Worst President Scenario

Trump's multiple faults are transforming the coronavirus into a perfect storm

We’re at the panic buying stage of the coronavirus outbreak, which has officially become an international toilet paper emergency:

In Australia, major grocers have restricted supplies to one pack per person. In Japan, rolls are chained to the wall in public toilets. In Hong Kong, armed robbers carried out a heist as supplies were delivered to a supermarket.

In the US, however, the toilet paper shortage is not yet as dramatic as the coronavirus testing emergency.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post headlined, “Testing for the coronavirus might have stopped it. Now it’s too late,” William Hanage, an Associate Professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, writes:

The battle to keep covid-19 from becoming established in the United States is probably over without a single shot being fired. We were not outwitted, outpaced or outflanked. We knew what was coming. We just twiddled our thumbs as the coronavirus waltzed in.

Other countries are testing tens of thousands of people for coronavirus as they race to prevent a worst case scenario in which a flood of severely ill patients overwhelm hospitals and there aren’t enough beds or ventilators for all who need them.

Meanwhile, America is still trying to overcome the single biggest problem that is preventing us from effectively addressing the coronavirus crisis: Donald Trump.

As Chris Hayes explained on MSNBC last night:

You cannot solve the problem if you do not know (its) scope… We have had three months to prepare for the coronavirus since the outbreak started in Wuhan, China. And we have completely failed so far.

Hayes went on to detail many of the ways Trump is trying to bullshit his way through the crisis—even going so far as to wear the same “costume” he wore when he went to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As with Puerto Rico, Hayes pointed out, Trump’s gameplan with coronavirus is to repeatedly lowball the numbers of victims to convince his supporters he did a great job and hope he can get away with it until the media loses interest. (Note: The final Hurricane Maria death toll of nearly 3,000 was more than 1,000 higher than that of Katrina, but Trump never paid a political price for it.)

As Politico reports, testing failures have “allowed coronavirus to sweep the U.S.”:

The government’s incapacity to conduct widespread testing slowed diagnoses, creating chains of infection. It also deprived epidemiologists of a map that could have told them how far and how fast the virus was traveling and where they should concentrate efforts to slow it down.

At a visit to the CDC on Friday, Trump openly confessed he was more worried about keeping the reported numbers of coronavirus cases in the US low than he was about following the best medical advice to treat infected Americans.

In the same visit, in the words of Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut: “He straight up lied—said everyone can get tested when, in fact, almost no one can.” Trump’s CDC presser, tweeted Murphy, “was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever watched, and it should be reported that way.”

Deny, Distract, Attack.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump has downplayed the threat, lied about the number of US victims, and refused to accept any responsibility for his Administration’s disastrously bungled response.

1) Deny.

According to author and plague expert Jennifer Wright, denying the disease exists is one of the “four disastrous mistakes that leaders make during epidemics.”

Trump has denied the reality of the coronavirus—and the danger that it represents to America—virtually from Day One.

As recently as February 26, he claimed there were only 15 US victims and promised that “the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero.” Just 10 days later, there are more than 300 confirmed cases in the US and the death toll has reached 17.

As of Friday, the number of verified tests conducted in the US was fewer than 2,000. In the Seattle, Washington area, home to 3.4 million people, where an outbreak has now killed 14, fewer than 100 people have been tested. By comparison, South Korea, a country with one-sixth the population of the U.S., is now testing 10,000 people a day.

We simply don’t know how many people are walking around, riding mass transit, and going to work with the coronavirus, but reports from Canada and Australia now indicate people visiting the U.S. are becoming infected and flying the coronavirus back home.

The lack of visibility as to the scope of the spread of the virus within the U.S. left the Mayor of Austin no choice but to cancel the city’s SXSW festival—an event that attracts 400,000 people each year and is a powerful driver of the local economy.

2) Distract.

When denying the problem no longer works, Trump’s second go-to move is simply to distract.

Rather than engage in a discussion as to why America lags the world in testing its population for coronavirus, Trump prefers to blather on about how his China “travel ban” saved lives and how he did this against the advice of all the experts around him. Even this, of course, is BS. Trump’s so-called travel ban wasn’t actually a ban—and it was too late to stop all the people who entered the country before it was enacted from spreading the virus undetected. Also, as Factcheck.org noted: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the decision stemmed from ‘the uniform recommendations of the career public health officials here at HHS.’”

Trump’s other distractions include a bogus attempt to blame Obama for his Administration’s failure to do adequest testing. As The Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler stated: “This is completely wrong.”

Trump’s third major attempt at distraction from coronavirus is to tell everyone who’ll listen how many people die from flu every year. He absolutely loves telling reporters how shocked he was to discover only recently that tens of thousands of people die each year of the flu. This is particularly alarming, given the fact that, at the height of Trump’s first flu season, 4,000 people per week were dying, at least in part because of his own staggering incompetence.

3) Attack.

When all else fails, Trump goes on the attack. Yesterday he called Washington Governor Jay Inslee “a snake.” As Politico reported:

Speaking in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trump went off on Inslee for saying that he wanted Trump to stick to the science when discussing the outbreak. Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay the gravity of the outbreak and floated his own hunches on matters of science.

And, of course, Trump will continue to attack CNN for reporting any facts he dislikes and Democrats for just being Democrats.

The Worst Crisis President Ever.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Trump is the worst possible President to deal with a fast-moving public health crisis that calls for foresight, responsible leadership and sound judgment.

As Foreign Policy previously reported, Trump fired the “entire pandemic response chain of command” in 2018, effectively sabotaging the government’s ability to respond beforethe crisis even began.

Yesterday, he told reporters, “I just think this is something that you can never really think is going to happen.” This is a total bullshit statement from a man who, as a private citizen, freaked out publicly during the 2014 Ebola crisis, tweeting about it approximately 100 times.

Trump’s narcissism, incompetence and stupidity, along with his constant lies, and a multitude of other faults, are combining to create a “Worst President Scenario” during this coronavirus crisis. One week into March 2020, we are in a much, much worse position than we needed to be. And every single day since the crisis began, President Trump’s statements and actions have made things worse not better.

Whether or not America can avoid the actual worst case scenario when it comes to the coronavirus remains to be seen. As Lawrence Gostin, professor in global health law at Georgetown University, wrote in The Atlantic:

We face the prospect of major disruptions to society and the economy. While harms to health and well-being are foreseeable, these harms are not preordained. Much depends on still unanswered questions about COVID-19, but even more depends on whether our nation can come together to face a common threat.

So while we need to come together to deal with this threat, here’s what we know so far: Trump wasted all of January. He wasted all of February. He destroyed the infrastructure our government needs to handle the crisis. Now, instead of bringing the country together and speaking honestly about the challenge, he’s denying, distracting and attacking—and making every decision with an eye to his re-election prospects. Day after day, he’s demonstrating that he’s more concerned about the stock market and keeping his coronavirus numbers low than he is about protecting American lives.

Through this newsletter, I’ve explored the threats Trump poses to public health in articles about the incompetence with which he has handled the growing COVID-19 crisis, the thousands of unnecessary deaths that occurred during his first flu season, Trump’s refusal to allow kids in border camps to receive the flu vaccine, and the food safety issues caused by Trump recklessly deregulating pork slaughterhouses. If you’d like to support more election-year coverage like this, please hit the subscribe button!