It’s unclear exactly where I picked up the virus. I traveled to Georgia in the run-up to Election Day and went canvassing with women in Cobb County. I also attended an outdoor Trump rally in nearby Rome, with roughly 20,000 Trump supporters, many of them maskless.
Of course, campaign travel during a pandemic isn’t exactly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But I took a calculated risk to witness political figures swarm the Peach State before what turned out to be a major political upset that turned it blue for the first time in nearly 30 years.
After testing positive, I spent the majority of my time in self-isolation sleeping and in between naps, I watched ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ and tried to respond to friends, family, and sources routinely checking in for proof of life. Some of these sources were Republicans — Trump campaign staff, former administration officials, people close to the president, and staffers on Capitol Hill.
I was struck by how dissonant those conversations were from some of the GOP’s public rhetoric about the virus. President Trump repeatedly and falsely insisted the country was “rounding the bend” before the election, and several Republican governors from South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Wyoming are still resisting mask mandates. Some, like Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt and South Dakota’s Kristi L. Noem, have sanctioned gathering with family this week for Thanksgiving, despite warnings from public health officials.
Some of the talks with sources were mundane: “How are you feeling?” they would ask. “Tired” or “meh” were my two most common replies. Others politely asked if I needed anything. One source close to President Trump, who has largely stepped back from managing the pandemic since losing the election, expressed alarm at the croak of my voice when I picked up their call mid-nap and promptly shooed me off the phone. In other conversations, sources lamented how flippantly their own bosses and colleagues were still treating the virus. One GOP Hill staffer encouraged me to write about my experience with the virus because their boss still doesn’t “think it’s real.”
- “It’s pretty incredible that even when people do get it, it doesn’t change their behavior very much,” a Trump campaign staffer told me, reflecting on the number of people inside the White House or in Trumpworld who have gotten sick, including President Trump.
- “If anything, it just emboldens them that they made it through the virus … it blows my mind.”
I’m a healthy 31-year-old former college athlete with no preexisting conditions and like many other people, I was still knocked out by a moderate case of covid-19. My recovery did not require hospitalization, and while I’m still fatigued and have a lingering cough, I’m lucky to have avoided the worst-case scenario and have a boss who insisted that I take time off to recover. While I was unsettled by how much I slept during my bout with the virus, there was nothing unusual about my case and my symptoms more or less aligned with those listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But you don’t need to take it from me. A quick glance at headlines from around the country continues to paint shocking pictures of intensive care units in overwhelmed hospitals as the disease surges. The 14-day average for new cases is up by 54 percent, according to the New York Times, while the average for new deaths over the last two weeks rose 64 percent.
- “On this Thursday morning, 28 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care, with 12 spilling beyond the designated unit to areas designed for heart problems, strokes and surgical recoveries,” reports The Star Tribune’s Jeremy Olson. “A total of 97 COVID-19 patients have been admitted to Regions, which is almost full. Minnesota’s experience with the pandemic suggests one-third of patients on ventilators won’t survive, even with optimal critical care.”
- “’We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,’ said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding she drives to and from work some days in tears,” the Associated Press’s Paul Weber and Sarah Rankin report.
- “The Texas National Guard has sent a 36-member team to El Paso to assist morgues in the border region with the number of dead as a result of COVID-19,” the AP reports. “Statewide, the Texas health department on Saturday reported a one-day high of 12,597 new virus cases, nearly 20,500 dead and more than 8,200 virus hospitalizations.”
One doctor from Minnesota who checked in to see how I was doing was downright furious at Washington. “I cannot express fully, how angry I have become at the [president’s] indifference in handling the pandemic,” Michael Wilcox, who has practiced medicine in rural communities for nearly 50 years, told Power Up.
- “My health-care colleagues are getting clobbered by ill covid-19 patients needing admission while he holes up in his bunker, stewing about ways to overturn the election,” he fumed.
A friend and former colleague at CBS News, Alan He – also an expert on procuring N95 masks and hand sanitizer in bulk – suggested I keep a “coronavirus diary.” I reviewed the first sentence of my lone entry in my iPhone notes, which read: “My mother called me 1,500 times today.” (This is where I should note that my parents very kindly left grocery bags of soup, Gatorade, and licorice outside of the door to my apartment. Thanks, mom and dad).
