Friday, February 28, 2020

Donald Trump and the Virus

The Virus Has Claimed Its First American Victim. That would be Donald J. Trump. Because it vividly displays the limits of Trump’s master strategy of bullshitting.

It’s one thing to disdain science when the consequences are remote and indirect; another when the result is a country unprepared for an escalating epidemic that puts even your truest believers at risk.

It’s one thing to fire public officials who are following their constitutional duties on national security or administration of justice for insufficient personal loyalty. It’s another to threaten, much less fire, the few competent leaders left at the Centers for Disease Control for not following Trump’s strategy of downplaying the health risks and leaving the country even more vulnerable to the coronavirus threat.

Trump has already sidelined the industry-afflicted but competent secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, as a fearmonger for accurately taking the epidemic seriously—in favor of Mike Pence. Jesus wept!

As the risks of the virus and the costs of Trump’s swaggering incompetence become more and more vividly in evidence, the gap between his efforts to deal with the crisis through better messaging and the grim reality will become ever more palpable.

One key difference between, say, global climate change and the coronavirus epidemic is that climate denial has a big constituency of corporations and people who benefit from denial. That includes the oil and gas industries, people who work in them, and ordinary Americans too complacent to change consumption habits.

But there is no constituency that benefits from virus denial. Except maybe undertakers.

Between now and November, the blunders in America’s woeful lack of preparedness will be rightly laid at Trump’s door: the funding cuts in the CDC and other health agencies; the loss of key science and health officials; the failure to have a master plan; grim details such as the recently disclosed dispatching of federal health workers to treat quarantined patients on military bases, inadequately trained and protected, and returning on commercial flights.

The more he tries to bullshit his way out of it, the more the true costs of Trump’s dictatorship will be revealed for all to see. As Barack Obama might have said, the virus doesn’t distinguish between red states and blue states. It menaces the United States. This will be the signal, defining issue in November. ROBERT KUTTNER

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