Will COVID-19 Decide Trump’s Fate in the White House?
Donald Trump’s fun and games regarding the coronavirus are over — too late. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global crisis a pandemic. But that was already obvious to any sensible person with access to the live infographics and updates tracking the virulent spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The numbers climb so rapidly that it is almost easy to forget that you are vicariously tracking human beings in real time — people with families. At the time of writing, 138,069 confirmed cases and 5,103 deaths attributed to the virus had already been tracked across more than 100 countries.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared on Wednesday. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic if [they] detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” Ghebreyesus admonished. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”
That inaction includes America’s, as infectious disease expert Dr. Helen Y. Chu in Seattle, Washington, can testify.
As part of an ongoing flu-monitoring effort, Chu’s lab had requested permission from federal regulators at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test their trove of nasal swabs for COVID-19 — swabs that had been collected in January from residents experiencing flu-like symptoms throughout the Puget Sound region. Their request was repeatedly denied. Even as state health officials joined Chu’s quest, citing the threat of significant loss of life, the federal agencies refused to budge, citing concerns for patient privacy.
Chu’s team held off until Feb. 25. Then they took matters into their own hands and began performing coronavirus tests, without government approval. It was then that they uncovered Washington’s outbreak — the first coronavirus hotspot in the country.
“We felt like we were sitting, waiting for the pandemic to emerge,” Dr. Chu told the New York Times. “We could help. [But] we couldn’t do anything.”
The Seattle region has since spiraled downward into crisis — 367 people have tested positive for the virus; 29 have died so far.
“It must have been here this entire time,” Chu reiterated. “It’s just everywhere already.”
On March 13, 1,885 COVID-19 cases had been tracked across the United States; 39 had already died. But plausibly, the true figures are higher. Likely, there are no states with zero confirmed cases, only insufficient test kits to identify the carriers. Almost 30 U.S. states have declared states of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump’s Oval Office Address on Coronavirus
Trump and his right-wing media pundits — that universe of alternative truth, which Trump has systematically cultivated as an echo chamber since 2016 — had insisted that coronavirus was no worse than the seasonal flu. They repeatedly dismissed criticism from Democratic leadership that the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak was inadequate. Such was “their new hoax;” a left-wing media conspiracy to destroy Trump’s presidency; “a ‘fraud’ by the deep state to spread panic in the populace, manipulate the economy and suppress dissent.” Dispatches from the White House press communications office and Trump’s MAGA sycophants insisted: Pay no attention to fake-news fearmongering. Everything was ‘perfect.’
You know, like Trump’s infamous quid pro quo phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was ‘perfect.’
Trump’s patently incompetent administration wasted consequential time and opportunity to act. They downplayed the seriousness of this crisis. They minimized the number of sick. They blamed Barack Obama’s administration for a shortage of test kits — for a newly identified disease.
Then came Trump on Wednesday night — in a rare nationally televised address from the Oval Office — to deliver his administration’s hastily crafted plan to combat this “horrible infection.” WHO’s declaration of a pandemic had clearly decimated Trump’s coronavirus spin.
Trump’s address to the nation has already been picked apart by fact checkers. No one takes what comes out of his mouth at face value anymore — on this or any other subject. He has lied, he has created confusion, he has made reckless predictions. He’s a pathological liar whom few trust — even in a crisis. Nevertheless, there are a few takeaways worthy of note from Wednesday night’s event:
- In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rightly sounded an alarm that Trump had failed to mention the lack of coronavirus testing kits in the United States. On Thursday, in fact, COVID-19 testing capacity was reportedly at 20,695 patients daily. The CDC and private industry had made available to public, commercial, and academic labs an estimated 850,000 kits. However, testing capacity is still lagging, partly due to a shortage of key chemicals needed to run the tests. According to an investigation led by The Atlantic, a little more than 7,000 COVID-19 tests were performed as of early March — putting the US far behind other developed countries. The bungling incompetence has been breathtaking.
- The Pelosi-Schumer statement indicated that, on Thursday, they would introduce the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which they were hoping would pass with bipartisan support. The bill includes “free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave for workers, food security assistance, help to states overburdened by Medicaid costs, and strengthened Unemployment Insurance, among other much-needed measures to keep the American people safe.”
- There was no illumination on the expected trajectory of the virus — no estimates on how many people may be infected, no forward planning regarding hospital capacity within the United States to handle the additional load from COVID-19. However, let it be known, there are only 1 million hospital beds in the United States, servicing over 36.4 million annual admissions. At any given time, 700,000 of these beds are already occupied with people who are otherwise ill. Equipment like ventilators, which would be required for use in COVID-19 cases, are already being utilized at near full capacity. In a closed-door briefing on Wednesday, the attending physician of Congress, Brian Monahan, reportedly advised Senate staffers that between 70 million –150 million people in the U.S. will contract the virus. A 15–20% serious illness rate among those who will get infected would require additional capacity to service 30 million more people within America’s healthcare system.
- Travel from Europe to the United States — with the exception of Britain — would be restricted for 30 days, beginning Friday. That is bizarre. Britain currently has 798 confirmed cases, and 10 reported deaths. British carriers of the virus have been clearly identified in the global spread. Therefore, why the exception? The Department of Homeland Security scrambled to clarify that the restrictions would exclude US citizens and permanent residents, but not why the exception was being made for Britain.
