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Josh Moon

Opinion | Republicans know Trump did it. They’re too cowardly to punish him

Josh Moon

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This impeachment is a sham! 

That was the Republican tagline when this all started. You heard it all over this state. None of “that stuff” was true. Trump was innocent. The phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect.” 

Nothing to see here. Just Democrats making stuff up and the fake news media helping them spin it. 

The whistleblower was working with Rep. Adam Schiff and the Democrats to frame an innocent man, and they even managed to suck a Purple Heart recipient into the scheme — probably because that guy’s a “never-Trumper” who’s only using his military uniform and lifelong service as a disguise to push a political agenda against Trump. 

It’s all fake. All phony. All lies. 

The real story was that Trump was seriously investigating corruption in Ukraine before he turned over our tax dollars. There was no disputing that. No way would a guy who has been caught cheating a children’s cancer charity and running a fake university be using the investigation of a political rival as an advantage in an upcoming election. 

He was taking it super serious. And we knew that to be the case because to get to the bottom of the Ukrainian corruption, he bypassed the CIA, NSA, FBI, Congress and DOJ and went straight to the best — Rudy and the two guys who broke into Kevin’s house in “Home Alone.” 

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Trump is a corruption fighter! Dems have gone crazy! 

Remember when that was the story? All the way back like two weeks ago? 

Trump had done nothing wrong. The phone call was perfect. The corruption investigation was real. Nothing to see here. 

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And then, poof. 

John Bolton’s book excerpts landed on the front page of the New York Times. At the same time Schiff and the House managers were laying bare the basic facts and presenting an air-tight case of abuse of power and obstruction. 

And overnight, the tagline changed. 

From: “He didn’t do it!” 

To: “OK, he did it, but is this stuff even, like, reeeallllyyyy a crime?”

But don’t take my word for it. 

“If you have eight witnesses who say someone left the scene of an accident, why do you need nine? I mean, the question for me was: Do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded no,” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case – including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine – were wrong and inappropriate. But I do not believe that the president’s actions rise to the level of removing a duly-elected president from office,” said Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

I don’t think anything (Bolton) says changes the facts. I think people kind of know what the fact pattern is. There’s already that evidence on the record,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune.

Months ago, before the House impeachment proceedings even began, I wrote that Republicans would soon have a choice to make: To impeach Trump for soliciting a foreign leader’s interference in an American election or deciding that you’re OK with that. 

To my astonishment — and hopefully to the astonishment and outrage of most Americans — they have done the latter. 

And we all know why — votes and money. 

There are no other reasons. These people don’t actually believe that what Trump did isn’t worth booting a president out of office. For the love of God, the man tried to bribe a foreign leader with aid money. That’s a gots-to-go situation. Every single time. 

But they wilt like flowers in the face of removal, because doing so might anger the voters they’ve spent their entire careers dumbing down to the point that they believe a billionaire from New York has the best interest of rural farmers at heart.

Plus, Trump might say mean things about them on Twitter. 

And God help those poor GOP congressmen if the voters turned on them for doing what’s right for the country and they were forced to go out and get a real job. 

So, here we are. 

For the past few weeks, as this impeachment investigation and trial have moved along, there have been constant references to the Founding Fathers of the country. The “Republic if you can keep it” line has been used at least twice by every member of Congress. And everyone seems to know what the guys who founded this country would have thought about all this. 

Well, I don’t know. Those guys had their own issues. But I do think it’s safe to say that that group of men — who had just fought and miraculously won a war against all odds, and did so simply because it was the right thing to do — had one fatal flaw, one blind spot when building our system of government and putting in place the checks and balances that make it all work. 

They never factored in that a group of cowards might one day seize control of one house.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Josh Moon

Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter

Josh Moon

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Edgar McGraw speaking at a Tommy Tuberville event.

It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.

This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.

McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.

One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.

And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.

McGraw smiles.

But real life ain’t like the movies.

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And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.

That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.

“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’

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“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”

I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.

I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.

Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.

It never made it.

Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.

Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.

Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.

McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.

When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.

He has to hate him, right?

Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.

He did neither.

Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.

“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.

“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”

As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.

He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.

“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”

And maybe that’s for the best.

2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.

“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”

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Josh Moon

The world will miss Bus Boycott minister Robert Graetz

Josh Moon

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Rev. Robert Graetz died on Sunday at the age of 92. (VIA HISTORY CHANNEL)

The bomb was meant to kill Rev. Robert Graetz and his family of five. The carload of KKK boys from Selma who tossed it into the Graetz’s front yard that night in 1958, and then sped away, had every intention of killing all inside.

