Scientists who have fought pandemics describe difficult measures needed to defend the United States against a fast-moving pathogen.
Terrifying though the coronavirus may be, it can be turned back. China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have demonstrated that, with furious efforts, the contagion can be brought to heel.
Whether they can keep it suppressed remains to be seen. But for the United States to repeat their successes will take extraordinary levels of coordination and money from the country’s leaders, and extraordinary levels of trust and cooperation from citizens. It will also require international partnerships in an interconnected world.
There is a chance to stop the coronavirus. This contagion has a weakness.
Although there are incidents of rampant spread, as happened on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the coronavirus more often infects clusters of family members, friends and work colleagues, said Dr. David L. Heymann, who chairs an expert panel advising the World Health Organization on emergencies.
No one is certain why the virus travels in this way, but experts see an opening nonetheless. “You can contain clusters,” Dr. Heymann said. “You need to identify and stop discrete outbreaks, and then do rigorous contact tracing.”
But doing so takes intelligent, rapidly adaptive work by health officials, and near-total cooperation from the populace. Containment becomes realistic only when Americans realize that working together is the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones.
In interviews with a dozen of the world’s leading experts on fighting epidemics, there was wide agreement on the steps that must be taken immediately.
Those experts included international public health officials who have fought AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, flu and Ebola; scientists and epidemiologists; and former health officials who led major American global health programs in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Americans must be persuaded to stay home, they said, and a system put in place to isolate the infected and care for them outside the home. Travel restrictions should be extended, they said; productions of masks and ventilators must be accelerated, and testing problems must be resolved.
But tactics like forced isolation, school closings and pervasive GPS tracking of patients brought more divided reactions.
It was not at all clear that a nation so fundamentally committed to individual liberty and distrustful of government could learn to adapt to many of these measures, especially those that smack of state compulsion.
“The American way is to look for better outcomes through a voluntary system,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, who was director of medical and biodefense preparedness for the National Security Council before it was disbanded in 2018.
“I think you can appeal to people to do the right thing.”
In the week since the interviews began, remarkable changes have come over American life. State governments are telling residents they must stay home. Nonessential businesses are being shuttered.
The streets are quieter than they have been in generations, and even friends keep a wary distance. What seemed unthinkable just a week ago is rapidly becoming the new normal.
What follows are the recommendations offered by the experts interviewed by The Times.
The White House holds frequent media briefings to describe the administration’s progress against the pandemic, often led by President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, flanked by a rotating cast of officials.
Many experts, some of whom are international civil servants, declined to speak on the record for fear of offending the president. But they were united in the opinion that politicians must step aside and let scientists both lead the effort to contain the virus and explain to Americans what must be done.
Just as generals take the lead in giving daily briefings in wartime — as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf did during the Persian Gulf war — medical experts should be at the microphone now to explain complex ideas like epidemic curves, social distancing and off-label use of drugs.
The microphone should not even be at the White House, scientists said, so that briefings of historic importance do not dissolve into angry, politically charged exchanges with the press corps, as happened again on Friday.
Instead, leaders must describe the looming crisis and the possible solutions in ways that will win the trust of Americans.
Above all, the experts said, briefings should focus on saving lives and making sure that average wage earners survive the coming hard times — not on the stock market, the tourism industry or the president’s health. There is no time left to point fingers and assign blame.
“At this point in the emergency, there’s little merit in spending time on what we should have done or who’s at fault,” said Adm. Tim Ziemer, who was the coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative from 2006 until early 2017 and led the pandemic response unit on the National Security Council before its disbanding.
“We need to focus on the enemy, and that’s the virus.”
The next priority, experts said, is extreme social distancing.
If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.
The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated.
The crisis would be over.
Obviously, there is no magic wand, and no 300 million tests. But the goal of lockdowns and social distancing is to approximate such a total freeze.
To attempt that, experts said, travel and human interaction must be reduced to a minimum.
Italy moved incrementally: Officials slowly and reluctantly closed restaurants, churches and museums, and banned weddings and funerals. Nonetheless, the country’s death count continues to rise.
The United States is slowly following suit. International flights are all but banned, but not domestic ones. California has ordered all residents to stay at home; New York was to shutter all nonessential businesses on Sunday evening.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said he advocated restrictive measures all across the country.
In contrast to the halting steps taken here, China shut down Wuhan — the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak — and restricted movement in much of the country on Jan. 23, when the country had a mere 500 cases and 17 deaths.
Its rapid action had an important effect: With the virus mostly isolated in one province, the rest of China was able to save Wuhan.
In a vast, largely closed society, it can be difficult to know what is happening on the ground, and there is no guarantee that the virus won’t roar back as the Chinese economy restarts.
But the lesson is that relatively unaffected regions of the United States will be needed to help rescue overwhelmed cities like New York and Seattle. Keeping these areas at least somewhat free of the coronavirus means enacting strict measures, and quickly.
Stop transmission within cities
Within cities, there are dangerous hot spots: One restaurant, one gym, one hospital, even one taxi may be more contaminated than many identical others nearby because someone had a coughing fit inside.
