Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Friday, February 28

Fe 28: Iran reports 34 deaths out of 388 confirmed coronavirus cases, making it the country with the highest number of deaths from the virus outside China. Dr. Carter Mecher, senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, emails the Red Dawn email chain: “[W]e have a relatively narrow window” to implement nonpharmaceutical interventions, and we are flying blind.” President Trump says that the virus “like a miracle” will disappear.  “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” At a political rally in South Carolina, the president adds: “the democrats are politicizing the coronavirus … this is their new hoax.” Note: The following day, Trump says he was calling Democrats’ criticism of his response to the coronavirus a hoax, not the virus itself. Fact checkers assess that the president did not call the coronavirus a hoax. Nancy Messonnier tells reporters that the CDC has taken steps to address problems with flawed test kits mailed to state and local labs. The WHO raises the global risk of the coronavirus to “very high.” The stock market ends its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

“Thank you for getting up so early – it’s good to see so many ‘deplorable’ people! Heh. Raise your hand if you’re a ‘deplorable’!” shouts Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is sitting next to him on the dais. A small table is perched between them with the CPAC-2020 logo blazoned in red, white, and blue.  Mulvaney raises his hand. The audience woots. It is 7:40am (ET) and the Conservative Political Action Conference has begun. Moore and Mulvaney have just arrived on stage between slanted panels proclaiming the theme, “America vs. Socialism.” These guys are B-listers in the Trump world. Moore was denied a spot on the Federal Reserve after it became clear to everyone that he had no knowledge of monetary theory or policy, not to mention that he doesn’t pay his child support, seems to hate women, and has admitted to not believing in democracy.[1] Mulvaney is the Chief of Staff, but his days are probably numbered. Last year, he was the one who admitted publicly that military aid to Ukraine was tied to Trump’s demand for an investigation into the 2016 election.[2] This became a key part of the impeachment proceedings, despite Mulvaney’s awkward attempts to backtrack. Trump will likely fire him like he has the rest of his staff. We are taking pots at work on what will happen to him. My bet is he gets a foreign assignment in Myanmar. 

For right now, however, they are still giants. Mulvaney tells the audience that the most successful part of this presidency to date is its push for deregulation of the business world. As a former restaurant owner, he says, he was over-regulated. “[T]he size of the door…fifteen regulations on how the food has to be maintained … even the size of the print on the menu board,” state and federal regulations mandated all of these items, says Mulvaney, making it hard for him to eke out a living. He skips over the real story: that he was not a “small business owner” but a lawyer and shareholder for the fast-casual Mexican chain Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, which has spread from Charlotte, North Carolina to many east coast states, and that his father ran a multi-million dollar construction firm.[3] Mulvaney has not ever eked out a living. Restaurant regulations, construction regulations, labor regulations—they might protect workers, customers, and homeowners, but they cost money for those at the top of the ownership hierarchy, like the Mulvaneys. He has long shilled for government deregulation. That has meant cutting back on things that did not help his own bottom line, like Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits for workers, and Meals on Wheels programs for the elderly.

Then the conversation turns to the virus. Moore asks Mulvaney what he thinks of CNN and MSNBC’s “fake” claims that the Trump administration was “asleep” in its response to the coronavirus. In the past, Mulvaney has proclaimed himself “one of the original Rush [Limbaugh] Babies!”[4] That devotion to Limbaugh could well be the reason why Mulvaney responds that the whole coronavirus thing is a political plot device used by the media to attempt to discredit the president.

MULVANEY: My first meeting with Congress face-to-face was probably six weeks ago on coronavirus—

MOORE: —wow, on corona?

MULVANEY: —on corona. … We take the medical experts down and put them in front of Congress five/six weeks ago. Five Senators show up. Ten/fifteen members of the House of Representatives show up—

MOORE: —just who was asleep at the switch, right?

MULVANEY: —exactly right. We were ahead of the curve.… several weeks ago, we put restrictions on travelers coming in from China, right? We were accused by some on the left of being racist for doing that. True! I’m not making that up! … By the way, the last time we enforced a federal quarantine was 1969 for smallpox. We did it over a month ago in this administration in order to prevent further outbreak in this country. … Why didn’t you hear about it? What was going on four/five weeks ago? Impeachment. And that’s all the press was talking about. So, while real news was happening … we were serving the nation extraordinarily well, the press was covering their ‘hoax of the day’ because they thought it would bring down the president. The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is because this is what they think will bring down the president. That’s what this is all about. I got a note from a reporter today saying, ‘what are you going to do today to calm the markets?’ Really what I might do today to calm the markets is to tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours. <hoots, applause> Listen: is it real? Absolutely it’s real, there’s no question about it, but you saw the president the other day—‘the flu is real.’ …The flu kills people…. This is not Ebola. …it’s not SARS, it’s not MERS…. In the last ten years, about 350,000 Americans have died from the ordinary flu. …It looks like this disease is between 1% – 2% fatal. Is that serious? Absolutely … but it’s not a death sentence. … Now, it’s much easier to get than Ebola, it’s the one thing that concerns us about it … but this is something we deal with. …We sit there and watch the markets and there’s this panic and we think, “Why isn’t there this panic every single year over flu?” … We are the best country in the world prepared to do this. … That’s the message you try to get out.[5]

Mulvaney is clearly channeling Rush Limbaugh, claiming that the worry about the virus is a conspiracy to harm Trump, sacrificing all dignity to his king, who will, nonetheless, still have his head. I think this has become the new mantra. Later today, CNN asks the president if he agrees that the coverage of the virus is a leftwing hoax.

Q: And then, is this a hoax? Your Chief of Staff seemed to suggest that our coverage of this was a hoax. Do you think this is a hoax?