So intent were they that when that first bomb didn’t explode — because the fuse had been knocked loose when it was hurled from the car — they came back and tossed a second bomb in hopes of detonating the first. 

The second, smaller bomb went off. The first never did. And Rev. Graetz and his family suffered only a horrific scare and several shattered windows. 

That was the penalty in Montgomery at the time for a white man and his wife lending aid to Black folks and their Bus Boycott. 

It didn’t deter Rev. Graetz or shake his faith. 

Some 50 years later, he would seek out one of the KKK members in the car that night (they were caught by local police with a list of bombing targets in the car, but were acquitted by an all-white jury). Graetz wanted to meet the man, to talk about their past and to tell him that he forgave him. 

Because that’s the kind of man Bob Graetz was. The absolute best. 

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Rev. Robert Graetz passed away on Sunday. He was 92. 

I met Rev. Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, about 10 years ago. They were running the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Studies at Alabama State University. They might appear to be an odd choice for such a role — an older white couple in charge of a Civil Rights and African American studies center. 

But the Graetzes were never your typical white people. 

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From the moment they stepped foot in Montgomery in 1955, they decided that they would be on the right side of history. Rev. Graetz was assigned — his first assignment out of seminary school — to the predominantly-black Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in Montgomery. One of the first people they met: Rosa Parks, who was Trinity’s NAACP youth director. 

A few weeks after arriving, they were committed to the cause and were helping shuttle boycotters around the city, to and from work every day. Rev. Graetz was eventually named secretary in the then-controversial Montgomery Improvement Association, the group headed by Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., E.D. Nixon and attorney Fred Gray that planned and executed the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

As a white man participating in the Boycott, Graetz drew more hatred from the white supremacists, and his family seemed to be in constant danger. Their home was bombed twice. They received constant death threats, including threats directed at their young children. Their car was tampered with on numerous occasions. 

The Graetzes never wavered. In fact, following the second bombing of their home, a bishop came to visit and “strongly suggested” that they accept an assignment being offered. 

During an interview for a 2015 profile for the Montgomery Advertiser, Rev. Graetz told me that, “We were fully aware of the risks and dangers. Just a short time before we came here in 1955, Emmett Till had been murdered. So, we knew what the climate was. There was an awareness that (the Boycott) was a very important activity that we were engaged in. As early as that very first mass meeting, there was a real sense that what was happening here was something that could change the world.”

When they finally did leave, the Graetzes never stopped helping others and attacking injustices with kindness and decency. 

They worked with the impoverished in Appalachia. They have advocated for gay and transgender rights. Rev. Graetz even entered a true den of thieves and served more than a decade as a lobbyist in D.C. 

Throughout his life, though, no matter where he ministered, Rev. Graetz’s mission was always the same: To instill an environment of acceptance and love. 

The Graetzes knew the importance of both, having bounced around the country, living in some of the poorest, most dangerous areas, often receiving wages that weren’t much higher than the impoverished in the congregation. Raising seven kids in those circumstances required help from the village, and that sort of help only comes with love and acceptance. 

In Montgomery, and especially around the ASU campus, where the Graetzes have an apartment, Rev. Bob was beloved. Confined to a wheelchair for the last several years, you would often see Jeannie pushing Bob, both around their neighborhood and at events. Every trip went in stops and starts, as people, young and old, stopped them to chat and share a smile. 

Because that’s who Robert Graetz was throughout his life — a man who brought a smile. When you spoke with him, you knew you were in the presence of one of those rare people who seem to radiate with kindness and decency. The sort of person who made you want to be nicer, to look for the goodness in others, to forgive, to help. He was the kind of man who would call up the racist who bombed his house to make amends. 

That’s who Rev. Robert Graetz was. 

And the world will miss him. 

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Josh Moon

Mike Hubbard finally going to prison should mean something. It doesn’t.

Josh Moon

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Friday. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Friday to begin serving his four-year prison sentence. 

Hubbard’s new mugshot was plastered all over news sites on Friday evening, and those stories and screenshots made their way around social media all weekend. Those pics and stories, and the thoughts of the state’s former most powerful lawmaker beginning a prison stint that will put him behind bars for more than 1,400 days, should send chills up the spines of current lawmakers. 

Those images of Hubbard should be the turning point in one of the nation’s most politically corrupt states. The former House speaker and leader of the Republican Party being just another inmate should be a clear deterrent to the future lawbreakers among Alabama’s lawmakers. 

But it won’t be. 