Each day’s delay in stopping human contact, experts said, creates more hot spots, none of which can be identified until about a week later, when the people infected there start falling ill.
To stop the explosion, municipal activity must be curtailed. Still, some Americans must stay on the job: doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers; police officers and firefighters; the technicians who maintain the electrical grid and gas and phone lines.
The delivery of food and medicine must continue, so that people pinned in their homes suffer nothing worse than boredom. Those essential workers may eventually need permits, and a process for issuing them, if the police are needed to enforce stay-at-home orders, as they have been in China and Italy.
People in lockdown adapt. In Wuhan, apartment complexes submit group orders for food, medicine, diapers and other essentials. Shipments are assembled at grocery warehouses or government pantries and dropped off. In Italy, trapped neighbors serenade one another.
It’s an intimidating picture. But the weaker the freeze, the more people die in overburdened hospitals — and the longer it ultimately takes for the economy to restart.
South Korea avoided locking down any city, but only by moving early and with extraordinary speed. In January, the country had four companies making tests, and as of March 9 had tested 210,000 citizens — the equivalent of testing 2.3 million Americans.
As of the same date, fewer than 9,000 Americans had been tested.
Everyone who is infected in South Korea goes into isolation in government shelters, and phones and credit card data are used to trace their prior movements and find their contacts. Where they walked before they fell ill is broadcast to the cellphones of everyone who was nearby.
Anyone even potentially exposed is quarantined at home; a GPS app tells the police if that person goes outside. The fine for doing so is $8,000.
British researchers are trying to develop a similar tracking app, albeit one more palatable to citizens in Western democracies.
Fix the testing mess
Testing must be done in a coordinated and safe way, experts said. The seriously ill must go first, and the testers must be protected.
In China, those seeking a test must describe their symptoms on a telemedicine website. If a nurse decides a test is warranted, they are directed to one of dozens of “fever clinics” set up far from all other patients.
Personnel in head-to-toe gear check their fevers and question them. Then, ideally, patients are given a rapid flu test and a white blood cell count is taken to rule out influenza and bacterial pneumonia.
Then their lungs are visualized in a CT scanner to look for “ground-glass opacities” that indicate pneumonia and rule out cancer and tuberculosis. Only then are they given a diagnostic test for the coronavirus — and they are told to wait at the testing center.
The results take a minimum of four hours; in the past, if results took overnight, patients were moved to a hotel to wait — sometimes for two to three days, if doctors believed retesting was warranted. It can take several days after an exposure for a test to turn positive.
In the United States, people seeking tests are calling their doctors, who may not have them, or sometimes waiting in traffic jams leading to store parking lots. On Friday, New York City limited testing only to those patients requiring hospitalization, saying the system was being overwhelmed.
Isolate the infected
As soon as possible, experts said, the United States must develop an alternative to the practice of isolating infected people at home, as it endangers families. In China, 75 to 80 percent of all transmission occurred in family clusters.
That pattern has already repeated itself here. Seven members of a large family in New Jersey were infected; four have already died. After a lawyer in New Rochelle, N.Y., fell ill, his wife, son and daughter all tested positive.
Instead of a policy that advises the infected to remain at home, as the Centers for Disease and Prevention now does, experts said cities should establish facilities where the mildly and moderately ill can recuperate under the care and observation of nurses.
Wuhan created many such centers, called “temporary hospitals,” each a cross between a dormitory and a first-aid clinic. They had cots and oxygen tanks, but not the advanced machines used in intensive care units.
American cities now have many spaces that could serve as isolation wards. Already New York is considering turning the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a temporary hospital, along with the Westchester Convention Center and two university campuses.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Saturday that state officials were also considering opening isolation wards.
In China, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, leader of the World Health Organization’s observer team there, people originally resisted leaving home or seeing their children go into isolation centers with no visiting rights — just as Americans no doubt would.
In China, they came to accept it.
“They realized they were keeping their families safe,” he said. “Also, isolation is really lonely. It’s psychologically difficult. Here, they were all together with other people in the same boat. They supported each other.”
Find the fevers
Because China, Taiwan and Vietnam were hit by SARS in 2003, and South Korea has grappled with MERS, fever checks during disease outbreaks became routine.
In most cities in affected Asian countries, it is commonplace before entering any bus, train or subway station, office building, theater or even a restaurant to get a temperature check. Washing your hands in chlorinated water is often also required.
“They give you a sticker afterward,” said Dr. Heymann, who recently spent a week teaching in Singapore. “I built up quite a collection.”
In China, having a fever means a mandatory trip to a fever clinic to check for coronavirus. In the Wuhan area, different cities took different approaches.
Cellphone videos from China show police officers knocking on doors and taking temperatures. In some, people who resist are dragged away by force. The city of Ningbo offered bounties of $1,400 to anyone who turned in a coronavirus sufferer.
The city of Qianjiang, by contrast, offered the same amount of money to any resident who came in voluntarily and tested positive.
