Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 14: Dr. Rick Bright testifies in front of the House Subcommittee on Health within the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  In his prepared testimony, Dr. Bright states that the U.S. “missed early warning signals” and “forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook.” He warns, “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.” “By not telling America the truth … people were not as prepared as they could have been and should have been … We did not forewarn people. We did not train people. We did not educate them on social distancing and wearing a mask as we should have in January and February.” The same morning, President Trump tweets: “I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, but to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!” 

From the Cutting Room Floor...

“We’re the Wild West,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers says tonight, just after the GOP controlled courts ruled that Wisconsin’s stay-at-home orders were not binding. Bars are open and filled by non-social-distancing “Tavern League” patrons who are excited to eat a fresh batch of cheese curds right out of the fryer.[1] It seems at first ironic that people who were hoarding toilet paper and ammo two months ago in the name of personal protection are now standing in close quarters with no masks on during a pandemic that is killing thousands of people. But they were never hoarding toilet paper and ammo to protect themselves from the virus; they did it to protect themselves from scarcity, from inconvenience, and from those who might seek to take it first.

Contributing to the message that the pandemic is under control, President Trump announced today that the military is being called up to distribute “the vaccine” at the end of the year, so that we can “get back to seeing baseball, basketball, and football games.” Given that CDC Director Fauci insists that we are at least 18 months away from a vaccine, the claim that the military will distribute it by Christmas seems about as likely as the Trump’s claim in March that we would all reopen for Easter. It is a conjured reality that feeds into the imaginary vision of a powerful, stable, expertly-led, and imminently prepared United States.

Promising a bright and happy future is a risky tactic, however. Promising a vaccine by Christmas would damage the president’s credibility if the holiday comes and there is no vaccine. We’ve seen this happen before to world leaders. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson promised that the League of Nations would “make the world safe for democracy” and in 1986, Gorbachev promised that Glasnost and Perestroika would save the Soviet Union. In those historical moments, both men were weakened irreparably by these empty promises.

Then again, these unlikely promises might not damage Trump’s credibility at all. The election will be over by Christmas, and we all know how long election promises last. Also, for many, his credibility does not seem to rely on telling the truth. Quite the opposite, in fact. At the end of February, he said that the virus would go away on its own. Two weeks later, he said that the COVID deaths would be less than H1N1, which was 12,500. Then on April 30, he said that no more than 60,000 would die. Today he “moved the goal post” back to 100,000 (which is actually the estimated number that Fauci projected back on March 29).

One plausible way to read this disconnect between Trump’s promises and the lack of consequences when they don’t happen the way he says they will is partisanship—he’s on the same “team” as about two-thirds of those polled day in and day out, so it doesn’t matter what he does.[2] But another is that we are inured to it. Some of us have just decided that there aren’t principles around which we’re willing to take a stand—which could be part of the plan.[3] The more depressing interpretation, however, is that we actually get a thrill from it somehow. That we enjoy the theater. Will Trump “win” by getting a “vaccine” distributed by Christmas, or by the election? Will we get the frissón of self-justification by seeing that he’s wrong? Maybe the reason he wins is because he knows this is all reality TV and that we are a captive audience.


[1] Ben Wagner, “Tavern League of Wisconsin to Bars: ‘Open Immediately,’” WISN, May 14, 2020,; Meagan Flynn, “After Wisconsin Court Ruling, Crowds Liberated and Thirsty Descend on Bars. ‘We’re the Wild West,’ Gov. Tony Evers Says.,” Washington Post, May 14, 2020,

[2] Harry Dayantis, “How Lying Takes Our Brains down a ‘Slippery Slope,’” University College London News, October 25, 2016,

[3] Mike Mariani, “Is Trump’s Chaos Tornado a Move From the Kremlin’s Playbook?,” Vanity Fair, March 28, 2017,

Read more

“Mysterious Card Left at Memorial of Ahmaud Arbery,” NBC News4 Jax (May 14, 2020),

“What should happen to William “Roddie” Bryant?,” Daily Blast (May 12, 2020),

“Chaos in Wisconsin After Court Overturns Stay at Home Order,” Inside Edition (May 14, 2020),

“FBI seizes Senator Richard Burr’s phone in investigation into stock sales,” CBS News (May 14, 2020),

“Dr. Joseph Fair Details His COVID-19 Battle: ‘If It Can Take Me Down, It Can Take Anybody,’” Today Show, NBC News (May 14, 2020),


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Chotiner, Isaac. “The Danger of Rushing Through Clinical Trials During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The New Yorker, May 14, 2020.
POTUS, “EO on Delegating Authority Under the DPA to the CEO of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to Respond to the COVID-19 Outbreak.” The White House, May 14, 2020.
Togoh, Isabel. “Jeff Bezos ‘Trillionaire’ Is Trending On Twitter. Here’s Why.” Forbes, May 14, 2020.
Luo, Jianxi. “Predictive Monitoring of COVID-19.” Data-Driven Innovation Lab, Singapore University of Technology and Design, May 14, 2020.
Seligman, Lara, and Daniel Lippman. “Pentagon Fires Its Point Person for Defense Production Act.” POLITICO, May 14, 2020.
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* 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.