After ignoring repeated warnings about the approaching pandemic early this year, when Corona-19 was first identified inside the U.S., rather than address the problem, and begin organizing a government response, President Trump worked to convince the public it was not a problem at all, assuring Americans that the risk was “low”, then “very low”, and then “very, very low”, his assessment moving strangely in the opposite direction of the rapid spread of the virus across the country.
Two months in, unable to avoid the escalating public health crisis any longer, the President organized a task force and televised daily public briefings to create the appearance of an organized government response, promotional events really, which served increasingly as a forum for the President to avoid and shift responsibility for his government’s initial failure to respond; talk over and contradict his public health experts; confuse the public about simple preventative public health and social behavioral practices; brag of his purported scientific brilliance; promote hydroxychloraquine, a malaria drug, as a quick cure; pronounce fantasized accomplishments in fighting the pandemic; announce long, confusing laundry lists of PPE supplies shipped randomly around the country; intimate warnings of withheld resources to governors who challenged his pronouncements; repeat the false statement that a universal vaccine was around the corner; express vitriol against his political opponents and his critics in the media; and even re-argue the Mueller investigation and impeachment trial. After making an utter fool of himself, ordering manufacture of tens of millions of useless doses of hydroxychloraquine, which was killing rather than curing patients, Trump then suggested human injection, inhalation or ingestion of bleach or other disinfectants, and, unexplained, proposed use of lighting inside the human body, as possible cures for the virus, suggesting they be investigated further by task force scientists. With his daily briefings having degenerated to produce a disastrous public relations result, the President decided to abandon the task force briefings altogether, and has since reverted to his modus operandi in the pandemic’s initial stage, declaring victory over the virus, ignoring it, and downplaying its impact.
Pivoting to re-open the economy, the President now routinely derides the testing regimen required to do so safely, perversely repeating his pronouncements that expanded testing increases case counts, ignoring its actual purpose to contain the disease. Following the President’s lead, Governors in states supporting Trump re-opened crowded public venues, often ignoring the need to require masks, and dismissing testing and quarantine regimens intended to protect their citizens. Trump has even re-initiated his rallies, packing large venues with maskless attendees, packed shoulder to shoulder, replicating the “super-spreader” events that greatly aggravated the virus spread early on, while Trump was ignoring the pandemic in its initial stages. The President has abandoned all discussion of surveillance, universal testing, contact tracing, hospital capacity, quarantine, vaccine development, and treatment for the uninsured, all critical to ending the pandemic. Instead, Trump keeps repeating his false claims of having defeated the pandemic by imposition of travel bans on China, then on Europe, and now with the Mexican border wall – all irrelevant once the virus began to spread domestically – like boasting after the fact of jamming his fingers into a few holes in a section of a dike that had already mostly collapsed.
President Trump has been incapable from the outset of grasping what is now obvious about the nature of the Corona virus, that it has spread globally first arithmetically, then geometrically, then exponentially, because it takes 2-3 weeks for victims to become symptomatic, while they continue spreading the disease; that it can survive on hard surfaces if uncleaned; that it does not respect geographic boundaries; and that economic recovery is secondary to defeat of the pandemic. All of these factors increase the speed and scale of the disease, which will continue to spread as long as it has transportation and a pool of untapped victims. With the National Security Agency Pandemic Team at the White House eliminated in 2018, centralized, critical presidential level international coordination efforts in the American government were abandoned. Budget and 25% staff reductions handicapped the Centers for Disease Control in all areas. Increasing population over four decades with little or no health insurance has left millions of American citizens with no coverage for testing and treatment, a huge class of potential carriers. Minimal or nonexistent paid sick leave for many workers has exacerbated the contagion’s spread. Continued slow response in developing and distributing a sufficient supply of accurate testing devices, months behind other countries, has prevented effective surveillance of the disease nationally.
After some early progress containing the disease, the President’s encouragement of Americans to abandon even simple preventative measures is causing the case count to begin ticking up again, faster every day. The virus is now metastasizing rapidly across the country, especially in states supporting Trump, cases spiking rapidly this week in two of the nation’s three largest states – Florida and Texas – with several more states – Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arizona – close behind, all with hospital utilization rates rising close to maximum due to new virus cases, creating fear of health care systems, once again, being overwhelmed, this time in other parts of the country.
As a quick “lookback”, instead of the President’s prediction that the first 15 cases would dissipate to “zero” after the first week, it has now infected 2.4 million people in just three months, with 120,000 of them succumbing to the disease and dying. Rather than the President’s initial public assurances that the casualty rate was “much lower than the flu” (0.1%), its casualty rate in the U.S. and globally has settled into the range of 5.0% – 50 times more deadly than Trump’s comparable “flu”. Rather than this “hoax” being “contained” or “disappearing” via some “miracle” “by April” as the President predicted, the virus has now caused the national daily reported case count to rise again to its all-time peak just this week. And yesterday, the CDC announced its best estimate that the official case count is probably low by a factor of ten.
So the key was, and remains, to essentially overreact as early and as rapidly as possible in order to minimize the spread of the disease. But the President’s delusional thinking; prioritization of fatuous flattery in all messaging; contradiction of expert public pronouncements needed to maintain the public’s behavioral discipline; political blame-shifting, counter-accusations and conspiracy theories; dismissal of all contrary factual information have all cost critical time – and lives – first in the early weeks necessary to contain, then later to slow the contagion’s spread, and currently as the virus spread re-ignites dramatically – all as continually predicted by public health experts from the outset.
It is clear that the President cannot be steered to understanding or proper management of this crisis, because it is completely beyond his intellectual capacity, and because actions required to do so are in contravention of Trump’s ingrained, preternatural tendency to deny, distract, delude, evade and self-promote. So effective Federal coordination will simply not occur, leaving the response to state, county and local governing authorities with police powers to enact and enforce scale disruption of public activity and social behavioral standards necessary to contain the pandemic. And with the President’s abandonment of his responsibilities, that response has resulted in a confused, dis-coordinated patchwork of shifting regional, state, county and city policies, resulting in a breakdown of public understanding and acceptance of public health restrictions required to protect their citizens. Thus the President’s bizarre behavior has now led a grossly mismanaged crisis to evolve into an impending nationwide public health disaster.
As this tragedy has unfolded before our eyes, awareness has grown gradually to real concern, then fear, and is now approaching horror in motion as the pandemic, just as it began to slow, has metastasized and begun its second expansion, expected to be more massive than the first. What was clear to most, that Trump’s ignorance and neglect caused the pandemic to expand rapidly in its initial stage, is now clear to a much larger portion of the public, including many of his own supporters, now better educated by the constant deluge of news, with the unavoidable conclusion that the President himself has re-ignited the pandemic’s spread, endangering all of us. Donald Trump’s profound intellectual deficits and disturbing personality flaws have been consistent through his entire adult life; what has changed is the scale of the problems he has the opportunity to mismanage, and the level of harm he can commit in his role as President, that have grown exponentially.