President Donald Trump’s strategy for governing has been to focus on manageable situations created by him in international relations and on domestic issues. He uses his presidential perch to ridicule and try to discredit all who disagree with him. It is not just who Trump is; it is how he practices politics, including making more than 16,000 lies or misleading statements so far.
The coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, in late December after bats infected humans, is a different kind of challenge. The Washington Post reported on March 20 that U.S. intelligence agencies sounded the alarm as early as January but were ignored. Classiﬁed brieﬁngs “painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it.” But, The Post added, “despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans.” Trump acolytes echoed his trivialization of the danger and his resort to partisan politics as the way to address it.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who said the Chinese alerted American ofﬁcials about the outbreak as early as January 3, could not obtain a meeting with the president. When Azar did make contact, by phone, on January 18, Trump was concerned about vaping.
The state of unpreparedness was evident by early February and Trump was still not engaged, except to ban visitors from China and Europe. After the ﬁrst U.S. cases of infection were reported, he said, “We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it. It’s like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we’re in very good shape.” But that number rose to more that 20,000 within a month, and more than 250 Americans died, even while testing remained sporadic and wholly inadequate.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FDOH.MAPS.ARCGIS.COM
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 35 percent of its value. The politicking did not stop. At a February 28 rally in Charleston, S.C., Trump attacked Democrats: “They tried the impeachment hoax … And this is their new hoax.” But the virus was not cooperating, plunging the nation into a major public health crisis and economic chaos caused by the need for “social isolation” which no slick talk could overcome. Trump’s attitude apparently changed after Fox talk show host Tucker Carlson gave him a reality check. He began to engage with the experts, even while still making outlandish claims which they rejected in his presence. By then, the administration was fully mobilized, and a federal task force was in place to deal with what Trump began calling a “war” and himself a “war-time president.” His echo chamber, especially Fox News, changed their tune to match his new rhetoric.
The nation is now on full alert, with perhaps 100 million Americans forced to stay home, businesses closing, a frantic drive launched to make protective gear for health workers and ﬁnd equipment and space to care for the sick, testing stepped up and a frantic search for a vaccine. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is on full alert and Trump activated – but did not enforce — the Defense Production Act passed during the Korean War in the 1950s that empowers him to compel businesses to switch to making desperately needed gear and equipment. Congress was debating a $2 trillion “rescue” package to help workers and businesses.As the coronavirus continues to spread, phrases like “quarantine,” “isolation” and “social distancing” are making news. Here are the key differences of each. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
Whether the delay to act earlier will lead to a catastrophe similar to that in China, Italy and the rest of Europe depends on how the race against time plays out. As of this Tuesday, the number of persons exceeded 48,000, the number of deaths more than 400 and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Michael Adams warned it would be much worse. Despite an almost limitless infusion of money into the system, stock markets continued to plunge. There is little indication that the economy will bounce back enough to become Trump’s campaign ace card again so his political future depends on whether the virus can be contained by November.
“Trump’s ability to enact his plan and weather the turbulence could have an enormous impact on his political fate,”
The Washington Post said. Stephen Moore, a Trump economic adviser, added that the president’s response is “really critical to not only whether he is reelected but how he will be judged by history.”
At another level, social isolation, an unprecedented hiatus in the nation’s life, allows for reflection on the relatively petty differences, created by politics and ideology, religion, culture, race and skin color and socio-economic standing, which tend to deﬁne national life. It provides an opportunity to focus on the gulf between rich and poor and why there has never been enough money to bridge the gap in an economy that has enabled billionaires Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos to accumulate more wealth than 160 million Americans combined.
Its not known whether such soulsearching will lead to fundamental change in how America works. After Hurricane Andrew devastated South Dade in 1992, some residents displayed a banner proclaiming, “Lord We Heard You.” But, not long afterwards, as the authorities tried to house the homeless in trailers, a new sign went up: NIMBY – Not In My Backyard.
“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” Shakespeare says in “The Tempest.” Perhaps, but, mostly, just temporarily.