Some measures made Western experts queasy. It is difficult to imagine Americans permitting a family member with a fever to be dragged to an isolation ward where visitors are not permitted.
“A lot of people’s rights were violated,” Dr. Borio said.
Voluntary approaches, like explaining to patients that they will be keeping family and friends safe, are more likely to work in the West, she added.
Trace the contacts
Finding and testing all the contacts of every positive case is essential, experts said. At the peak of its epidemic, Wuhan had 18,000 people tracking down individuals who had come in contact with the infected.
At the moment, the health departments of some American counties lack the manpower to trace even syphilis or tuberculosis, let alone scores of casual contacts of someone infected with the coronavirus.
Dr. Borio suggested that young Americans could use their social networks to “do their own contact tracing.” Social media also is used in Asia, but in different ways.
China’s strategy is quite intrusive: To use the subway in some cities, citizens must download an app that rates how great a health risk they are. South Korean apps tell users exactly where infected people have traveled.
When he lectured at a Singapore university, Dr. Heymann said, dozens of students were in the room. But just before he began class, they were photographed to record where everyone sat.
“That way, if someone turns up infected later, you can find out who sat near them,” Dr. Heymann said. “That’s really clever.”
Contacts generally must remain home for 14 days and report their temperatures twice a day.
Make masks ubiquitous
American experts have divided opinions about masks, but those who have worked in Asia see their value.
There is very little data showing that flat surgical masks protect healthy individuals from disease. Nonetheless, Asian countries generally encourage people wear them. In some cities in China where masks are compulsory, the police even used drones to chase individuals down streets, ordering them to go home and mask up.
The Asian approach is less about data than it is about crowd psychology, experts explained.
All experts agree that the sick must wear masks to keep in their coughs. But if a mask indicates that the wearer is sick, many people will be reluctant to wear one. If everyone is required to wear masks, the sick automatically have one on and there is no stigma attached.
Also, experts emphasized, Americans should be taught to take seriously admonitions to stop shaking hands and hugging. The “W.H.O. elbow bump” may look funny, but it’s a legitimate technique for preventing infection.
“In Asia, where they went through SARS, people understand the danger,” Dr. Heymann said. “It’s instilled in the population that you’ve got to do the right thing.”
Preserve vital services
Federal intervention is necessary for some vital aspects of life during a pandemic.
Only the federal government can enforce interstate commerce laws to ensure that food, water, electricity, gas, phone lines and other basic needs keep flowing across state lines to cities and suburbs.
Mr. Trump has said he could compel companies to prioritize making ventilators, masks and other needed goods. Some have volunteered; the Hanes underwear company, for example, will use its cotton to make masks for hospital workers.
He also has the military; the Navy is committing two hospital ships to the fight. And Mr. Trump can call up the National Guard. As of Saturday evening, more than 6,500 National Guard members already are assisting in the coronavirus response in 38 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
High-level decisions like these must be made quickly, experts said.
“Many Western political leaders are behaving as though they are on a tightrope,” said Dr. David Nabarro, a W.H.O. special envoy on Covid-19 and a veteran of fights against SARS, Ebola and cholera.
“But there is no choice. We must do all in our power to fight this,” he added. “I sense that most people — and certainly those in business — get it. They would prefer to take the bitter medicine at once and contain outbreaks as they start rather than gamble with uncertainty.”
Produce ventilators and oxygen
The roughly 175,000 ventilators in all American hospitals and the national stockpile are expected to be far fewer than are needed to handle a surge of patients desperate for breath.
The machines pump air and oxygen into the lungs, but they normally cost $25,000 or more each, and neither individual hospitals nor the federal emergency stockpile has ever had enough on hand to handle the number of pneumonia patients that this pandemic is expected to produce.
New York, for example, has found about 6,000 ventilators for purchase around the world, Governor Cuomo said. He estimated the state would need about 30,000.
The manufacturers, including a dozen in the United States, say there is no easy way to ramp up production quickly. But it is possible other manufacturers, including aerospace and automobile companies, could be enlisted to do so.
Ventilators are basically air pumps with motors controlled by circuits that make them act like lungs: the pump pushes air into the patient, then stops so the weight of the chest can push the air back out.
Automobiles and airplanes contain many small pumps, like those for oil, water and air-conditioning fluid, that might be modified to act as basic, stripped-down ventilators. On Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted that Ford and General Motors had been “given the go-ahead” to produce ventilators.
Providers, meanwhile, are scrambling for alternatives.
Canadian nurses are disseminating a 2006 paper describing how one ventilator can be modified to treat four patients simultaneously. Inventors have proposed combining C-PAP machines, which many apnea sufferers own, and oxygen tanks to improvise a ventilator.
The United States must also work to increase its supply of piped and tanked oxygen, Dr. Aylward said.
One of the lessons of China, he noted, was that many Covid-19 patients who would normally have been intubated and on ventilators managed to survive with oxygen alone.
Hospitals in the United States have taken some measures to handle surges of patients, such as stopping elective surgery and setting up isolation rooms.
