• Cole Feix

The Cabinet Carousel, Coronavirus Update, and Best Reads


Mike Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force, 2020

Coronavirus Update

The coronavirus is dominating world news. The counts are continually rising: 110,000 cases, 61,000 recoveries, and 3,800 deaths. The death toll is still predominantly coming from the Hubei province in China, with almost 80% of the recorded deaths, 80% of the confirmed cases, and 75% of the recoveries. The US is up to 600 recorded cases and 23 deaths, 17 of which have come from Washington state. Italy is the latest country to enact a strict quarantine, the first democratic country to do so.


The virus and related illness are manifesting some strange patterns. In China, the death rate is close to 15% among those who are over 80. Those who suffer from lung-related conditions and the elderly are at the highest risk. For people under 50, the death rate is under 0.5%. But the disparity is even more surprising when it comes to symptoms. For those under 50, the hospitalization rate is almost four times higher than those over 65. The government and the CDC have advised the high risk groups, those who have lung conditions and elderly people to avoid large gatherings, cruises, and travel.


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and one of the world’s leading experts on the coronavirus, has risen to the occasion as a trusted voice amid the noise. In an interview with Chris Wallace, Dr. Fauci discussed the kind of mitigation the US might employ to curb the spread of the virus; urging at-risk groups to self-quarantine, cancelling large public gatherings, and equipping hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to meet demands. He also cautioned that a scalable vaccine may take more than a year. In a unifying move, he also set the record straight on the mixed messages coming from the task force; everyone is working for the good of the American people, working off of what is known, and relying on proven medical standards and practices to keep people safe.


Coronavirus Collateral

The markets are feeling the effects of the virus. Stocks dropped 7% this morning triggering a 15 minute stop in the market, but stocks are expected to continue to fall as the day progresses. On top of that, crude futures have fallen almost 50% since January and 30% in the last week. This decline is due to Saudi Aramco’s move to cut prices in an effort to take market share from Russia. The two countries look poised to move into a price war which, combined with the shock of the coronavirus could plunge the world economy into a deeper hole.


Of course, we can expect something like the virus to be politicized; this week’s storylines are trending toward blaming the President for allowing the spread to get out of control, with jabs at the President’s ignorance and the lack of coordination in his administration. Trump does his best to make the ad hominem’s stick - in a presser this week, he said doctors are constantly amazed at how much he knows about this stuff - but none of this is surprising. One party blaming the other for the spread doesn’t mask the seriousness of what the government task force is undertaking and the essential steps they’re taking to limit the impact.


Nevertheless, the Trump administration has struggled to take the measures necessary to respond to the spread of the virus. The President promised one million tests ready by this week, saying any person who wanted a test could have one, but production is lagging behind the predictions and behind demand. Pence’s task force is projecting that by the end of the week, they will have sent out nearly four million tests across the country. Even this won’t be enough if the virus spreads rapidly.


Christians and Coronavirus

Over the course of history, Christians have been at the center of plague, disease, and most importantly, suffering. In the early church, Christians were known for staying and caring for the dying when others fled, saving children who had been left to die, and through history, Christians have manned hospitals and medical units when no one else would. Prudence certainly plays a role in how we react to this virus. We should heed the warnings of healthcare professionals, but we should also remember that we have something even more important than a vaccine; we have hope, and we need to share it, more now than ever before.


Rep. Mark Meadows, 2018 | Photo: Gage Skidmore

The Cabinet Carousel

Rep. Mark Meadows will be the President’s new chief of staff. The former congressman spent seven years in the House representing North Carolina’s 11th district. He was the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus from 2017-2019 and is known among house members for his proactive personality and his relationships across the aisle. Meadows will face three huge issues in his first few months on the job; the coronavirus, the economy, and the election in November.


Being the President’s chief of staff may be one of the hardest positions in government. Though not technically in the President’s cabinet, the chief of staff is one of the highest and most important positions in the federal government. The position began in 1946 when Harry Truman hired John Steelman to manage his affairs in the White House, and since then, no one has served in the position for an entire presidential term. The job includes overseeing all the staff in the White House, managing the President’s schedule, flow of information, and travel, managing the President’s relationships inside and outside of the government, and advising and executing his agenda. It’s easy to see why this position attracts talented government officials, and why they burn out quickly. The average tenure is just 18 months. Trump has added a dimension of difficulty to this already grueling job.