Included in the next paragraph of the first and last entry of my unsuccessful diary endeavor was a link to the tweet thread from Jodi Doering, a nurse in South Dakota, detailing her horrific experience with some of her covid-19 patients who “still don’t believe the virus is real”:
The other epidemic: When I wasn’t sleeping, I was having trouble sleeping because of the muscle pain I experienced. I read Doering’s tweet thread in the middle of the night as I doom-scrolled through Twitter and in my cough-syrup haze, I wondered why the country couldn’t do better in trying to control this awful disease.
The following night, during an interview with “60 Minutes,” former President Barack Obama criticized Trump for propagating conspiracy theories and accelerating ‘truth decay’ in the U.S.:
- “We have gone through a presidency that disregarded a whole host of basic institutional norms, expectations we had for a president that had been observed by Republicans and Democrats previously,” said Obama “And maybe most importantly, and most disconcertingly, what we’ve seen is what some people call truth decay, something that’s been accelerated by outgoing President Trump, the sense that not only do we not have to tell the truth, but the truth doesn’t even matter.”
The “truth decay” epidemic, defined as the “diminishing role of facts and data in American public life” by the nonpartisan Rand Corporation, has soared alongside the coronavirus pandemic.
Take Jay Andrews, the 35-year-old state director of Georgia’s chapter of Blexit, a conservative initiative started by right-wing commentator Candace Owens, for example. During an indoor event featuring Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in Alpharetta, Ga., the Friday before the election, a maskless Andrews tried to explain to me the rational of those “who don’t want to wear masks because it’s an introduction to socialism and Marxism.”
- In the crowded room, many of whom also weren’t wearing masks, Andrews explained he’s not a “fearful person” and if he does contract the coronavirus, “then it’s in the cards for me. I’m a Christian. Then I’m cool.”
Michael D. Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh, who co-authored the book “Truth Decay,” wrote in an article last week that if President-elect Joe Biden wants to tackle the current crises facing America, his administration “must begin rebuilding Americans’ trust in their government and public institutions.”
They argue that will require increased transparency from elected leaders, the elevation of experts, a diverse administration and increased investment in civic education for young people.
- “In the early 1930s at the start of the Great Depression, federal economic policymakers ignored key pieces of evidence, and as a result the Depression got worse. As the crisis deepened, a reversal ensued. New government agencies were set up to collect and analyze data and launch evidence-based approaches for getting the economy restarted. Individuals with genuine expertise and training were brought in to develop and implement new policies. Over time, trust in government rose. The same approach could work today,” Rich and Kavangh argue.
- “Restoring trust won’t occur quickly, nor will progress follow a straight line. But the new administration can begin to repair the deep fissures in our society by explicitly and implicitly rehabilitating the nation’s civic infrastructure. The health of America’s participatory democracy depends on it.”
In the meantime, however, lives are at stake.
- “If you look at the map of spread across the country, you can see the risk; it’s very visible. And moving through airports or travel hubs, I think that will increase people’s risk,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Even if they’re driving from point to point, unfortunately, we don’t know if we’re infected when we walk into a gathering.”
BLINKEN TO HEAD STATE DEPT.: “Biden has selected Antony Blinken, one of his closest and longest-serving foreign policy advisers, as secretary of state as he prepares to unveil a slate of new nominees this week that will emphasize a deep well of experience in the foreign policy and national security establishment,” Annie Linskey, Matt Viser and John Hudson report.
- Blinken has been described as having a “mindmeld” with Biden on an array of issues: “Blinken, a career foreign policy official, has a sprawling global network and is expected to lead the U.S.’s efforts to rejoin international agreements like the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal. He is also likely to oversee a tougher posture toward China,” Bloomberg News’s Tyler Pager, Jennifer Epstein, and Saleha Mohsin report.
What he’ll focus on: “Chief among [Blinken’s] new priorities will be to reestablish the United States as a trusted ally that is ready to rejoin global agreements and institutions — including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the World Health Organization — that were jettisoned by Trump,” the New York Times’s Lara Jakes, Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger report.
- He already faces a deadline: “He will have about 15 days after inauguration to extend for five years the last major arms control agreement with Russia, a step Trump initially refused to take because he insisted China be brought into the treaty as well.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is expected to be U.N. ambassador, “giving a former career Foreign Service officer and African American woman one of the most high-profile diplomatic posts in government,” our colleagues write. (Biden will also elevate the post back to the Cabinet level, per the Times.)
