Silence of the Trees: Willful Ignorance

virus infection 3d illustration
viral infection in green background, 3d illustration

“If a tree falls in a forest … does it make a sound?”  While an interesting philosophical query about perception, in the real world it doesn’t take the sound to know that trees have fallen.  The fact that they are laying on the ground should be evidence enough.

These thoughts came to mind this morning when I listened to President Trump’s irrational nonsense about COVID-19 testing and its relationship to the number of documented coronavirus cases and deaths in the United States.  The President is calling for the American people to practice willful ignorance of the facts.  Of course, there is nothing new to Trumpian denial of facts and assertion of an alternate reality (or as Trump counselor Kelly Ann Conway asserted on the third day of the Trump administration, there are “alternative facts”).

But let’s look at what the President himself said yesterday, a day when the United States passed 1.4 million in confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 86 thousand confirmed deaths.  By the way, most public health experts, scientists and statisticians say those numbers are underreported, including White House Coronavirus Task Force member Anthony Fauci.  And the actual numbers continue to grow each day, much to the consternation of the President.

But here is what President Trump said: “So we have the best testing in the world. It could be the testing’s, frankly, overrated? Maybe it is overrated? … And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world.  But why?  Because we do more testing.  When you test, you have a case. When you test you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don’t want to write that. It’s common sense. We test much more.”

Now there is so much misleading and false information we can download from that statement, in keeping with the more than 18,000 documented instances of falsehoods since Inauguration Day.  But let’s focus on the call to willful ignorance built into the President’s stunningly faulty logic.

Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart crystallizes the illogic quite well: “Let me see if I understand his [Trump’s] logic.  If you don’t test, there would be fewer cases … ergo, the testing causes coronavirus.  Glad he straightened that out.”

Well, the number of coronavirus cases (and deaths) is not caused by testing, it is revealed by testing.  The cases and the deaths are reality, Mr. President, reality.  Like the trees that silently fell to the forest floors, COVID-19 numbers are real.  Count them up and weep.  

The numbers cannot be willed away, just as the virus cannot be willed away.  Denial does not change reality.  You, may not like the numbers, Mr. President, but they are real.  And each of them is an American with family, relatives and friends who are impacted by their suffering and, often, death.  The numbers are about them, Mr. President, not you.

The President’s fixation on numbers is a continuum and it reveals a presidential concern about political perception, not human suffering and death.    And it reveals a desire to lower the numbers not by concerted governmental action to actually fight the pandemic, but to lower the numbers by rhetorical device because they are politically inconvenient.  

Remember the instance over the docking of coronavirus-infected cruise ship, the Grand Princess, which remained off the coast of San Francisco.  On March 6th, the President said he’d rather have the people stay on board the ship because the arrival of more infected people would raise the case count of the United States: “I’d rather have the people stay.  I would rather — because I like the numbers being where they are — I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship …” (emphasis added).  

It is patently clear that this president wants us to buy the “alternative facts” that we are not suffering through a pandemic.  We are asked to believe in the silence of the trees: just because they are laying on the forest floor does not mean that they fell.  We didn’t hear them.  He is calling on us to be willfully ignorant of the facts because the facts are inconvenient to his quest for another four years.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Evan Barrett

Evan Barrett, now retired and living on the Butte hill, is a regularly published political columnist in many Montana daily newspapers. Though never an elected official, Barrett’s political and governmental experience includes three years as Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party and twelve years on the Democratic National Committee; senior staff positions with Governors Forrest Anderson, Tom Judge and Brian Schweitzer, Congressman Pat Williams and Senator John Melcher; and campaign management positions with Judge, Williams and Melcher. Barrett is a recognized Montana historian, teacher and award-winning chronicler of Montana’s progressive past.


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  • Lets cut the BS and jump to the core. Bottom line is what direction is deaths curve going, even with that idiot Como moving the infected in the seniors homes. Also, look at the direction at the way hospitalizations going. Would states be opening up based on your statements? This sounds like something you would hear from Rachel Madcow on MSDNC. If god is so powerful then can he make a rock he can not pick up? You are spewing this kind of foolish spin.

    • Mark2 As someone who’s close friend lost an immediate family member to COVID-19 here in Whitefish, I find your attitude reckless, and your tone disrespectful of those who’ve lost family members to this pandemic right here in Montana. It is a horrible, agonizing and lonely way to die. Health care providers are helpless to stop it, and they are deeply traumatized by having to stand there unable to save these patients. Even so, what I’m afraid of more than catching COVID-19 right now is you, who thinks this is some kind of hoax or joke. If your son, daughter, parents, spouse or loved one had been the one to perish, instead on my dear friend’s aunt (who you don’t know and therefore obviously don’t care about), I wonder if you’d still be so publicly callous.

      • Dora, please read Scott. You will see what I was suggesting to you, above. Random, inarticulate attacks aren’t useful. With all due respect, I’m new to
        this site but have read earlier comments. They are very well thought through, in most instances. Even when discordant and the very limited intrusion of monitoring seems careful and constructive.

          • Yes. The attack was aimed at Mark2. Not a seriously
            inflicted wound, just not constructive. Maybe I’m expecting too much from this blog. Some of the comments I’ve read, earlier, and recently, seem instructive and less intended to
            insult the opposing view. Just trying to be helpful to Dora.
            But her timidity also seems apparent, so maybe best to leave alone.

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