Discover more from Letters from an American
December 1, 2021
Today The Guardian broke the news that former president Donald Trump tested positive for COVID on September 26, 2020, days earlier than the White House admitted. A forthcoming book from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has the story. Despite the positive test, Trump went forward with his public schedule, unmasked. He exposed the guests at a Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for the Supreme Court; it became a superspreader event that infected Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, and Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Mike Lee (R-UT). That night, Trump held a rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
The next day, Trump met with Gold Star families who lost a loved one in the military, posing for photographs. He later suggested he might have contracted the virus from the families, although he knew he had been infected at the time, and risked infecting others.
On September 28, Trump spoke in the Rose Garden from a lectern 10 feet away from everyone else, prompting Philip Bump of the Washington Post to ask a week later whether Trump had known then that he might have COVID.
On September 29, Trump went to his scheduled debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, arriving too late for testing. Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel, who was the moderator at the debate, later said the event was relying on the “honor system.” Trump railed and snarled at Biden, who was close enough to him to have been in danger. Trump’s contingent refused to wear masks despite rules at the venue to do so. At least 11 people tested positive after the debate.
Trump continued to hold his normal schedule until 1 a.m. on October 2, when the White House announced he was sick.
As soon as today’s story broke, Trump’s spokesperson called it “Fake News.” Tonight on the strongly pro-Trump network Newsmax, Meadows echoed Trump and agreed the story was “fake news” and said that the positive test was “a false positive.”
Trump’s arrogance and disregard for others—and perhaps of his desire to infect Biden with a deadly virus— struck a blow at the principle that “all men are created equal.” The men who broke England’s North American colonies away from the monarchy insisted that no man had an inherent right to rule. They embraced a theory of government that says men are equal, that they have inherent rights, and that government is legitimate only if those it governs consent to it. Their vision excluded women and men of color, but their theory of a government based on equality is very different from the idea that some people have more rights than others.
The idea of a country based on equality means that no person should be able to disregard others’ interests in order to serve their own. It also means that the law must treat everyone equally and that lawmakers must govern in such a way that they win the support of a majority of those they govern.
By risking others’ lives without their knowledge or consent, Trump claimed the right to dominate them.
But now that Trump is no longer at the head of the government, the rule of law appears to be bearing down. Yesterday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appeared to reject Trump’s argument for blocking access of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol to official documents from his presidency.
The committee has already found Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena; today it held former Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark in contempt for his refusal to testify but said it may reconsider if he shows up on Saturday.
Desperate to stay in the news and keep supporters angry, Trump on Sunday night called for a public debate of his long-debunked arguments that the election was stolen from him.
Today, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the committee’s vice chair, responded with what sure sounds like a warning that Trump might soon be on the receiving end of a subpoena. She said: “[Trump] has recently suggested that he wants to debate members of this committee.” The committee’s investigation “is not a game,” Cheney said. “Any communications Mr. Trump has with this committee will be under oath and if he persists in lying then, he will be accountable under the laws of this great nation, and subject to criminal penalties for every false word he speaks.”
Equality was also at stake today before the Supreme Court as it held hearings over a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This law directly attacks the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion. In the hearings, the right-wing justices on the court, especially Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, appear to be willing to uphold the Mississippi law.
Roe v. Wade was part of the dramatic expansion of civil rights after World War II, in which Republican-led Supreme Courts used the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to enable the federal government to overrule discriminatory state laws and protect individuals’ civil rights. It was on these grounds that the court protected Black and Brown rights, interracial marriage, access to birth control, religious freedom, gay rights, and so on.
Those who objected to such expanded equality insisted the court was indulging in “judicial activism” by overruling the state laws that preserved the power of white men. They worked to stack the court with “originalists” who would defer to the states. Now, finally, thanks to Trump’s three Supreme Court picks, the era of using the federal government to protect equality appears to be under deadly threat, although the laws that protect civil rights are popular: 58% of Americans want Roe v. Wade to stay in place, for example, while only 32% want it overturned.
Make no mistake: it is not just reproductive rights that are under siege. If the Supreme Court returns power to the states to legislate as they wish, any right currently protected by the federal government is at risk. Justice Sonya Sotomayor made the connection to the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom today when she was questioning a lawyer during the oral arguments: “The issue of when life begins… it’s still debated in religions. So when you say this is the only right that takes away a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it?”
After 19 Republican-dominated states have passed election laws suppressing the vote and gerrymandering districts, a reactionary minority controls them. Although Biden won Wisconsin, for example, the state supreme court today left in place districts that likely will enable Republicans to control 60% of the legislative seats in the state (and 75% of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives). Ending federal protections for civil rights means handing to these reactionaries power over the majority of us.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln deplored the state laws discriminating against Black Americans, as well as immigrants in the North and West. He challenged Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who said that discriminatory state laws—including laws that protected human enslavement—were just fine so long as those few men allowed to vote liked them.
“I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal, upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?” Lincoln said. “If that Declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute-book in which we find it and tear it out….”