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The Coronavirus Rained on Trump’s Easter Charade

Photograph Source: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks – Public Domain

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump was hell-bent on loosening social restraints so that churches could be “packed” on Easter (April 12). Never mind that health care experts warned that such a premature move would worsen the spread of the virus, overwhelm hospitals with patients, lead to countless deaths and result in even more severe damage to the economy. Trump persisted, saying, “The day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ is a ‘very special day’ to him.” And, “ ‘It would be a beautiful time and it’s just about the timeline that I think is right.’” (“’Beautiful thing’: Trump hopes to see ‘packed churches’ on Easter Sunday,” By Anthony Leonardi, www.washingtonexaminer.com, Mar. 24, 2020)

Regarding the warning from doctors, an exaggerating President Trump said, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world . . . that would be wonderful, and let’s keep it shut down for a couple of years.” But, “You can’t do that . . . with the number one economy in the world.” (“’Our country wasn’t built to be shut down’: Trump pushes back against health experts,” By Caitlin Oprysko and Quint Forgey, POLITICO, March 23, 2020)

President Trump discounted the advice of doctors and scientists. He said that he knew what the American people want. “Our people want to return to work,” he repeatedly tweeted. And “they will practice Safe Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together.” He then emphasized: “‘THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!’” (“Trump calls for economy to be open and ‘raring to go’ by Easter,” By Associated Press, The Boston Globe, March 24. 2020) At that time, he is assumed to have felt that ‘THE CURE’ would be ‘WORSE’ for his 2020 re-election bid.

“Seniors will be watched over protectively and lovingly.” They would more likely be “lovingly” mourned “over” by their families and friends. President Trump’s behavior indicated that he could care less about the wellbeing of older Americans – and their loved ones. That assumption is based on him trying to justify re-opening the country by inaccurately compar[ing] “the threat presented by the coronavirus to the flu and automobile accidents.” He rationalized, “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu — we never turn the country off . . . We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up automobile companies and say ‘stop making cars.’” (“Trump just gave a disastrous coronavirus town hall full of misinformation that could kill thousands,” By Eliza Relman, Business Insider, March 25, 2020)

Dr.. Anthony Fauci, reported to be “the country’s top infectious-disease expert,” provided a needed reality check. He “repeatedly asserted that the coronavirus is 10 times as lethal as the flu.” (Ibid)

Also reported: “Projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that deaths from Covid-19 could range from 200,000 to 1.7 million people.” And, “Estimates from other scientists place the potential deaths in a range from several hundred thousand to several million deaths, substantially more than annual deaths from car accidents and flu combined.” (“158 Million Americans Told to Sat Home, but Trump Pledges to Keep It Short,” The New York Times, March 23, 2020)

More reality checks. There is a vaccine for the flu, but none yet for the coronavirus. Regarding automobiles: they give an indispensable lift to America’s economy, and enable Americans’ pursuit of happiness in countless ways. Besides, without wheels, how would President Trump get to – and around — his golf courses? If Trump really cared about the American people, early on he would have been talking about packing all the hospitals with necessary medical equipment, not “pack[ing] churches” at Easter.

But a manipulative, 2020 election-driven President Trump rationalized, “You’re going to lose a number of people to the flu, but you’re going to lose more people by putting the country in a massive recession or Depression. Then these doomsday words: “You’re going to have suicides by the thousands. You’re going to have all sorts of things happen.” (Ibid)

Another reality check here. According to the Associated Press’s fact checking, “President Donald Trump is making a baseless claim of surging suicides if the U.S. economy remains mostly shut due to the spread of the coronavirus.” The fact checking continues: “There’s no evidence that suicides will rise dramatically, let alone surpass potential coronavirus deaths.” In fact, “Historically in a crisis, suicides tend to diminish as society pulls together in a common purpose.” (“AP FACT CHECK: Trump claims rising suicides if US stays shut,” By Lauran Neergaard, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Hope Yen, Associated Press, March 25, 2020)

Maybe it is the “pulling together” that President Trump fears most. His presidency and power have thrived on his pitting people against each other: his stoking of division, not unity; building walls, not bridges; undoing treaties, not creating them. The last thing he is believed to want is for Americans to come together and realize that their security is in their solidarity, not in their sectarianism. He thrives on setting people against each other, not bringing them together.