- Trump described efforts to confront a “foreign virus.” Viruses have no nationality. The virus is here—that makes it local. But the xenophobic dog whistle is Trump’s signature, and historians immediately recognized the remark as Trump’s continued push, even in a crisis, to perpetuate racist thought. Likely, it was also a nod to Rush Limbaugh’s latest conspiracy theory. On his Wednesday program, the new recipient of Trump’s presidential Medal of Freedom, insinuated, “This coronavirus? Nothing like wiping out the entire U.S. economy with a biothreat from China, is there?”
- Trump’s intended words of comfort, presumably to spooked Wall Street investors: “This is not a financial crisis. This is just a temporary moment in time that we will overcome as a nation and a world.” Try to grasp that stream of consciousness: Disease and death cannot compare to the greater significance of a financial crisis. Sure, it’s a temporary setback — collateral damage. This virus undercuts my numbers. But fuck, how does this constitute a financial crisis?
America has had four turbulent years to decipher Trump-speak — we’ve earned our degrees. And what we’ve learned is that Trump’s actions and true beliefs are incongruent with his tailored speeches. Don’t count on him to do the right thing. His continued impulse to downplay this crisis isn’t merely fanciful; it is dangerous. As recently as this week, one federal official alerted the public regarding the White House’s decision to override the CDC’s recommendation that elderly and immunosuppressed Americans — among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 — should not fly.
Those investors to whom Trump hoped to appeal weren’t impressed. Dow futures plunged almost 1,000 points after his speech, heralding another brutal few days on Wall Street. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended its historic 11-year bull market run — which began in March 2009, under Obama’s watch — by closing in a bear market. Early Thursday morning, stock indexes had plummeted, and the level-one circuit breaker was triggered minutes into the opening bell after the S&P 500 dropped 7%. It would drop lower still — to -9.5% — at the close of trading.
It may well be time for the Trump to step away from the mic.
The full economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak may not be calculable for months. But there is mounting evidence that it will be severe. Schools and universities across the country are already sending students home to finish their Spring semesters via remote access and online classes. The NBA has suspended its season after two players tested positive for COVID-19. Airlines and hotels are experiencing increased cancelations. Disneyland — on lockdown. Supplies of essential commodities are already disrupted. The domino effect has initiated.
By November, will the elections still be about the economy, Stupid? Wasn’t “the economy” the reason why so many tolerated Trump’s desecration of the Constitution, his poor character, the thuggish behavior, his abuses and disrespect, the financial aggrandizement of his family, the abnormalities that have become the “new normal,” the courting of Russia!
By November, how many deaths will we have mourned within the United States from this dreadful disease?
On Friday, Trump declared a “national emergency” to combat coronavirus — “to unleash the full power of the federal government,” Trump said. Which begs the obvious question, what alarming powers could Trump also unleash regarding his own authority?
‘We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us’
Without widespread coronavirus testing, we are fighting the most dangerous kind of enemy — a real Trojan horse virus we cannot see, until it is too late. Americans are not safe with Trump at the helm — literally. His “best people” are imbeciles, already in over their heads, totally incapable of leading this country. And the Republican Party, where are they? Haven’t they explicitly colluded with Trump in the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — so much so that our esteemed and once viable institutions are incapable now of rising to the challenge of this epidemic? There is no excuse for their negligent — almost criminal — endangerment of the entire population of this country. They must be held to account.
Anthony Fauci, leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told Trump repeatedly that a coronavirus vaccine is still a year and a half away — the same message conveyed by pharmaceutical executives. Yet, our stable science-denying genius still seemingly believes that continued pressure to “Do me a favor, speed it up, speed it up” will somehow pull a magic bunny hat trick from Fauci’s ass — hopefully in time for his November reelection. Understanding the road toward a vaccine is clearly above a mob boss’ pay grade.
The coronavirus is now our collective enemy. It cares nothing about who is Democrat or Republican, beloved actor or NBA player, mother, father, sister, friend. It is an enemy that cannot be intimidated into submission on Twitter. Or thwarted by fake news and propaganda memes. In some perverse way, perhaps, Trump has met his match. But COVID-19 will inevitably take some of those “good people on both sides,” those who bought into Trump’s insular ‘America First’ mindset, and thought China’s and Italy’s problems were their own.
Thousands are about to die prematurely, many in their prime. The stench, chaos and grief will be overwhelming. And those who thought that these fools in the White House were the solution to our problems will realize soon enough that “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”
In the end, America has sowed the wind — failing to heed the warnings about Trump’s psychological incapacity to handle crises such as this pandemic — and now we are reaping the whirlwind sweeping away life as we know it. Crisis-management expert Juliette Kayyem’s observation is profound: “A crisis finds a nation as it is, not as its citizens wish it to be.”
COVID-19 may do what we have collectively failed to do — drive Trump out of the White House. But it will not be the America we hoped would survive him.
© 2020 Donna Kassin. All rights reserved.
PHOTO CREDIT: New York Times