To protect bedridden long-term patients, nursing homes and hospitals also should immediately stop admitting visitors and do constant health checks on their staffs, said Dr. James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The national stockpile does contain some prepackaged military field hospitals, but they are not expected to be nearly enough for a big surge.
In Wuhan, the Chinese government famously built two new hospitals in two weeks. All other hospitals were divided: 48 were designated to handle 10,000 serious or critical coronavirus patients, while others were restricted to handling emergencies like heart attacks and births.
Wherever that was impractical, hospitals were divided into “clean” and “dirty” zones, and the medical teams did not cross over. Walls to isolate whole wards were built, and — as in Ebola wards — doctors went in one end of the room wearing protective gear and left by the other end, where they de-gowned under the eyes of a nurse to prevent infection.
Decide when to close schools
As of Saturday, schools in 45 states were closed entirely, but that is a decision that divided experts.
“Closing all schools may not make sense unless there is documented widespread community transmission, which we’re not seeing in most of the country,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former C.D.C. director under President Barack Obama.
It is unclear how much children spread coronavirus. They very seldom get sick enough to be hospitalized, which is not true of flu. Current testing cannot tell whether most do not even become infected.
In China, Dr. Aylward said, he asked all of the doctors he spoke to whether they had seen any family clusters in which a child was the first to be infected. No one had, he said, which astonished him.
That leaves a quandary. Closing schools is a normal part of social distancing; after all, schools are the workplaces for many adults, too. And when the disease is clearly spreading within an individual school, it must close.
But closing whole school districts can seriously disrupt a city’s ability to fight an outbreak. With their children stuck at home, nurses, doctors, police officers and other emergency medical workers cannot come to work.
Also, many children in low-income families depend on the meals they eat at schools.
Cities that close all schools are creating special “hub schools” for the children of essential workers. In Ohio, the governor has told school bus drivers to deliver hot meals to children who normally got them at school.
China’s effort succeeded, experts said, in part because of hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The government declared a “people’s war” and rolled out a “Fight On, Wuhan! Fight On, China!” campaign.
Many people idled by the lockdowns stepped up to act as fever checkers, contact tracers, hospital construction workers, food deliverers, even babysitters for the children of first responders, or as crematory workers.
With training, volunteers were able to do some ground-level but crucial medical tasks, such as basic nursing, lab technician work or making sure that hospital rooms were correctly decontaminated.
Americans often step forward to help neighbors affected by hurricanes and floods; many will no doubt do so in this outbreak, but they will need training in how not to fall ill and add to the problem.
“In my experience, success is dependent on how much the public is informed and participates,” Admiral Ziemer said. “This truly is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation.”
Prioritize the treatments
Clinicians in China, Italy and France have thrown virtually everything they had in hospital pharmacies into the fight, and at least two possibilities have emerged that might save patients: the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and the antiviral remdesivir, which has no licensed use.
There is not proof yet that any of these are effective against the virus. China registered more than 200 clinical trials, including several involving those treatments, but investigators ran out of patients in critical condition to enroll. Italy and France have trials underway, and hospitals in New York are writing trial protocols now.
One worry for trial leaders is that chloroquine has been given so much publicity that patients may refuse to be “randomized” and accept a 50 percent chance of being given a placebo.
If any drug works on critical cases, it might be possible to use small doses as a prophylactic to prevent infection.
An alternative is to harvest protective antibodies from the blood of people who have survived the illness, said Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
The purified blood serum — called immunoglobulin — could possibly be used in small amounts to protect emergency medical workers, too.
“Unfortunately, the first wave won’t benefit from this,” Dr. Hotez said. “We need to wait until we have enough survivors.”
Find a vaccine
The ultimate hope is to have a vaccine that will protect everyone, and many companies and governments have already rushed the design of candidate vaccines. But as Dr. Fauci has explained multiple times, testing those candidate vaccines for safety and effectiveness takes time.
The process will take at least a year, even if nothing goes wrong. The roadblock, vaccine experts explained, is not bureaucratic. It is that the human immune system takes weeks to produce antibodies, and some dangerous side effects can take weeks to appear.
After extensive animal testing, vaccines are normally given to about 50 healthy human volunteers to see if they cause any unexpected side effects and to measure what dose produces enough antibodies to be considered protective.
If that goes well, the trial enrolls hundreds or thousands of volunteers in an area where the virus is circulating. Half get the vaccine, the rest do not — and the investigators wait. If the vaccinated half do not get the disease, the green light for production is finally given.
In the past, some experimental vaccines have produced serious side effects, like Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can paralyze and kill. A greater danger, experts said, is that some experimental vaccines, paradoxically, cause “immune enhancement,” meaning they make it more likely, not less, that recipients will get a disease. That would be a disaster.
One candidate coronavirus vaccine Dr. Hotez invented 10 years ago in the wake of SARS, he said, had to be abandoned when it appeared to make mice more likely to die from pneumonia when they were experimentally infected with the virus.
