-Donald Trump, February 4, 2020
The vast majority of states have told their residents that they must stay at home. The last three years of stock market gains have been largely washed away in a couple of months. In March alone, at least 701,000 jobs were officially lost, breaking the streak of monthly gains started under Barack Obama. Some estimates predict the unemployment rates will rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. As I am writing this, 7,392 of the 277,161 people infected in the United States have died. And with the worst yet to come, America is depending on a reality-television star to lead us through this unimaginable tragedy.
The seeds of Trump's failure were sown long before SARS-CoV-2 emerged. While Obama had "bolstered" the Global Health and Biodefense department on the National Security Council, Trump never replaced the senior director when he left in May 2018. Trump also failed to name a successor when the "homeland-security adviser who recommended strong defenses against disease and biological warfare" departed the White House. The current occupant of the White House has consistently attempted to cut the budgets of the CDC, the NIH, and the WHO, using the reasoning that "if we ever need them, we can get them [back] very quickly. And rather than spending the money and I'm a business person I don't like having thousands of people around when you don't need them." Except that in a crisis, every moment counts and it pays to have experts who are paid to stay prepared and on top of any developing events.
Perhaps, if Trump had had the proper team in place as the bad news started to leak from China, he could have responded in a way that would have lessened the American death toll and not sent our economy diving into a recession. Of course, it is possible that the scientists that remained employed by the executive branch did warn him in time and he simply chose to ignore their advice. After all, this is the same president who said that "the noise [from windmills] causes cancer", the moon is part of Mars and that stealth aircraft are planes that you "literally can't see". For his fans, many of whom deny the existence of evolution and climate change, this deficit of scientific knowledge is seen as a positive attribute. In the case of COVID-19, it directly contributed to a loss of lives.
With the combination of a lack of preparedness, scientific ignorance and general incompetence, Trump was slow to recognize the impending disaster. By the end of January, the World Health Organization had declared "a public-health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus", specifically declaring that it was "not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries." Still, the crisis only warranted three sentences in a rambling State of the Union address. While the president was declaring that "the state of our Union is stronger than ever before", in truth we were in grave danger.
Even as conditions continued to deteriorate, Trump was declaring that "the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA". He speculated that it would go "away in April with the heat". On March 7, he said that he was "not concerned at all" about cases reported around Washington and said he would continue to "have tremendous rallies". He then went on to have dinner with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Several attendees of this dinner at Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club later tested positive for the virus.
Like an aging rock star unable to write relevant songs to contemporary times, Trump dug deep into the greatest hits from his past. Just like in the Ukrainian scandal that led to his impeachment, he politicized the issue and called the criticism a "hoax". Then he gaslit the American people by comparing the deadly virus to the flu even though the hospitalization rate and fatality rate for COVID-19 are much higher than the seasonal flu because, as a new virus, there is no built-in immunity within the population nor an available vaccine to prevent it. As a last resort, Trump played the race card as well when he attacked his favorite foil - the press. Instead of answering a PBS reporter's question about comments that he had made on Fox News, he accused her of acting "threatening". He hates when black, women reporters don't know their place.
Somehow Trump still has supporters and they will claim that all of the above is just rhetoric and will stand by the latest excuse that he was just trying to calm the American people. Unfortunately for all of us, the president's actions have been as damaging as his speech. Weeks after the first case of the virus had been reported in our country, "the United States government sent nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to China including masks and respirators". Almost at the same time, my workplace was rationing masks in the cleanroom where we manufacture medical devices and first responders today do not have the supplies that they need to keep themselves safe.
While Trump refuses to acknowledge how badly his administration bungled rolling out testing for the virus, the United States lagged "behind most industrialized nations in understanding the extent of infection within its borders". As a result, experts were deprived of the ability to adequately track infections so that they could formulate effective methods of slowing the spread of the virus.
According to Trump, April was supposed to be a miraculous time in our country's fight against this virus. First, he stated it would be the time when "the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone". Then he doubled down and said that by Easter Sunday "you will have packed churches all over our country". Now as we enter the month of April, Trump's White House task force is preparing the country for up to 200,000 deaths. Who knew that when Trump said that he would "Make America Great Again", he meant that we would lead the world in the number of cases of a deadly virus? Trump may not know if it is a flu, a germ or a virus, but it has certainly exposed his presidency as the failure that it is.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, and a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools". His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.