As the United States braces for the highest point on the epidemiological curve in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing human and economic costs, many of us are attempting to figure out how the country at the forefront of the first world reached this point. Is China to blame as the point of origin? Are left-wing journalists at fault for unfairly criticizing the government’s response? Or does the Trump administration bear the responsibility?
On the one hand, it is pointless to assign blame for this disaster, as the most useful application of our energy is to find the best path forward, but there is one point at which these two desires intersect and that point is situated squarely on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It will be difficult to properly mobilize the resources of the United States without confronting the blunders the president has made over the past few months and is likely to make in the future.
Trump’s response to the ongoing pandemic exemplifies everything that makes him singularly unqualified for his job. His reflexive gainsaying of anything he hears repeated by people in positions of academic and intellectual authority or by left-leaning news organizations is driven by incredible shallowness, at a moment which requires deep empathy and insight and the will to make hard decisions. You need look no further than that time the President stared directly at the sun during a solar eclipse for a portrait of the man’s psychology. Simply because CNN had told him not to, he felt obligated to endanger his own sight. This might be quite amusing if he were not in a position of authority over the planet’s largest economy and its 350 million citizens.
Clearly some form of intellectual myopia is at play here. Over the past several months, Trump has willfully ignored the warnings of medical experts and the scientific community at large. He dragged his feet, insisting that the virus could be contained after it had clearly broken containment and, against the advice of virtually everyone who was tasked with informing him, took no meaningful action to halt the spread of COVID-19. Just this week, he implied that extensive social distancing might end by Easter Sunday—in flagrant disregard of empirical reality, a concept with which Trump has had an intense and baffling feud for the duration of his political career. As our country’s top elected official busied himself in pointless and time-consuming arguments over the proper name for this virus, his citizens rapidly began sickening and dying.
It’s probably no accident that Trump finally came to his senses and declared a national emergency on 13 March, after the DOW fell almost 4,000 points in two days. Short-term economic interests are the only things that seem to matter to him outside of his personal fame—and those interests probably only matter to him because so much of his personal reputation is wrapped up in his public image as a good businessman. Yet, ironically, Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic will almost certainly lead to serious long-term economic consequences, rendering any concern he may have for the day-to-day vicissitudes of the market moot. Last time I wrote for this publication, I focused on Trump’s fatuous nihilism and declared it his most dangerous quality, but perhaps I didn’t give the man enough credit. He’s demonstrated that he’s more than capable of myopic and reckless disregard for human life. Just recently, his medical advice resulted in the death of an Arizona man and the hospitalization of his wife, after they took an anti-malarial drug, recommended by Trump to treat COVID-19. As a businessman, Trump’s casual lies merely had the potential to bring about economic ruin to a few at a time. Now, they are instruments of life and death and bear on the entire national economy. His inability to speak coherently and forthrightly has never been more dangerous.
With over 400,000 confirmed cases in the United States, this situation has the potential to rapidly spiral out of control. Of course, we don’t even know for sure how many people are infected because of the disastrous failure to roll out nationwide testing, the weeks and months wasted by Trump’s refusal to listen to the CDC and WHO and his refusal of aid from the latter and from Germany.
As a private citizen, the costs of Mr Trump’s public lies were measured in dollars; as president, those costs will be measured in American blood.