In theory, the testing process could be sped up with “challenge trials,” in which healthy volunteers get the vaccine and then are deliberately infected. But that is ethically fraught when there is no cure for Covid-19. Even some healthy young people have died from this virus.
Reach out to other nations
Wealthy nations need to remember that, as much as they are struggling with the virus, poorer countries will have a far harder time and need help.
Also, the Asian nations that have contained the virus could offer expertise — and desperately needed equipment. Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba, recently offered large shipments of masks and testing kits to the United States.
Wealthy nations ignored the daily warnings from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, that far more aggressive efforts at isolation and contact tracing were urgently needed to stop the virus.
“Middle income and poorer nations are following the advice of international organizations while the most advanced nations find it so hard to implement it,” Dr. Nabarro said. “That must change.”
In declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, Dr. Tedros called for countries to learn from one another’s successes, act with unity and help protect one another against a threat to people of every nationality.
“Let’s all look out for each other,” he said.
In 1900, there were two great philosophers working side by side at Harvard, William James and Josiah Royce. James was from an eminent Boston family and had all the grace, brilliance and sophistication that his class aspired to. Royce, as the historian Allen Guelzo points out, was the first major American philosopher born west of the Mississippi. His parents were Forty-Niners who moved to California but failed to find gold. He grew up in squalor, was stocky, lonely and probably knew more about despair and the brooding shadows that can come in life.
James and Royce admired and learned from each other, but their philosophies were different, too. James was pragmatic and tough-minded, looking for empirical truth. Royce was more idealistic and tender-minded, more spiritual and abstract.
They differed on the individual’s role in society. As David Lamberth of Harvard notes, James’s emphasis was on tolerance. We live in a pluralistic society and we each know only a fragment of the truth. People should give one another enough social space so they can be themselves. For Royce the good life meant tightly binding yourself to others — giving yourself away with others for the sake of a noble cause. Tolerance is not enough.
James’s influence is now enormous — deservedly so. Royce is almost entirely forgotten. And yet I would say that Royce is the philosopher we need today. In an age of division, fragmentation and isolation, Royce is the philosopher we don’t know we have. He is the philosopher of binding and connection.
Royce argued that meaningful lives are marked, above all, by loyalty. Out on the frontier, he had seen the chaos and anarchy that ensues when it’s every man for himself, when society is just a bunch of individuals searching for gain. He concluded that people make themselves miserable when they pursue nothing more than their “fleeting, capricious and insatiable” desires.
So for him the good human life meant loyalty, “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”
A person doesn’t have to invent a cause, or find it deep within herself. You are born into a world of causes, which existed before you were born and will be there after you die. You just have to become gripped by one, to give yourself away to it realizing that the cause is more important than your individual pleasure or pain.
You’re never going to find a cause if you are working in a bland office; you have to go out to where the problems are. Loyalty is not just emotion. It is action.
“The loyal man serves. That is, he does not merely follow his own impulses. He looks to his cause for guidance. This cause tells him what to do,” Royce wrote in “The Philosophy of Loyalty.”
In such a community, people submit themselves to their institution, say to a university. They discover how good it is by serving it, and they allow themselves to be formed by it. According to Royce, communities find their voice when they own their own betrayals; evil exists so we can struggle to overcome it.
Royce took his philosophy one more crucial step: Though we have our different communities, underneath there is an absolute unity to life. He believed that all separate individuals and all separate loyalties are mere fragments of a spiritual unity — an Absolute Knower, a moral truth.
That sense of an ultimate unity at the end things, shines back on us, because it means all our diverse loyalties are actually parts of the same loyalty. We all, he wrote, “seek a city out of sight.” This sense of ultimate unity, of human brotherhood and sisterhood, is what is missing in a lot of the current pessimism and divisiveness.
Royce’s philosophy is helpful with the problem we have today. How does the individual fit into the community and how does each community fit into the whole? He offered a shift in perspective. When evaluating your life, don’t ask, “How happy am I?” Ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?”
Some students may feel isolated when they’re up late studying. Having a video on in the background can feel like having a study buddy.
“I think the people making these videos are tapping into a need where you want to be social without being disrupted from your study goals,” says Mitchell Nathan, professor of educational psychology and learning sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Think of it like parallel play. This is parallel studying: You’re ignoring each other, but that’s still much more preferable than doing it all by yourself.”
In modern Russia, the administration is comfortable using lies to muddle their people. If you push out several completely contradictory stories, the truth becomes buried, or at least discredited along with the other clearly untrue stories. If you make an effort to shed doubt on the news outlets, NGOs, and individuals who use facts to show when a statement is demonstrably untrue then it becomes harder for people to settle on one single statement as being true, in amongst a series of statements that are not. People are naturally inclined to trust authority, so when the government makes an official statement it carries weight against an individual or single news outlet.
This approach was perfected under Communism, especially Stalinism. At various points, whilst millions were starving, industry and the economy were collapsing, even up to the denial and then underplaying of the Chernobyl disaster, the government would state that reality was one way, when it was really the complete opposite. Audacious lies are harder to deal with than small ones.
