Republican David Frum had a well thought out article written a month ago about Trump’s response to the coronavirus. I did not publish it last month thinking it was too soon but it is worth reading in its entirety but below are some excerpts.
The United States is on trajectory to suffer more sickness, more dying, and more economic harm from this virus than any other comparably developed country.
That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.
The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.
For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump. Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.
The coronavirus emerged in China in late December. The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak on January 3. The first confirmed case in the United States was diagnosed in mid-January. Financial markets in the United States suffered the first of a sequence of crashes on February 24. The first person known to have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the United States died on February 29. The 100th died on March 17. By March 20, New York City alone had confirmed 5,600 cases. Not until March 21—the day the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services placed its first large-scale order for N95 masks—did the White House begin marshaling a national supply chain to meet the threat in earnest. “What they’ve done over the last 13 days has been really extraordinary,” Jared Kushner said on April 3, implicitly acknowledging the waste of weeks between January 3 and March 21.
Those were the weeks when testing hardly happened, because there were no kits. Those were the weeks when tracing hardly happened, because there was little testing. Those were the weeks when isolation did not happen, because the president and his administration insisted that the virus was under control. Those were the weeks when supplies were not ordered, because nobody in the White House was home to order them. Those lost weeks placed the United States on the path to the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the developed world: one-fourth of all confirmed cases anywhere on Earth.
Those lost weeks also put the United States—and thus the world—on the path to an economic collapse steeper than any in recent memory. Statisticians cannot count fast enough to keep pace with the accelerating economic depression. It’s a good guess that the unemployment rate had reached 13 percent by April 3. It may peak at 20 percent, perhaps even higher, and threatens to stay at Great Depression–like levels at least into 2021, maybe longer.
This country—buffered by oceans from the epicenter of the global outbreak, in East Asia; blessed with the most advanced medical technology on Earth; endowed with agencies and personnel devoted to responding to pandemics—could have and should have suffered less than nations nearer to China. Instead, the United States will suffer more than any peer country.
At a session with state governors on February 10, Trump predicted that the virus would quickly disappear on its own. “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do—you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases—11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” On February 14, Trump repeated his assurance that the virus would disappear by itself. He tweeted again on February 24 that he had the virus “very much under control in the USA.” On February 27, he said that the virus would disappear “like a miracle.”
Those two assumptions led him to conclude that not much else needed to be done.
The Trump administration had cut U.S. public-health staff operating inside China by two-thirds, from 47 in January 2017 to 14 by 2019, an important reason it found itself dependent on less-accurate information from the World Health Organization. In July 2019, the Trump administration defunded the position that embedded an epidemiologist inside China’s own disease-control administration, again obstructing the flow of information to the United States.
Yet even if Trump did not know what was happening, other Americans did. On January 27, former Vice President Joe Biden sounded the alarm about a global pandemic in an op-ed in USA Today. By the end of January, eight cases of the virus had been confirmed in the United States. Hundreds more must have been incubating undetected.
On January 31, the Trump administration at last did something: It announced restrictions on air travel to and from China by non-U.S. persons. This January 31 decision to restrict air travel has become Trump’s most commonly proffered defense of his actions. “We’ve done an incredible job because we closed early,” Trump said on February 27. “We closed those borders very early, against the advice of a lot of professionals, and we turned out to be right. I took a lot of heat for that,” he repeated on March 4. Trump praised himself some more at a Fox News town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the next day. “As soon as I heard that China had a problem, I said, ‘What’s going on with China? How many people are coming in?’ Nobody but me asked that question. And you know better than—again, you know … that I closed the borders very early.”
Because Trump puts so much emphasis on this point, it’s important to stress that none of this is true. Trump did not close the borders early—in fact, he did not truly close them at all. The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30, but recommended against travel restrictions. On January 31, the same day the United States announced its restrictions, Italy suspended all flights to and from China. But unlike the American restrictions, which did not take effect until February 2, the Italian ban applied immediately. Australia acted on February 1, halting entries from China by foreign nationals, again ahead of Trump.
And Trump’s actions did little to stop the spread of the virus. The ban applied only to foreign nationals who had been in China during the previous 14 days, and included 11 categories of exceptions. Since the restrictions took effect, nearly 40,000 passengers have entered the United States from China, subjected to inconsistent screenings, The New York Times reported.
Denial became the unofficial policy of the administration through the month of February, and as a result, that of the administration’s surrogates and propagandists. “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program February 24. “Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus … Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”
“We have contained this,” Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC on February 24. “I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight. We have done a good job in the United States.” Kudlow conceded that there might be “some stumbles” in financial markets, but insisted there would be no “economic tragedy.”
On February 28, then–White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, near Washington, D.C.:
The reason you’re … seeing so much attention to [the virus] today is that [the media] think this is gonna be what brings down this president. This is what this is all about. I got a note from a reporter saying, “What are you gonna do today to calm the markets.” I’m like: Really, what I might do today to calm the markets is tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours … This is not Ebola, okay? It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS.
So much time had been wasted by the end of February. So many opportunities had been squandered. But even then, the shock could have been limited. Instead, Trump and his inner circle plunged deeper into two weeks of lies and denial, both about the disease and about the economy.
On February 28, Eric Trump urged Americans to go “all in” on the weakening stock market.
Kudlow repeated his advice that it was a good time to buy stocks on CNBC on March 6 after another bad week for the financial markets. As late as March 9, Trump was still arguing that the coronavirus would be no worse than the seasonal flu.
Trump’s instinct to dodge and blame had devastating consequences for Americans. Every governor and mayor who needed the federal government to take action, every science and medical adviser who hoped to prevent Trump from doing something stupid or crazy, had to reckon with Trump’s psychic needs as their single biggest problem.
The federal response has been dogged by suspicions of favoritism for political and personal allies of Trump. The District of Columbia has seen its requests denied, while Florida gets everything it asks for.
The weeks of Trump-administration denial and delay have triggered a desperate scramble among states. The Trump administration is allocating some supplies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but has made the deliberate choice to allow large volumes of crucial supplies to continue to be distributed by commercial firms to their clients. That has left state governments bidding against one another, as if the 1787 Constitution had never been signed, and we have no national government.
Governments often fail. From Pearl Harbor to the financial crisis of 2008, you can itemize a long list of missed warnings and overlooked dangers that cost lives and inflicted hardship. But in the past, Americans could at least expect public spirit and civic concern from their presidents.
Trump has mouthed the slogan “America first,” but he has never acted on it. It has always been “Trump first.” His business first. His excuses first. His pathetic vanity first.
Trump has taken millions in payments from the Treasury. He has taken millions in payments from U.S. businesses and foreign governments. He has taken millions in payments from the Republican Party and his own inaugural committee. He has taken so much that does not belong to him, that was unethical and even illegal for him to take. But responsibility? No, he will not take that.
Yet responsibility falls upon Trump, whether he takes it or not. No matter how much he deflects and insults and snivels and whines, this American catastrophe is on his hands and on his head.