I hate to be a downer, because this should be an occasion that we celebrate. No, not Hubbard going to prison — that’s nothing to celebrate. We should celebrate the hard justice of what we did in this state — took a powerful, rich, white man who was misusing his public office for personal gain and we prosecuted that guy just like we would prosecute any other lawbreaker. 

The judge didn’t give him any breaks. The prosecutors from the AG’s office, which was led by another Republican, went after him hard. The jury held him accountable with a well-reasoned verdict.

That’s meaningful. 

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That sends a message. 

That cleans things up and makes your government honest. 

Unfortunately, everything that has happened since that jury verdict in Lee County over four years ago has undone everything that led to that verdict. 

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And this is not just me saying this, it was someone from the team who helped prosecute Hubbard — one of the guys who took unending BS from ALGOP leadership, various moles all around the AG’s office and shameless hacks within the Legislature. In fact, it’s so bad that the person didn’t want to be quoted directly, because it would only lead to more problems now. 

That’s where we are. 

The prosecution of Mike Hubbard wasn’t a lesson not to steal. It was a lesson in what the thieves needed to fix so they wouldn’t get caught like Hubbard did.

“I wish it weren’t true,” the person said. “The people who would violate the laws, they know if someone is really watching. And now, who’s watching?”

The answer, of course, is that no one is watching. 

The first act of the ALGOP in the post-Hubbard conviction world was to destroy the two things that led to his arrest: the Alabama Ethics Laws and the Special Prosecutions Division of the AG’s office. 

They have been successful in both. 

The ethics laws have been gutted to the point that it is now legal to do half of what Hubbard did exactly the way he did it, and it’s legal to do the other half if you can claim it was done in the interest of economic development. 

These changes were made for two reasons. The first was that lawmakers claimed innocent businessmen and lawmakers could be trapped by unclear ethics laws that could criminalize personal friendships. This is ludicrous and was easily avoided, as evidenced by the 95 percent of Alabama lawmakers who didn’t violate the laws. 

The second was that economic development could be hampered by these special laws. Except other states also have these laws and not one economic development deal in the history of this state was hampered by the laws in any way. 

But Alabama voters were going to vote Republican regardless of what the crooks pushed through, so here we are with gutted ethics laws. 

The other step was to gut the SPD, which investigated and prosecuted Hubbard and his pals. 

Within a few weeks of current AG Steve Marshall being elected, the former head of that department, Matt Hart, was shown the door. Responsibilities have been shifted and new directives handed down. 

There will be no more major ethics investigations. And especially not of Republicans. 

Hell, a litany of charges against former Democratic state Sen. David Burkette was handed over to the AG’s office. The Ethics Commission passed along at least three felony counts. 

Burkette resigned after being charged with a single misdemeanor. 

So, no, sorry, the end of Hubbard’s long, slow walk to prison is nothing to celebrate. It won’t be remembered for what it changed or the crime it stopped. 

Instead, it’ll be another sad marker of yet another point at which we could have made a change, could have chosen the more righteous path, could have altered the way this state handles its business. 

But we just kept doing what we’ve always done.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The president lied. Thousands of people died

Above all else, we should know one thing: Lies won’t fix anything.

Josh Moon

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President Donald Trump speaking in 2017 just outside Harrisburg. (Staff Sgt. Tony Harp/U.S. Air National Guard)

The president of the United States lied to you. Knowingly. With the intent to deceive. With the knowledge that the lie would place your life and the lives of your loved ones in peril. He lied. 

And not some little white lie, either. He didn’t just deny knowing about the break-in, or tell you that he didn’t have sex with that woman. Things that really don’t matter to you. 

No, Donald Trump told a lie so big, so horrifying that it is, quite honestly, hard to fathom. Hard to adequately place in the proper context. Hard to assign the proper weight. 

Because Trump’s lie cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives. 

That is not hyperbole. 

When the president of the United States speaks on a matter as important as a pandemic, and the president knowingly and repeatedly diminishes the risks of that pandemic, the American public listens. Especially those who support him. 

That’s millions of people. 

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And now we know that as early as Feb. 7, Trump was not only aware of the dangers of COVID-19, he was familiar with specific issues that this virus posed. He was telling legendary reporter Bob Woodward, on tape, that it was “more deadly” than the flu, that it spread by air, that it was “very tricky.” 

In the meantime, he was telling all of us that it was no biggie. He repeatedly, in the early days of this virus, with cases and deaths at relatively small numbers, equated it to the flu and pointed out that the flu was MORE deadly. Hell, he held six — SIX! — indoor rallies with no social distancing protocols after his comments to Woodward. 