.. Currently, when the Russian government denies something that is demonstrably true, or makes a statement that can be proven not to be true, there can be a number of reasons why they do this.
1. Telling a lie because you believe it
Putin is notoriously cut off from the world. He does not use the Internet, and receives very short briefings from a close circle of people around him. Those people are unlikely to want to upset him, or contradict him. Being surrounded by people who depend on your favour to remain in position, or even remain alive, means you increasingly get less and less real information. It becomes an extreme version of the echo chambers we’re all becoming trapped in by Social Media algorithms.
.. under Stalin the KGB was brilliant at collecting intelligence, but useless at analysing it. When people reported intelligence that was counter to the world view of Stalin, they generally ended up dead. So increasingly the intelligence was edited, or mis-interpreted to support the existing set of beliefs of the leader.
So it is possible, and some pundits suggest this, that Putin actually believes the world view the Russian government expresses through its propaganda, much as Stalin’s Russia really believed the country was riddled with foreign spies, and was at constant threat of invasion — assumptions that history have shown us were completely wrong.
With Trump we have to consider some assumptions. He has been rich and powerful for a long time. Therefore, he is likely to have been surrounded by yes-men who only enforce his world view and opinions rather than challenging them. He does not brush shoulders with reality on a daily basis, living the life of a billionaire. He also does not read, and watches a very narrow spectrum of media. Now he is President he is even more cut off from the world, and instead of taking advantage of a state machinery that could leave him amongst the best informed people in the world, he has eschewed Intelligence briefings, and other input from independent sources.
.. It would be fair to say that Trump is not highly educated, well read, or particularly well informed. This applies to most of his Cabinet, which is noticeably unqualified and poorly educated.
.. On top of this many of them are religious fundamentalists, which clouds their interpretation of facts with an ideology that is not open to challenges. The same applied to Stalinist Russia, when the Communist ideology came before facts and could over-rule them.
2. Telling a lie aimed only at your core constituency
Another way to interpret Trump’s lies are to conclude that he knows they are not true, and he knows we know they are not true, but that they are not aimed at us.
When the Russian government claims, for example, that it is clear a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down the MH17 passenger plane over Ukraine, it’s possible they know that we know this is not true. But the lie was told to foreign media like the BBC so that it can be played back to their own people in Russia and used to undermine reports of evidence that it was a Russian army missile that brought the plane down. They don’t care that we know it isn’t true, because the message is not for us. It is for their own people, and for those confused enough to have their belief in the official investigation findings undermined by a bare faced lie.
In effect, the messages are broadcast to everyone, but only one specific audience matters.
.. So with Trump, when he says the New York Times is failing, he may not care that we all know that is a blatant lie — factually not true. He could just be speaking to his core voters, whom he knows will not see any counter argument and may believe him. It is important to him that they don’t trust any media that will criticise him.
.. The same applies to his claim that Obama tapped his phones. He may know that most people will realise this is nonsense. But that core of people who only get news from Breitbart, and believe the conspiracies, will also believe this one about Obama. That in turn helps him undermine any findings in the future from investigations into his links with Russia.
If he can undermine the media that will broadcast this, and sew seeds of a conspiracy against him, he can blur any negative news about his links with Russia.
.. If this means his Tweeting is just aimed at securing that base of core voters, his Twitter feed seems slightly less insane.
.. he is able to take advantage of the echo chamber of the Trump constituency.
.. They are not trying to convince anyone new to get behind their narrative, they are just securing the narrative amongst those who already follow them.
3. Telling lies to undermine Truth
Kasaparov summed it up well in this Tweet:
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
Once truth is an undermined currency, as the Soviet Union proved, people give up caring altogether. People knew things were not true, but knowing that made no difference, and saying so was dangerous, so they stopped engaging with truth or facts.
The liberal media and Democrat politicians are talking about reaching the point where Trump’s core voters, the white working class, realise he has conned them. It is assumed that once they lose their healthcare, do not gain jobs, and see the Swamp ever more swamp-like, they will rebel and vote against him.
.. But if Trump can ensure they do not believe facts shared by the media, and do believe lies propagated by him and his supporters, then they may never realise they were conned, and may not that see things are not as good as promised. Or they will believe it is outside forces, not Trump. Blaming Obama for everything is laying the ground for that
.. In Russia, the government blames America, the EU, NATO, Russian liberals, or any other outside force for the demise of their economy, the loss of civil liberties, and indeed anything bad. Putin and the Administration are never to blame.
.. Trump will say that unemployment is up, even when data shows it is down. He will claim any success as his, and will blame China, Obama, the Democrats, or others for any failures. If that does not work, he will just rubbish any news that undermines him.
.. a natural skill of his, or whether it is a clever strategy of his advisors
.. the people around him are already skilled in manipulation of the truth. Paul Manafort advised former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych
.. Manafort will have become very well versed in Russian style manipulation of Truth through this work and will have taught Trump these lessons when he was his advisor. Then
Bannon ran Breitbart, which makes a business of manipulating the truth, and outright lying.
