and desperately need from those who claim to lead us is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — or we, the people, will be left to face even more dire consequences.


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.