PRESIDENT: Well, I think that the media is—yes, I think that CNN is a very disreputable network. I think they’re doing everything they can to instill fear in people and I think it’s ridiculous. And I think they’re very disreputable.

Did he answer the question? He did not say that the virus is a hoax, but he does say that CNN is not to be trusted. He reiterates that, “… with the flu, on average, we lose from 26,000 to 78,000 people a year …We haven’t lost anybody yet.  … there have been no deaths in the United States at all. A lot of that is attributable to the fact that we closed the border very early.”[6]

By the end of the day, the idea of the virus as a hoax has clearly had a chance to settle in his mind, and now he is saying it explicitly. At the rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he grabs the podium, swaying under the lights. “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he tells the crowd. “They have no clue; they don’t have any clue. … And this is their new hoax. But you know we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We have 15 people in this massive country,” he says, referring to the number of reported COVID-19 cases from earlier in the week. By the time he steps off Marine One to speak at his rally, four more people should be added to that count. He then turns to his wildly inconsistent flu claims again, “So a number that nobody heard of that I heard of recently … 35,000 people on average die each year from the flu. … It could go to a 100,000 … and so far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States.”[7]

It feels like the crack in our understanding of how bad this virus is has started to widen. It isn’t clear if it started with Limbaugh, who himself is only a pompous narcissistic mouthpiece for all the hate that this nation has to give. But there it is. You can see it clearly now, the crack in the wall that eventually brings the house down.

We may have a hard time seeing it, but the financial markets have sensed that something is very wrong. This week has been the worst for Wall Street since the Great Recession of 2008-09. The Dow Jones index saw the worst drop in its history today. And the stock sell-off in the US only mirrored what had already happened from Asia through Europe during the course of the day and the week.[8] Companies that successfully rode out the slide this week include Clorox and 3M, manufacturers who make products useful for a viral pandemic, and Universal Corp., a massive tobacco grower and nicotine chemical company. Insurance companies are some of the hardest hit, presumably because investors know coronavirus is not a hoax.[9] Actual people will be headed to actual hospitals and filing actual claims. Also hit are the major airlines and hotel chains. Even within Europe, travel to Italy is dropping dramatically after the Italians declared 200 new cases. Tellingly, some people are canceling trips not because they’re afraid of coronavirus, but because they do not want to be stuck in quarantine.[10]

It is true that right now, we only have a small number of cases in the United States. But two new cases reported today have no clear link to China or any other place that is currently experiencing an outbreak, which means that they got it from somewhere here in America, many times removed from the original host.[11] Mulvaney and the president assure us that they have the very best people working on this. They said a travel ban against the Chinese would stop it. What happens if it’s not just coming from China but Europe or western Asia? The tests issued by the CDC either didn’t work properly or weren’t administered well, the administration did nothing to correct for it, and now, instead of kicking everything into high gear and calling for national unity, they’re labeling it a hoax.[12] They are saying to their supporters that, if you love your president and your nation, you won’t take this virus stuff seriously. Unbelievable. Except that it seems to happen regularly in Trump’s America.



[1] Charles Sykes, “Stephen Moore Went Down for the Wrong Thing,” Politico, May 2, 2019,


[3] Wayback Machine, “Sen. Mick Mulvaney Latest Salsarita’s Franchisee,”, March 23, 2009,

[4] Michael Grunwald, “Mick the Knife,” Politico, September 1, 2017,

[5] American Conservative Union, CPAC 2020: An Interview with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, 2020,

[6] The White House, “Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure,” The White House, February 28, 2020,

[7] Factbase, Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in North Charleston, South Carolina – February 28, 2020, 2020,

[8] LaToya Harding, Louis Ashworth, and Josh White, “US Stocks Suffer Worst Week since Financial Crisis after Seven Days of Losses,” The Telegraph, February 28, 2020,

[9] Hale Stewart, “The Passive-Aggressive Investor For 2/24-2/28,” Seeking Alpha, March 3, 2020,

[10] Alice Hancock, Tanya Powley, and Chris Campbell, “Coronavirus Prompts a Crisis for the Travel Industry,” February 28, 2020,

[11] ; Erika Towne, “Third Case of COVID-19 Found in Santa Clara County,” The Silicon Valley Voice, February 29, 2020, sec. Public Safety,

[12] Caroline Chen et al., “Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus,” ProPublica, February 28, 2020,

[13] Eustance Huang and Fred Imbert, “Dow Falls 350 Points Friday to Cap the Worst Week for Wall Street since the Financial Crisis,” CNBC, February 27, 2020,

Read more
American Conservative Union. CPAC 2020: An Interview with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, 2020.
Factbase Videos. Speech: Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in North Charleston, South Carolina – February 28, 2020, 2020. See fact check of the speech in the PDF file below.

John Burn-Murdoch and Frederica Cocco, “Coronavirus: Should We Panic?” MyFT, February 28, 2020,


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Chen, Caroline, Marshall Allen, Lexi Churchill, and Isaac Arnsdorf. “Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus.” ProPublica, February 28, 2020.
Factbase. Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in North Charleston, South Carolina – February 28, 2020, 2020.
Hancock, Alice, Tanya Powley, and Chris Campbell. “Coronavirus Prompts a Crisis for the Travel Industry,” February 28, 2020.
The White House. “Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure.” The White House, February 28, 2020.
Yu, Gao, Peng Yanfeng, Feng Yuding, Ma Danmeng, Flynn Murphy, Han Wei, and Timmy Shen. “How Early Signs of the Coronavirus Were Spotted, Spread and Throttled….” The Straits TImes, February 28, 2020.
Mull, Amanda. “The Problem With Telling Sick Workers to Stay Home.” The Atlantic, February 28, 2020.
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Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.