President Trump’s irrational reaching is also seen in him reportedly saying “that 10,000 units of chloroquine would be distributed in New York City on Tuesday.” But “Dr. Fauci [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] and others have said that its effectiveness remains highly uncertain. In fact,” it was reported by an Arizona hospital, “that a man died and his wife was in stable condition after the couple self-medicated with a formulation of chloroquine phosphate that is used to clean fish tanks.” (“158 Million Americans Told to Stay Home, but Trump Pledges to Keep It Short,” (bid)

Nevertheless,”Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm” was reported to be “undimmed.” He said, “It would be a gift from God . . . It’s something we have to try.”(Ibid)

Easter is a time of hope and new life. “Packing the churches all over the country” on Easter would have turned this holiest of Christian observances into a death trap for masses of worshippers. The handwriting is already on church walls.

During a March 5-8 children’s event at an Assembly of God Church in Cleburne County, Arkansas, at least 34 members were stricken with the coronavirus, including the pastor and his wife, with one member, 91 year-old William ‘Bill’ Barton, a church greeter, dying. The Christian Post reports that “officials say the outbreak of the virus at Greers Ferry First Assembly of God is responsible for the spread of the disease in the relatively small Cleburne County, which has a population of 25,000. The county now has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the state.”(“Greeter is first coronavirus death at Ark. Church where 34 infected,” By Leonardo Blair, March 25, 2020)

Rev. Mark Palenske, pastor of the Greers Ferry Church, counsels everyone who wanted to “pack the churches” at Easter: “The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many. And I continue to ask that each of you take it seriously.” Pastor Palenske added: “An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else.” (Ibid)

The lack of “wisdom and restraint” has undermined the health of members of a Pentecostal Church in Illinois – ironically at a revival service attended by “approximately 80 people.” As reported, “Layna LoCascio, wife of pastor Anthony LoCascio who leads The Life Church of Glenview, said at least 43 . . . who attended the March 15 service . . . have fallen ill and everyone who has been tested for the new coronavirus has come back positive for the virus which has already killed more than 1,470 and infected more than 97,000 people nationwide.” (“43 people fall ill at Pentecostal church after revival, 10 test positive for coronavirus,” By Leonardo Blair, The Christian Post, March 27, 2020) Reported also is that leaders of the church, including Pastor LoCascio and his wife, “were probably infected with Covid19; and the evangelist, [Eli] Hernandez was hospitalized.” (“43 Members Of Glenview Church Said To Be Suffering COVID-19 Symptoms,” By Tom Robb, , March 27, 2020)

Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today provides a cautionary note about “packing the churches” any time soon. A CT editorial states, “However, if we do practice stringent hygiene and social distancing, coming together in the face of this pandemic actually mars our witness. Rather than looking courageous and faithful,” the editorial states, “we come off looking callous and even foolish, not unlike the snake handlers who insisted on playing with poison as proof of true faith. Better,” the editorial continues, “the recent encouragement from Wheaton College’s Esau McCaulley: ‘The church’s absence, in literally emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered.’” (“An Easter Without Going to Church,” By Daniel Harrell, March 25, 2020)

Various Christian denominations ignored President Trump’s belief that Easter “is just about the timeline” that he thinks is “right” to “have packed churches.” According to The Guardian, “The Archdiocese of Los Angeles tweeted on Tuesday night, after the president’s announcement, that all its churches would remain closed until ‘at least’ 19 April – a week after Trump’s suggested deadline.” Similarly, “the Archdiocese of New York, which includes St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, said it would celebrate Holy Week and Easter Sunday via live stream or broadcast.” Also, “Bishop Michael Curry . . . has recommended the suspension of in-person public services in the Episcopal church – including during Holy Week – and encouraged people to worship on-line.” (“US Christian leaders criticize Trump’s Easter coronavirus deadline,” By Miranda Bryant in New York and Oliver Laughland in New Orleans, March 25, 2020)

Even The United Methodist Church has cancelled its May 5-15 General Conference scheduled for Minneapolis. As reported, “The Council of Bishops executive committee requested postponement March 13 in response to the life-threatening virus and increased travel restrictions that might prevent nearly half of the delegates from reaching the U.S.” The decision to postpone the General Conference was “based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health ‘to protect the public’s health and slow the rate of the transmission of COVID-19.’”(“Church leaders postpone 2020 General Conference,” By Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service, March 18, 2020)