- Her background: “Thomas-Greenfield served as the top U.S. diplomat for Africa under President Barack Obama, an assistant secretary job that capped her 35-year career in the Foreign Service. Known as ‘LTG’ among State Department rank-and-file, Thomas-Greenfield retired in 2017 after Trump took power.”
An incredible nugget: In a 2018 speech, Thomas-Greenfield recalled attending a segregated school growing up in Louisiana in 1958 and later overlapping with future-KKK leader David Duke at Louisiana State University where she confronted open racism on campus. Graduate school in Wisconsin then led to start of her career in the Foreign Service.
- She was in Rwanda in 1994 when the genocide unfolded: “Interestingly, I didn’t panic … I looked that young man in the eyes and asked him his name and told him mine,” she said describing how she was confronted at gunpoint by someone who had mistaken her for a woman her was supposed to kill. “I wanted to him to know my name, because if he killed me I wanted him to know the name of the person he killed.”
You can and should watch the entire speech:
Jake Sullivan is expected to be national security adviser: “Sullivan has served in the highest levels of the Democratic policy establishment. He worked for Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, moved to the White House to work for Obama and was frequently by Clinton’s side as a foreign policy adviser in her 2016 presidential bid,” our colleagues write.
- At 43, he will be the youngest person to serve in the role since the Eisenhower administration, per the Times: “A Minnesota native and Yale Law School graduate, Mr. Sullivan in recent months has helped spearhead a project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reconceiving U.S. foreign policy around the needs of the American middle class.”
TRUMP’S LEGAL TEAM IS A MESS: “Two Trump attorneys — Rudolph W. Giuliani and Jenna Ellis — released a statement abruptly distancing the campaign from a third attorney, Sidney Powell,” Felicia Sonmez and Josh Dawsey report, a development that came just hours after former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called Trump’s legal team “a national embarrassment.”
- What happened: “Two advisers to Trump said that the president disliked the coverage Powell was receiving from Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others and that several allies had reached out to say she had gone too far.”
- Key quote: “She was too crazy even for the president,” a campaign official told our colleagues. Powell floated a conspiracy theory that included former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who, of course, has been dead since 2013.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: The legal team faces another series of setbacks as more states begin to officially certify their results. Michigan’s state board of canvassers is set to meet today to certify the results, though the Trump campaign is hoping the two Republican members force a deadlock, Beth Reinhard, Alice Crites and Dalton Bennett report.
Michigan could be interesting: The board has historically always voted unanimously to certify statewide elections, even though its made up of evenly split partisan appointments. Norman Shinkle, one of the board’s current GOP members, has signaled an openness to widely discredited claims about election fraud. The Republican National Committee and the state party want to delay certification for two weeks to allow for an audit in Wayne County, despite the fact the number of ballots being reviewed aren’t sufficient to change the outcome.
- Should a deadlock occur: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) “could seek to replace some of its members — an action that experts believe could be legally complicated — or obtain a court order requiring the board to certify.”
Pennsylvania is also set to certify: The Keystone State has no statewide certification deadline, but counties must submit their results to Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) by today. Boockvar is then required to certify the election.
- The Trump campaign was dealt an embarrassing defeat there over the weekend: U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann slammed its case as full of “strained arguments … and speculative accusations.” Brann is an Obama appointee, but he was a former state GOP official and is a member of Federalist Society. Instead of responding with a full-throated appeal, the Trump team is continuing on much narrower grounds, per Politico’s Josh Gerstein.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cited the loss as the end of Trump’s legal options in the state:
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE G-20 SUMMIT: “Little was expected of this year’s Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit. It was a muted affair, presented virtually during a resurgent global pandemic,” Kareem Fahim reports from Istanbul.
- Even so, as the two-day conference ended Sunday, its organizers hailed it as a success: “A final communique heralded achievements, including an offer of debt relief to developing nations and a commitment to ensuring equitable access to coronavirus treatments. But it also laid out a frightening litany of challenges facing economies and societies that the scaled-back summit, or any global gathering, would be hard-pressed to meet.”
Trump only attended portions of the gathering: “The president left the White House at 11:15 a.m. local time, just as the closing session began, and arrived at his Virginia golf course about 45 minutes later. He participated in a session earlier in the morning on protecting the planet, using the event to criticize the Paris Climate Accord,” the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Kalin reports.
- He also skipped a Saturday event focused on the pandemic: “Instead, Trump continued the postelection weekend routine he has settled into. He sends out a tweet with a new, empty promise of “fraud” revelations and then heads to his Virginia golf course,” the Times’s Annie Karni reports.