The Truth Matters
By: Richard C. Collins, PhD and Carlos C. Campbell, MD, MPH
Harry S. Truman claimed that as president of this country he was its most powerful citizen but once he added, smiling, that photographers could be even more powerful. Truman understood that the image makers decide to some extent what people thought of their chief executive. Today’s cable television and the internet have broadened their imagery skills in ways that can camouflage a politician’s deeply held convictions. Even so, a few journalists go deeper, asking questions and spending the time required to uncover our current chief executive’s way of thinking to report the facts.
One of them is Jeffrey Greenberg, editor of the Atlantic magazine who in September, 2020 reported from multiple reliable sources that President Trump labeled Americans who died in war as “Losers and Suckers.” That Trump repeated these convictions earlier on Memorial Day 2017 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in the presence of military commanders who have given lifetimes of service to country, and in front of the graves of Americans who gave their lives, was appalling. When Arizona’s senator John McCain died in 2018, the president at first refused to lower the flag at half-mast in honor of a true war hero. And even before his election, candidate Trump in 2015 publically referred to McCain as a “Loser” for being shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. These statements showed Trump’s contempt for selfless service to the nation was long-standing and deeply held.
Bob Woodard is another such reporter. His recent book RAGE develops a portrait of President Trump as revealed during 17 first-person recorded interviews taken over the first seven months of the COVID-19 disease. Trump’s own words and inactions showed that he is not wedded to the truth and ignores expert scientific advice. As early as mid-January, Trump admitted that he understood the seriousness of the looming pandemic and yet he publically downgraded the threat and concealed the truth from the American people, wasting precious weeks needed for the nation’s public health system to prepare. The delay resulted in more infections and additional deaths as the disease spread throughout the nation.
On June 23, President Trump flew to Yuma, Arizona to celebrate the completion of 200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. “It stopped COVID,” he claimed, adding to his earlier claim that Mexico was the source of the infection. Once again the facts revealed the truth as discovered by investigative reporter Tim Stellar for the Arizona Daily Star. The virus raging in Yuma County and neighboring San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, was first seeded by travelers from the United States.
Today, President Trump against the unanimous advice of public health authorities refuses to wear a mask or practice social distancing during his public campaign rallies. His public bravado encourages an atmosphere of defiance that serves to increase spread of the disease in our communities. Perhaps he confuses the “tough guy” image with strength of character and effective leadership. For those who want to know how to avoid the disease, the facts matter. Trump’s defiance enlarges his contempt for science and service to include public health workers who labor for the benefit of all Americans at this critical stage of the pandemic.
Sacrilege points to acts that desecrate the sacred character of a person or place in shocking ways. Donald Trump’s refusal to honor Americans who have given their lives in service to their country constitutes sacrilege. Allegiance refers to the obligation of fidelity and faithful service that elected officials owe their country in return for the trust given to them by the nation. Donald Trump’s contempt for service and sound scientific guidance should disqualify him for a second term as President of the United States.
 Saul Bellow. Graven Images. Best American Essays, p. 33. 1998.
Richard C. Collins is a native Arizonan and research biologist who trained as a triage medic in the US Air Force and worked for Centers for Disease Control on the epidemiology and control of river blindness at the Central American Research Station in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Carlos C. Campbell is a medical doctor who served for 23 years in the US Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, led the formation of the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, and was a principal consultant to the Gates Foundation programs for elimination of malaria in Africa.