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pandemic

Mr President, Get Out of the Way!

On the Monday in the middle of March, it seemed that the truth of the virus threat had finally hit home with the president. His demeanor turned somber in a press briefing after weeks of trivializing and politicizing. He had apparentlyThe Latest, March 30:  At its end, this article asks whether the president will order a full national lockdown to stymie virus transmission. Instead, he chose the opposite. For days last week, saying 'the cure is worse than the disease', concerned only for restoring the economy he relies on for re-election, he planned to re-open the country by Easter contrary to all advice from medical professionals. Now, suddenly, finally made aware of how many would die if the virus were let loose and what that would do to re-election prospects, he reversed his position, extending national distancing to the end of April to hopefully break the scourge.
    

undergone a transition from seemingly the last person to realize that we are facing a pandemic, believing that "when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away", to figuring that he'd better take center stage at almost daily press briefings as the one leading the fight to control the contagion and save America.

Trouble is, he was a fount of misinformation as that week progressed.

 After crucial weeks of inaction, when asked by a reporter how he would rate his
response to the pandemic, Trump said, "I'd rate it a 10". With total lack of foresight of the chaos that would ensue, he had just the Friday before closed entry into the United States by other than American citizens and green card holders who had been in Europe and imposed extra screening at 13 international airports resulting in thousands of people standing in lines cheek by jowl for hours, potentially spreading the virus and with no way to track who had contact with whom.

 He again blamed the previous administration for leaving him an "obsolete system". This time he did moderate that, saying, “or put it maybe in a different way, a system that wasn’t prepared to do anything like this”, but then boasted that the U.S. is now testing “tremendous amounts of people” when in fact testing was just beginning around the country and with no knowledge yet of how many people had been tested.

 There have been repeated promises of vast quantities of test kits by Trump and Pence, none of which proved true. Once again during the wek, the president said 1.4 million tests would be available by the following week and 5 million by mid-April but, “I doubt we'll need anywhere near that”, still refusing to grasp the possible numbers in a nation verging on 330 million.

 Vice President Pence recites from the same fictional script, saying, always with obligatory sycophancy, that, "Thanks to bipartisan legislation and the accomplishment [of] the president...this tremendous increase in supply particularly with industrial masks is now available", when all across the country healthcare producers are in a panic for lack of masks. Answering a reporter's question about masks, Pence answered, "They're available now".

They are absolutely not available now. The medical community is advising people to use bandannas and scarves. A hospital in Indiana asked home volunteers to sew masks, sending them the stitching pattern in a PDF. We have for weeks seen people in all the stricken countries going about their lives wearing masks. The United States is so negligent about stockpiling goods as insurance against calamity that we have next to none.

 President Trump says the coronavirus caught him and the world off guard. “It’s something that nobody expected”. Not true. The New York Times reported that last year, the Health and Human Services Department performed simulations that showed how underprepared the United States was for a pandemic. Nothing was done in response to the warning. Furthermore, the Times reports that “outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration”. A year later, Trump disbanded the government’s pandemic response team.

 In midweek, Mr. Trump fastened on an anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, and others such as anti-viral remdesivir not as a cure but as a palliative for those infected. Trump used the adjectives "rapid", "quick", "so fast" and said of chloroquine, "It's shown very encouraging — very, very encouraging results -- and we're going to be able to make the drug available almost immediately and that's where the FDA has been so great". Minutes later, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn had to caution that the drug has not been approved for use against the virus and is still being tested. The echo chamber at Fox News nevertheless boosted the president's claim, with Sean Hannity irresponsibly crowing that the drugs are "new major breakthrough ways to treat the coronavirus actually using medicines that are FDA-approved and already in use". Which they are not.

The most positive development is that those in the health community are speaking out — unlike White House staff and virtually every Republican in Congress — without regard to whether they will lose their posts. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert in infectious diseases, said the evidence for the drug is "anecdotal". Hahn was emphatic:

"Let me make one thing clear. FDA's responsibility to the American people is to make sure that products are safe and effective. We make sure that this sea of new treatments will get the right drug to the right patient at the right dosage at the right time". Otherwise treatment "may do more harm than good".

Trump's "very, very encouraging results" about hydroxychloroquine can have only come from China where it has been in use, but trust in China is problematic. One medical interviewee said China has provided no data about effectiveness and a French study says that there's a narrow window outside of which the drug can be toxic.

 President Trump resurrected the Defense Production Act “should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future... Hopefully there will be no need.” The act empowers the federal government to require American industry to manufacture needed products such as masks and ventilators. Reactivating the 70-year-old act from the Korean War era is an inspired idea, but Trump didn't invoke its use. With masks, gloves, and sanitizer needed in the millions, and respirators in the tens to hundreds of thousands, how is there no need, and how to justify waiting for a worst case before taking action?

