In late December of last year, the Chinese announced an epidemic in Wuhan. The autocratic Chinese government should have made that outbreak known at least three weeks earlier.
Over here, the increasingly autocratic Trump dithered, misunderstood, failed to act, dismissed the threat as nothing, and let coronavirus win. This poor excuse for an official finally lets us know on March 31 that we can expect more than 100,000 American deaths, yet he fails to model basic preventives such as physical distancing and wearing face masks while in the company of others, endlessly and idiotically stressing that all this is “optional.”
An abbreviated timeline with Trump’s claims:
Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China” Davos, Switzerland
Jan. 30: World Health Organization declares Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Jan. 31: “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus”
Feb. 2: On Fox News: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. It’s going to be fine.”
Feb. 25: While visiting India: “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away. They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”
Feb. 27: During Black History month reception at White House: “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Feb. 28: At a campaign rally: “hoax.”
March 4: Back on Fox again: “If we have thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work – some of them go to work, but they get better.”
March 6: While touring the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta: “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down… a tremendous job at keeping it down.”
March 8: Tweet: “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus…”
March 10: Press briefing: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
March 13: declared the COVID-19 pandemic a National Emergency
Trump was lying while people were dying. But he created this problem well in advance.
On May 10, 2018, Stephen Schwartz, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Senior Fellow, responding to the Trump administration decision to disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic response team, Tweeted, “When the next pandemic occurs (and make no mistake, it will) and the federal government is unable to respond in a coordinated and effective fashion to protect the lives of US citizens and others, this decision by John Bolton and Donald Trump will be why.”
By contrast we can review a different outbreak. Ebola.
December 2013: 18-month-old boy in a small village in Guinea is infected by bats. Nearly 30,000 would die from the subsequent outbreak.
When President Obama responded to the Ebola pandemic he sent experts to West Africa months before a case reached US soil and also before the WHO labelled Ebola an international threat. The response was proactive and robust; it contained the spread enough to basically keep it from the US.
Of course, during the preventive and responsive Obama administration successful defeat of Ebola’s threat to the US, Trump was busy tweeting his usual ignorant and insulting anti-Obama offal. He called Obama “stupid” and with his signature nastiness, tweeted that the American health worker who had become infected while helping with the CDC team should not be brought home for treatment but should “suffer the consequences.”
By stark and tragic contrast, six years later Trump was in power and we see the predictable catastrophic outcomes. He never sent experts to China; he actually removed Dr. Linda Quick, the CDC health advisor who was in China in July 2019, thus eliminating the expert who worked closely with Chinese public health officials, which slowed the US response by weeks. After dismissing the COVID-19 threat and predicting it would magically disappear, he finally instituted a travel ban. The horse was long gone and he claims great credit for finally shutting the barn door.
Criminally malignant intent or incomprehensibly hateful ignorance? You decide. Those are our logical assessment options. We now have 434,791 cases and 14,802 deaths with no end in sight.
Wim Laven is syndicated by the Oregon-based PeaceVoice and teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.