Because of their intimate involvement in the inner workings of the White House, chiefs of staff go on to high government positions. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld both served Gerald Ford. Leon Panetta served under Clinton. President Obama’s first chief, Rahm Emanuel went on to become the mayor of Chicago after he left the White House in 2010.


This will be the President’s fourth chief of staff and each have handled the position differently. Reince Priebus was instrumental in the 2016 election and gained favor with Trump as the chairman of the Republican National Convention. He started as the first chief of staff, leading a group of high profile RNC staffers. Six months into 2016, Priebus and most of that group were gone.

General John Kelly took a hands on approach in July of 2017, guarding against the President’s worst instincts, cutting down on leaks, and trying to manage the President’s often erratic behavior. Shortly after he left office, Kelly appeared on David Rubenstein’s show, Peer to Peer Conversations, and discussed the grueling nature of the job. The criticism is intense, the resistance in the White House was strong, and the disruptions were constant. After 18 months, he and Trump crossed swords one too many times and Kelly resigned in December of 2018. Since then, Kelly has said he regrets resigning.


Mulvaney took a very different approach. Unlike Kelly, Mulvaney wasn’t always involved in the communication, hiring, and decision making coming out of the White House. He viewed himself less as a manager and more as a facilitator, which put him in hot water over withholding aid to Ukraine and whether or not there was a quid pro quo. During his tenure, Mulvaney was able to streamline the President’s public agenda, despite their disagreements. He will serve as the US special envoy to Northern Ireland.


Best Reads:

Jesus Friend of Sinners, But How?” - Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition

This is a reboot from 2014, but it’s as important as ever. How was it that Jesus was so popular among tax collectors and sinners? And beyond that, how can we do our best to imitate him so that we too can reach more people with the gospel? DeYoung carefully sorts through the narratives that surround Jesus’ relationships. Was he the life of the party? Was he more interested in showing love than taking sides? Not exactly. The sinners of his day were attracted to his message of love and forgiveness, not because he downplayed their sin. There’s a lot to think about and apply from this article.


Intersectionality and the Church” - Rosaria Butterfield, Tabletalk Magazine

“How did we get to a place where it makes sense for a person to reject truth not because it’s false but because it hurts?” Great question. In this article, Rosaria Butterfield drives at the heart of the LGBTQ agenda, and the underlying assumptions embedded in intersectionality, microaggressions, and victimhood culture. So much of our public discourse comes down to power dynamics - this is a cliche for a reason - and intersectionality is a tagline for a worldview that turns ethnic, biological, and sexual differences into trauma and harm and repurposes them to level the playing field of power dynamics. This is one of the most important paragraphs I’ve read in a long time: “Intersectionality fails to distinguish between morally neutral descriptions of people’s lived experience (ethnicity and class) with morally charged descriptions (sexual orientation and gender identity). Because intersectionality does not have a biblical category of sin, it does not have a biblical category of repentance, redemption, or grace.”


Subjects Matter: It Is Past Time to Rescue the Study of History from Its Present Decline” - Howard L. Muncy, The Public Discourse

It doesn’t take a packed out Bernie Sanders rally to know that Americans don’t know much about history - although that’s a pretty good sign. Overall, it’s not just that Americans are declining in their knowledge of history, but we’re also seeing less support for American ideals at home and abroad. Some argue that there is no longer a cohesive thread of American history to teach, but Muncy disagrees: “The problem is rather that younger generations are no longer being exposed to the historical themes that would most attract their interest and analysis.” My contention is that one the whole history is being taught less, and when it is, it’s being taught less well. I’m thankful to know several excellent history teachers who are making a big difference to push back on this trend. I’ve seen this trend in my own life and decided to put together an American history reading plan. I hope it’ll be helpful for you all too!


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Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.

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