He said, "You know, so far, we haven't had to” use it because companies are volunteering. Perhaps so, but no mention of which companies are producing what and in what quantities. And when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer phoned him to implore the president to put the statute to use, Trump said he would and could then be heard only then ordering someone to "do it now".

It looks likely that, having painted the Democrats as socialists who want to turn America into Venezuela, he is not using the Defense Production Act because then he would appear to be employing centrally-controlled socialism. He just turned that speculation into fact at his latest briefing saying,

"The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept...Call a person over in Venezuela, ask him, 'How did nationalization of their businesses work out'. Not too well".

Does he not understand that the act is used for temporary emergencies and is not permanent nationalization? Trump is risking the country for a personal political reason.

He went on to say,

"First of all, governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work. The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, you know we're not a shipping clerk".

It was an extraordinary abdication of responsibility. Although every governor we hear from — Washington, Maryland, New York — is so much more on top of the problem than Trump, the matter of supply is decidedly for the federal government to manage. Trump would have 50 states clamor to manufacturers with the weaker states left behind. And as supplies come on line, it is certainly for Trump's administration to act as referee to decide who gets how much of what rather than leaving it to 50 states to fight among themselves to protect their healthcare workers and populace.

 The president's contribution to how to conquer lost jobs has been to argue for slashing the payroll tax, no matter how that would aggravate Social Security and Medicare which already face unsustainable futures. More immediately, what sense does it make when millions now have no payroll and are signing up for unemployment benefits. A payroll tax cut would benefit those still with jobs and paychecks while doing nothing for those who've been let go. One has to think that all Mr. Trump has in mind is the benefit to him — and at cost to the nation — when in the coming election he could boast of yet another tax cut.

As virtual press secretary before the cameras daily, instead of straight answers that the nation can trust, we get elliptical deviation from Mr. Trump, such as his answer to NBC's Kristen Welker who asked, "So why was the United States not prepared with more testing?" First came the lie, then the reversion to his greatest hits, much like his constantly bringing up his electoral college score at rallies. In this case it's the one laudatory move he made now months ago, followed by six weeks of near zero action:

"We were very prepared. The only thing we weren't prepared for was the media. The media has not treated it fairly. I'll tell you how prepared it was. I called for a ban from people coming in from China long before anybody, in fact, it was your network, I believe they called me a racist because I did that. It was many of the people in the room they called me racist and other words because I did that because I went so early. So when you say we weren't prepared, had I let these tens of thousands of people come in from China a day, we would have had something right now that would've been, you wouldn't have even recognized it compared to where we are."

And where is that? We wish we knew.

At a press briefing the president was asked, "What do you say to Americans who are watching right now who are scared?" Trump's answer,

"I'd say that you're a terrible reporter. That's what I'd say. That was a very nasty question and I think it's a very bad signal that you're putting out to the American people".

It was a display of conduct which put out a very bad signal about this president.

Perhaps the most telling moment came when NPR's Yamiche Alcindor asked, "When will every American who needs a test, get a test?" The president's answer was off the mark:

"You're hearing very positive things about testing and just so you understand, we don't want every American to go out and get a test, 350 million [sic] people. We don't want that. We want people that are, that have a problem."

To get her question answered, Alcindor came back with, "There are Americans, though, that say that they have symptoms and they can't get tested. Why do you say…" Trump cut her off with, "I'm not, I'm not hearing it", swinging his arms out as if to sweep away what she said. It was an example of what we have often seen with this man, an adoption of his own reality and refusal to hear the contradiction of actual reality.

If he does not fully absorb what is happening, will the president fail to take the measure adopted by other countries and San Francisco in this country, the immediate and full shutdown for a couple of weeks to freeze the spread of Covid19 to the maximum extent? With virtually everything closed already, it makes no sense not to take full advantage with the next step of full social distancing with all of us self-quarantined in our homes. We can't count on all 50 states to do this on their own. It must come from the federal government and there's no one else who can give that emergency order. The president develops idées fixes that form his conception of reality and we have seen them return again and again. Rather than decisive action should we be fearful that once again we may hear Trump muse that, "One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear".

1 Comment for “Mr President, Get Out of the Way!”

  1. Excellent article. I could not agree more. Almost two weeks ago I sent an email to friends saying “If I were President I would instantly make Fauci the national spokesperson and the face of our national response to Covid-19.” Would that Trump would follow that advice and step back. As I’ve watched this unfold, day by day since then, I would now go further. I would replace Trump as President with Fauci as President. At least until November. It would be a definite improvement all around.
    Kenneth E. MacWilliams
    Portland, Maine

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