.. If within a few years a large swathe of the country either believes the Trump messaging, or does not trust the mainstream media, or thinks the Democrats are evil and corrupt, or just does not know what is true or not anymore, then Trump stands a chance of a second term regardless of how his first term goes.
.. To survive: read Russian novels like Master and Margherita
.. When you hear Trump lie, pause to ask yourself which type of lie it might be.
Histories of past presidential scandals reveal common threads and turning points — but also show how Trump stands alone.American presidents get the scandals they deserve.Richard Nixon’s paranoia produced Watergate. Ronald Reagan’s indifference contributed to Iran-contra. Bill Clinton’s appetites led to impeachment. And Donald Trump’s delusions — about his singular abilities and the impunity of his office — are propelling the crisis of legitimacy threatening his presidency.
.. What distinguishes the Trump scandal is how its central character appears to combine the worst qualities of his troubled predecessors. How, rather than evolving into scandal, this presidency was born into it. And above all, how perceptions of the president’s integrity and honor — which proved critical in the outcomes of past political and constitutional crises — are barely an issue for a man without moral high ground left to lose.
.. This is not President Trump in 2017, but rather descriptions of Clinton and Nixon, respectively, at the height of the Lewinsky and Watergate sagas. Indeed, one of the most recurring images of a White House in turmoil is the isolated and vengeful commander in chief
.. Trump may spend lonely nights and mornings with the remote and the phone, but historically speaking, he has plenty of company.
.. Haig even repeatedly urged a top telecommunications policy official to not bring anything substantive to Nixon’s attention. “The President isn’t in any shape to deal with this,” he explained.
.. Clinton’s famous ability to compartmentalize, to carry on amid the ever-expanding inquiry by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, was largely for show, Baker reports. “In private, Clinton was consumed with the Starr investigation and its collateral damage, sometimes so preoccupied that he appeared lost during meetings.” Clinton told Cabinet members that he had woken up “profoundly angry” every day for 41/2 years. Imagine what his morning tweetstorms would have been like.
.. In the same way Trump says digging into his personal finances would be a red line Mueller should not cross, Nixon regarded Cox’s attempts to secure his tapes as “the ultimate defiance” meriting dismissal.
.. The effort by Trump and his supporters in the right-wing media to depict Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference as a partisan “witch hunt” — another common phrase across these scandals — is a time-honored tactic for any White House under siege. Haig and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler agreed on the need to “place the impeachment issue in as partisan a light as possible,” and the Clinton team reached the same conclusion more than 20 years later. Baker describes the latter group’s strategy during the impeachment fight: “Attack the accusers, demonize the investigators, complain about partisanship while doing everything to foment it.”
.. Poindexter, who saw himself as “the head of an American version of a Roman praetorian guard around the president, loyal and responsible to him alone,”
.. Clinton aide Paul Begala “sank into a deep depression” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Baker writes, and vowed never again to appear on television defending the president.
.. Their true challenge is less about surviving Trump’s eruptions than simply living with the choice they’ve made, convincing themselves that service to the nation — passing a tax cut, forestalling a war, reducing immigration — is worth it.
.. Trump’s refusal to accept the U.S. intelligence finding that the Kremlin sought to tilt the 2016 election in his favor mirrors the stubbornness of his predecessors. Reagan went along with the sale of arms to Iran in an effort to free American hostages, though “always telling himself that it was not an arms-for-hostages deal,”
.. Nixon lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt concluded that the 37th president lied not just to others but to himself. It was an easy tell, Woodward and Bernstein explain: “Almost invariably when [Nixon] lied, he would repeat himself, sometimes as often as three times — as if he were trying to convince himself.”
.. Mike McCurry, Clinton’s press secretary, decided to leave the White House before the impeachment proceedings got underway, in part to avoid “becoming the Ron Ziegler of his era,” Baker explains.
.. Trump appears
- Nixonian in his disregard for democratic norms,
- Clintonian in his personal recklessness and
- beyond Reaganesque in his distance from the details of policy.
.. But where the parallels and parables of past scandals fall apart is with Trump’s well-documented disregard for truth.
.. When Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, among the most devoted of the president’s men, explained to Nixon family members why a damning Oval Office recording meant that resignation was inevitable, he emphasized not law but dishonesty. “The problem is not Watergate or the cover-up,” he argued. “It’s that he hasn’t been telling the truth to the American people. The tape makes it evident that he hasn’t leveled with the country for probably eighteen months. And the President can’t lead a country he has deliberately misled.”
