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A disturbing new Vanity Fair magazine article, corraborated by other sources, suggests yet again how deeply religion is embedded in American politics, notably in the self-interest calculations of Donald Trump.

David Horsey, Seattle Times, 2020

The article, titled “How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan ‘Went Poof Into Thin Air,’” reveals how a major administration initiative led by Kusher to establish a federally led comprehensive national testing program for the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. was apparently scrapped due to nakedly political — and, peripherally, religious — reasons.

“The group—working night and day, using the encrypted platform WhatsApp—emerged with a detailed plan …,” the article reported. “Rather than have states fight each other for scarce diagnostic tests and limited lab capacity, the plan would have set up a system of national oversight and coordination to surge supplies, allocate test kits, lift regulatory and contractual roadblocks, and establish a widespread virus surveillance system by the fall, to help pinpoint subsequent outbreaks.”

Members of the testing-plan group were “beyond optimistic” and confident President Trump would ultimately sign off on the robust, coast-to-coast proposal.

And then he didn’t. The plan “just went poof into thin air,” a team member told Katherine Eban, the article’s author.

When the plan was presented to the administration, the president balked:

Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures,” Eban writes. “Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity.”

The reasons were more callous still, as the plan continued to lose favor in the White House. A virus expert involved in the planning told Eban:

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment … a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. ‘The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,’ said the expert.”

After more than 153,000 American deaths from the virus (and mounting), the president is still in thrall to that cruel strategy. An article yesterday in AlterNet citing the Vanity Fair piece — “Trump and Kushner Must Be Prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity” — likewise describes the Trump administration’s pandemic policy against COVID-19 testing as “genocide.”

The significance of religion in all this has to do with demographics. Disproportionately rural, undereducated, poor and deeply religious Americans who make up the dominant segment of President Trump’s political support base are predominantly from Red (conservative, Christian, Republican-dominated) states. Better educated, more prosperous and less religious citizens tend to live in Blue (liberal, irreligious, majority Democrat) states.

New York Times exit polling during the 2016 presidential election showed that 58 percent of Protestants and other Christians, and 52 percent of Catholics, voted for Trump. Otherwise, 71 percent of Jews voted for Trump, 68 percent of “nones” (people claiming no religious affiliation) and 62 percent identified as “other.” Clearly, Trump will need every believer voting that he can get in this year’s election.

New York Times exit poll, 2016 presidential election

So, the president’s policy decisions presumably always factor in religion, considering that his manifest overarching concern seems to be re-election and, thus, keeping his uber-conservative voter base happy and energized, not the safety and well-being of all Americans.

That’s why troops under his command were ordered to punitively shove, batter and gas peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House so he could walk unencumbered across the street and hold a Bible (upside down) in front of a church. That callous, cynical stunt certainly wasn’t employed to curry favor with Blue-state voters.

He’s preaching to the Republican Christian choir, not the Democratic heathens.

Pulling the plug on a critical, federally led, national virus testing and tracing program to break the back of the fast-spreading and virulent pandemic, is part of the president’s war on godless secularism, the so-called “Left” and growing liberalism.

From a public-health standpoint, it makes zero sense. From a political standpoint it may make all the sense in the world if you’re a Trump Republican. But from a moral standpoint, it’s unconscionable — trading American deaths for political gain.

Rick Klausner, a Rockefeller Foundation adviser and former director of the National Cancer Institute, told Vanity Fair that he initially believed that even this president would end up doing the right thing in a pandemic killing so many tens of thousands of Americans.

I had this naive optimism: This is too important to be caught in a partisan filter of how we view truth and the world,” Klausner told Eban. “But the federal government has decided to abrogate responsibility, and basically throw 50 states onto their own.”

But what is really disturbing and should send every American of conscience running to vote in November is why — to aid the president’s unearned re-election, at the expense of Americans whom, among other traits he chooses to loathe, are not religious.

All this Machiavellian subterfuge has led the country to a dire state.

“Experts are now warning that the U.S. testing system is on the brink of collapse. “We are at a very bad moment here,” Dr. Margaret Bourdeaux, research director for the Harvard Medical School Program in Global Public Policy, told Eban. “We are about to lose visibility on this monster and it’s going to rampage through our whole country. This is a massive emergency.”

And although evangelical Christianity has not discernably reared its head amid this fearsome national crisis, it is still baked in the cake of new Republicanism and poisoning the American people’s capacity to fully respond.

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“Erudite yet readable … very illuminating”

— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...