Along with these denomination-wide forms of resistance, certain Christian leaders also rained on President Trump’s Easter charade. They include Rev. William J. Barber, activist and chair of the NAACP’s Legislative Political Action Committee, who provides a helpful model, for faith leaders, of speaking truth to President Trump’s narcissistic power. Barber says, “It is the height of hypocrisy for Trump to suggest that Easter is a time to defy public health recommendations and ‘reopen’ America . . . Jesus challenged oppression and cared for the poor,” Barber continued, “while Trump ignored the pandemic of poverty and tragically dismissed intelligence about the coronavirus.” Barber then said, “We need a resurrection of Jesus’s concern for the most vulnerable, not a capitulation to corporate greed that could cost millions of lives.” (“US Christian leaders criticize Trump’s Easter coronavirus deadline,” Ibid)

With the pressure of all closings and moral criticism of his Easter timetable, reality finally hit President Trump. In the end, he gave up on “packed churches” at Easter, and extended the social distancing guidelines until the end of April.

Thanks, in part, to the top medical doctors on President Trump’s coronavirus task force: Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases expert, and Dr. Deborah Birx, State Department immunologist, who projected “that millions of Americans may wind up infected.” Earlier, at a reported CNN news conference, Fauci said “that as many as 200,000 Americans might die if efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus aren’t successful.” He also said “that he and Birx met with Trump on Sunday and shared the outbreak data that showed the death toll would increase if the U.S. lifted the social distancing guidelines by Easter.” Fauci said that Trump “looked at the data and got it right away.” (“Trump Abandons Easter Virus Goal and Steels Americans for Deaths,” By John Wingrove and Mario Parker, www.bloomsborg.com, March 30, 2020)

Without naming names, President Trump said, “We had a lot of people who were saying, ‘maybe we shouldn’t do anything, just ride it.’ They say, ‘ride it like a cowboy, just ride it, ride that sucker right through.’” He thought about it. “But doctors told him that doing nothing would have cost 2.2 million lives. ‘And that’s not acceptable,’ Trump said.” As reported, “He now hopes to keep U.S. deaths below 100,000 from a disease that only weeks ago he had minimized as ‘very much under control’” (Ibid), and before that as a “hoax.” What would Trump do without straw people to put down to build himself up?

Along with the projected large number of deaths, according to The New York Times, President Trump’s about face was also influenced by polling numbers. Reporters Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman write that “advisors said he was struck by the political surveying that indicated that the public wanted the restrictions to continue long enough to beat back the virus for fear that letting up too soon would simply reinvigorate the outbreak.” (“Behind Trump’s Reversal on Reopening the Country: 2 Sets of Numbers,” March 31, 2020) The polling contradicts Trump’s repeatedly saying, ”Our people want to return to work.”

President Trump now says that his desire to pack the churches with people on Easter was “aspirational.” Homicidal would be more accurate. It is assumed that medical advice especially led Trump to extend the coronavirus guidelines until April 30. The possibility of 2.2 million people dying from “pack[ing] churches with coronavirus on Easter would not only undermine Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, it could result in the self-proclaimed coronavirus “war president” being prosecuted for recklessly leading Americans to their deaths at Easter. The evidence: a virus that he helped to spread early on by minimizing it’s deadly contagion, and failing to provide hospitals with adequate medical equipment.

A Boston Globe editorial, called. “A President unfit for a pandemic,” makes the case for the criminal prosecution of President Trump. The editorial states, “While the spread of the novel coronavirus has been aggressive around the world, much of the profound impact it will have here in the United States was preventable. . . . The reach of the virus here,” the editorial states, “is not attributable to an act of God or a foreign invasion, but a colossal failure of leadership.” The coronavirus “demanded a leader who would put the country’s well-being first, above near-term stock market returns and his own reelection prospects.” The editorial voices Trump’s crime against Americans: “The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID -19 cases than were necessary. In other words, the president has blood on his hands. . . . Come November,” the editorial ends, “There must be a reckoning for the lives lost, and for the vast avoidable suffering about to ensue under the president’s watch.” (March 31, 2020)

In the meantime, the “resurrection of Jesus’s concern for the most vulnerable” as Rev. Barber said, is seen in the examples of countless doctors and nurses and other healthcare workers. They are on the frontlines, risking their lives, overwhelmed with a lack of equipment, caring for countless “vulnerable” coronavirus patients and their families. Healthcare workers who reveal that Easter is not about “packed churches,” but about caring for the well-being and renewal of people.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.  

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