.. “She could not get over Clinton’s recklessness — it was as if he could not stop doing wrong, could not tell the truth,”
.. Ziegler was adamantly opposed to releasing transcripts, Woodward and Bernstein write, because “there was rough language on the tapes,” candid discussions that would “offend Middle America, destroy his mandate.” Once certain transcripts were made public, Nixon lawyer Leonard Garment worried that president had “allowed America into the ugliness of his mind
he informed me that we would be having lunch at a restaurant before getting to his home. I did not think much of this. It was a busy restaurant, and as soon as we sat down he ordered a vodka and diet soda for himself. I asked for a juice. Harvey was unimpressed with my choice and told the waiter to bring me a vodka and diet soda instead. I declined and said I wanted the juice. We went back and forth until finally he turned to the waiter and said, “Get her what I tell you to get her. I’m the one paying the bill.” I smiled and remained silent. The waiter left and returned with a vodka and diet soda for me. He placed it on the table beside my water. I drank the water. Harvey told me that I needed to drink the vodka and diet soda. I informed him that I would not.
“Why not?” I remember him asking. “Because I don’t like vodka, and I don’t like diet soda, and I don’t like them together,” I said. “You are going to drink that,” he insisted. I smiled again and said that I wouldn’t. He gave up and called me stubborn. I said, “I know.” And the meal proceeded without much further ado. In this second encounter with Harvey, I found him to be pushy and idiosyncratic more than anything.
.. he insisted I go with him, laying down the law as though I too was one of his children.
.. I was after all on his premises, and the members of his household, the potential witnesses, were all (strategically, it seems to me now) in a soundproof room.
.. He responded with exactly the words I needed to hear: Come with whomever you want to come with. And so I invited two of my trusted male friends.
.. My friends had been equally charmed by Harvey. He knew when to turn it on if he wanted something. He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing. I left feeling that perhaps he had learned my boundaries and was going to respect them.
.. I was expecting that it would be a group of us, as it had been for the reading, but she informed me it would just be Mr. Weinstein. She would sit with me until he arrived. She seemed on edge, but I could only imagine how stressful it was to work for a man who had so much going on.
.. Harvey arrived and the assistant immediately disappeared.
.. Again he was offended by my nonalcoholic beverage choice but he didn’t fight me on it as hard.
.. Before the starters arrived, he announced: “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.” I was stunned. I told him I preferred to eat in the restaurant. He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.
.. I mustered up the courage to politely decline his offer. “You have no idea what you are passing up,” he said. “With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass,” I replied.
.. “I just want to know that we are good,” I said.
“I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine,” he said. It felt like both a threat and a reassurance at the same time; of what, I couldn’t be sure.
.. I was in Toronto for the premiere of “12 Years a Slave,” the first feature film I was in. At an after-party, he found me and evicted whoever was sitting next to me to sit beside me.
.. I turned down the role, but Harvey would not take no for an answer. While at Cannes, he insisted on meeting with me in person. I agreed to do it only because my agent would be present.
.. He said he was open to making it bigger, more significant, maybe they could add a love scene. He said if I did this one for him, he would do another one for me — basically guaranteeing backing a star-vehicle film for me. I ran out of ways of politely saying no and so did my agent
.. But I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him.
.. He was one of the first people I met in the industry, and he told me, “This is the way it is.”
.. everyone seemed to be bracing themselves and dealing with him, unchallenged.
.. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change. So my survival plan was to avoid Harvey and men like him at all costs, and I did not know that I had allies in this.
.. all the projects I have been a part of have had women in positions of power, along with men who are feminists in their own right who have not abused their power
.. combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue
.. stay vigilant and ensure that the professional intimacy is not abused
.. I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice
“Bannon’s particular unique idea was that this is a civilizational challenge,” said Michael Pillsbury, who met with Bannon regularly on China over the past year. “His warning is, if they surpass us, they will have earned the privilege of redesigning the world order.”
.. Bannon believes the United States needs a long-term strategy for maintaining advantage over China similar to what Marshall helped devise for the Soviet Union, while acknowledging that the China challenge is much harder.
.. Behind the scenes, Bannon had been busily operationalizing his plan to win the economic war with China. He spent 50 percent of his time on China, he liked to tell colleagues. Several of his China agenda items will continue to have advocates, including National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
.. he was opposed by other top officials, including National Economic Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
.. The Chinese government has also cultivated close ties with Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with the help of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
.. The Kushner-Kissinger view holds that the U.S.-China relationship is too complex and important to risk throwing into disarray. They advocate cooperation over confrontation and integration over isolation. China shares that view and wants to set forth a new model of great power relations based on mutual respect and noninterference.
In Bannon’s view, the liberal international order the United States led since World War II has ceased to work in America’s interests. The theory that bringing China into that structure would transform China has failed and now the Chinese government abuses those systems to siphon huge amounts of wealth, technology and know-how from the United States and its partners, he believes.
He also sees a new China policy as a pillar of his plan to reorient American politics around economic nationalism. He views the rebalancing of the U.S.-China economic relationship as key to returning manufacturing jobs to the United States and vice-versa.
.. One of Bannon’s final acts before leaving the administration was to announce in an interview that to him, “the economic war with China is everything.” He argued the United States must marshal all elements of national power to confront China in various spheres or yield world hegemony.
“Bannon’s particular unique idea was that this is a civilizational challenge,” said Michael Pillsbury, who met with Bannon regularly on China over the past year. “His warning is, if they surpass us, they will have earned the privilege of redesigning the world order.”