Only someone like President Donald Trump could come up with this kind of nonsense.
Despite the horrifying number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States, the president wants to convince us that his administration has been incredibly successful in its handling of the pandemic.
The reality is quite different.
At the same March 31 news conference that two of Trump’s top health advisers, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, told the public that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19, Trump said simply: “I think we’ve done a great job.”
The casualty figures surpass those for U.S. military personnel killed in the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. They are also far higher than the civilian death toll from 9/11.
“In what circle of hell is that a good outcome?” asked Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, in response to the government’s astonishing forecast. (Earlier this month, Fauci lowered the figure to 60,000 deaths, still an alarmingly high number.)
Trump’s false and unsubstantiated claims remind me of the tricks performed by the illusionist David Copperfield, who in his magic shows has made objects as enormous as the Statue of Liberty disappear. “I want to be positive,” Trump has said. But his positive spin has failed to distract us from his terrible decisions.
So what exactly have Trump and his team done wrong? The administration has been slow to act in fighting the virus, often displaying a frustrating lack of urgency; he has continually misinformed the public; and in his personal behavior, the president has set an appalling example for others.
Instead of devising an effective, coordinated response to battle the coronavirus nationwide, Trump has improvised and made remarks that merely confuse the situation. This has had very serious consequences.
The first coronavirus death was reported in China on Jan. 11. Ten days later, the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was recorded in the United States. The patient had visited China. Despite all of this, in an interview with CNBC the next day, Trump said: “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Unfortunately that has not been the case.
The president waited until Feb. 2 to bar the entry of all foreign nationals who had visited China during the previous 14 days. Sadly, it was too late. In January, 381,000 people arriving on more than 1,300 flights had entered the United States after visiting China, according to a New York Times investigation. This is most likely how the virus came to the country.
Trump’s tardy decision-making then enabled the virus to spread. Peter Navarro, one of the president’s top trade advisers, wrote a memo on Jan. 29 warning of “the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic,” which could threaten “the lives of millions of Americans.” But the president, incomprehensibly, says he never saw the memo. Trump didn’t declare a national emergency until a month and a half later.
On top of his sluggishness in confronting the crisis, Trump has also grossly misled the country: “It looks like by April, you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,” Trump said on Feb. 10, in reference to the virus. A couple weeks later, he said that “the risk to the American people remains very low.” That is completely false.
Although Trump has said that “testing is going very, very well,” a March 26 NPR report revealed that “the availability of testing in the United States lags far behind the demand.” I know firsthand of many people who have experienced delays in getting tested.
Again and again, Trump has set a bad example for others: He shook people’s hands when it was no longer wise to do so; until recently, he failed to maintain a safe distance from attendees at his news conferences; he has promoted a drug to treat the virus — hydroxychloroquine — despite the fact that his medical staff advises against it; and he has refused to abide by the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone wear a face mask in public. “I am choosing not to do it,” he said.
If you don’t want to get infected, the lesson is simple: Don’t do as the president does.
All of this creates the impression of an ill-prepared and misinformed leader struggling to deal with the most dangerous health crisis in perhaps a century. The pandemic has blindsided the richest and most powerful country on earth. One of the heaviest burdens leaders are called upon to carry is making the right decision when they know that thousands, even millions, of lives depend on their actions. Trump has clearly failed to meet this challenge.
But of course that isn’t the story he’s telling us. Trump presents himself as a wartime president making tough, lifesaving decisions. Following the example of his Mexican counterpart, Andre?s Manuel Lo?pez Obrador, Trump has started hosting large news conferences nearly every day in an attempt to control the media narrative. However, a terrible disconnect remains between the reality we’re living in the United States — this past week was the worst one so far in terms of infections and deaths — and the president’s sunny optimism.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s critics warned of the disaster that would befall the United States should a worldwide crisis emerge during a Trump presidency, leaving the country with a grossly unfit leader — one unwilling to acknowledge his mistakes and obsessed with his approval ratings and personal image — to defend it.
Well, that crisis has finally arrived.