In an absurd trip to the CDC over a month after his recorded conversation with Woodward, Trump pointed out that only 11 people had died from COVID and that 36,000 people died a few years earlier from the flu. You know what such a statement says to people. 

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All the while knowing full well that what he was saying was complete and utter BS. And that what he was saying — and his repeated provocation of his supporters — would place tremendous pressure on governors all over the country, and especially in red and purple states, to resist life-saving shutdown actions. 

Alabama was one of those. Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff resisted strict shutdown measures for weeks, even as cases grew and hospitals filled. Sources familiar with that process have said repeatedly that the governor’s office received nearly constant pressure from conservatives — that group included elected lawmakers, top donors and voters — who were convinced by Trump that the virus wasn’t that bad.  

And, boy, was he ever pushing that nonsense. A few days before Ivey implemented a statewide shutdown in late March, Trump had started telling everyone that we would have the virus under control by Easter, anaThe president of the United States lied to you. Knowingly. With the intent to deceive. With the knowledge that the lie would place your life and the lives of your loved ones in peril. He lied.

And not some little white lie, either. He didn’t just deny knowing about the break-in, or tell you that he didn’t have sex with that woman. Things that really don’t matter to you.

No, Donald Trump told a lie so big, so horrifying that it is, quite honestly, hard to fathom. Hard to adequately place in the proper context. Hard to assign the proper weight.

Because Trump’s lie cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives.

That is not hyperbole.

When the president of the United States speaks on a matter as important as a pandemic, and the president knowingly and repeatedly diminishes the risks of that pandemic, the American public listens. Especially those who support him.

That’s millions of people.

And now we know that as early as Feb. 7, Trump was not only aware of the dangers of COVID-19, he was familiar with specific issues that this virus posed. He was telling legendary reporter Bob Woodward, on tape, that it was “more deadly” than the flu, that it spread by air, that it was “very tricky.”

In the meantime, he was telling all of us that it was no biggie. He repeatedly, in the early days of this virus, with cases and deaths at relatively small numbers, equated it to the flu and pointed out that the flu was MORE deadly. Hell, he held six — SIX! — indoor rallies with no social distancing protocols after his comments to Woodward.

In an absurd trip to the CDC over a month after his recorded conversation with Woodward, Trump pointed out that only 11 people had died from COVID and that 36,000 people died a few years earlier from the flu. You know what such a statement says to people.

All the while knowing full well that what he was saying was complete and utter BS. And that what he was saying — and his repeated provocation of his supporters — would place tremendous pressure on governors all over the country, and especially in red and purple states, to resist life-saving shutdown actions.

Alabama was one of those. Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff resisted strict shutdown measures for weeks, even as cases grew and hospitals filled. Sources familiar with that process have said repeatedly that the governor’s office received nearly constant pressure from conservatives — that group included elected lawmakers, top donors and voters — who were convinced by Trump that the virus wasn’t that bad.

And, boy, was he ever pushing that nonsense. A few days before Ivey implemented a statewide shutdown in late March, Trump had started telling everyone that we would have the virus under control by Easter, and that governors should start pushing people back to work by that time.

And all the while, the bodies were piling up.

We’re going to hit 200,000 dead Americans in a few days, probably before this month is up. More than 2,300 of those are from Alabama. And thousands more have been hospitalized, placed in ICU units for days on end, and many of those are still suffering the effects of the virus.

Those people matter. They were grandparents and parents. They were husbands and wives and sisters and brothers. They made a difference in the world, and they made a difference to the people who loved them.

This president, in the interest of saving the stock market, tossed them aside like garbage.

Even as the deaths started to mount, he never backed away from his message, he never stopped downplaying the seriousness of it. Because he didn’t want to create a panic.

Because if there’s one thing that Trump is known for — if it’s not telling people that caravans of immigrants are coming to murder their families and steal their jobs or that Black people are coming to kill whitey in the suburbs or that a plane of Antifa thugs was headed to the nearest city — it’s definitely that he doesn’t like to cause a panic.

The fact is Trump has failed miserably at managing the COVID-19 crisis — there is no arguing that point. And at the core of it all is this horrific lie that encouraged a pandemic to spin out of control in the wealthiest, most advanced country in the world. Currently, for all of his blabbering about “deaths are way down,” the U.S. ranks 10th worst in coronavirus deaths per capita, and we’re climbing rapidly. We’ll be top 5 very soon. We lead the world in active cases.

It’s one more failure in a long line of them that have left us facing a pandemic, a depression and a social justice uprising at the same time. Navigating the country out of this quagmire won’t be easy, and it’ll take an honest, decent human to do it.

But above all else, we should know one thing: Lies won’t fix anything.

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