Covid – 19 Response, Incompetence Kills
You know the old gag, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”
Well, that sums up the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The only difference is that he never played a doctor on TV. (In fact, he could barely play a president,) and that casual ineptitude, that thin pretext of being a competent or even a caring human being was on no greater display, then in 2020, during the year of the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Trump Agenda (despite what he was able to convince his voters) was always one of ratings, self-enrichment, and petty revenge. The Trump White House cared less about governing and more about putting on a show of governance, like some cheap haunted house where they tell you to put your hand in a box of skinned grapes and try to convince you that it’s an infrastructure plan. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent administrative bumbling were no different. It was a show for the cameras without any substance behind the curtains. It was a TV doctor’s approach to solving a real-world health emergency.
The earliest foreshadowing of trouble came in 2018 (a full year before the COVID-19 virus was even identified) when Donald Trump disbanded the US Global Health Security and Biodefense unit, which resided under the authority of the National Security Council. There is some discrepancy as to whether this was a streamlining process or an outright firing, but regardless, the pandemic response team for the United States was largely disbanded. That’s a bit like removing the smoke alarms in your house with the justification that it’s been a hundred years since the last fire. (In Trump’s defense, smoke alarms are costly and are also things he once “forgot” to install in Trump Tower?)
Of course, the real justification for disbanding the pandemic response team may had had more to do with the fact that it was created by the Obama Administration than any reason of policy or economics. Trump hated his predecessor and much of the Trump Presidency was focused on undoing whatever the last administration had accomplished. Barrack Obama could have planted a tree that grew free defense spending on the front lawn of the White House, and Trump would have torn it down and burned it in the same pit that spawned Stephen Miller.
This brings us to the beginning of 2020, when Donald Trump repeatedly minimized the threat of the novel coronavirus. He did this as he was receiving briefings of how truly devastating the pandemic could get. He told Bob Woodward that the COVID-19 virus was “deadly stuff,” even as he tried to assure the public that it was under control and/or nothing to be concerned about. With claims that it was going to disappear one day, “like a miracle,” and that is was like a “regular flu,” Trump’s true goal was to plug his ears, cover his eyes, and pretend that the virus would be gone in time for Easter Sunday.
That, of course, was not how it played out. By the end of March, the United States had 100,000 confirmed cases, (more than any other country at that time,) and had a COVID-19 death toll of 1,000 people. Meanwhile, Donald Trump continued to undermine his own healthcare officials and CDC guidelines, often refusing to wear masks while urging governors and their states to stay open. He pushed strange cures, such as ultraviolet light and injecting household disinfectants into the body. Everyday his briefings and Tweets became a sideshow meant to distract the public from the slow train crash of a runaway virus, and as funny and headache inducing as it was, it was also not unexpected.
In 2016, nearly, 63 million people voted for a man who made a living by buying and selling his image, scamming contractors, customers and the IRS, and who hosted a reality television show where he pretended to be a tough guy. So, when it came to an actual emergency that required steady and clam leadership Trump, instead, fell back on his typical three-prong strategy of denial, distract, and self-praise. America put its trust in a literal snake-oil salesman, so it should be no big shock that when it counted he stood behind the presidential podium and pushed untested and unverified treatments like, hydroxychloroquine. All the while he was telling anyone who would listen how great he was doing at handling the virus, and any news that contradicted that was “fake.”
One of the most telling incidents of the pandemic was when Donald Trump tried to block American passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship from disembarking back onto US soil. The ship hung in limbo because passengers had tested positive for COVID-19, but instead of looking out for the safety of those infected and those not yet infected, Trump wanted to keep more than 3,500 people sequestered onboard the ship so that the USA’s official total of cases didn’t rise. He cared more about the numbers than the people those numbers represented.
Every chance Trump got he downplayed deaths, lied about the numbers, and fueled an unnecessary culture war over mask wearing and badly needed shutdowns. Throughout it all, Donald Trump continued hosting rallies, events, and unmasked gatherings. In June when COVID cases hit above 2 million, Trump held an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he famously claimed that “If we didn’t do testing, we’d have no cases.” That’s a bit like claiming as long as you don’t check for a bullet wound you can’t count as being shot.
Without leadership from the top a lot of states were left to fend for themselves and come up with their own plans. Some governors, (typically of blue states) were more proactive, enacting mask mandates and shutting down non-essential businesses. Other governors, (typically of red states) did not put in place mask mandates or mandatory shutdowns, and some even went so far as to outlaw such mandates from local cities or municipalities within their state. All the while US citizens died as no one in the federal government seemed willing or able to organize the distribution of ventilators, protective equipment, or badly needed pharmaceuticals. Jared Kushner once, bizarrely, claimed, that the federal medical stockpile was “supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles.” That of course raised the question of who exactly he thought the national stockpile was for, the Trump family exclusively?
As for Donald Trump, he fell back on one of his favorite distractions, racism. Among some of his most memorable names for COVID-19 were the: “China Virus,” the “Wuhan Virus,” the “Kung Flu,” and other variations thereof. It was a distraction that led to more than Internet arguments over political correctness. In March, six Asian women and two other people in the Atlanta area were shot dead, and (according to the FBI) hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 70% in 2020 compared to the previous year. Words do matter, especially those of the United States President. Perhaps the most infuriating part of Trump’s vitriolic arguments, was not that he was unaware of their power, but that he was.
On the day that COVID deaths passed 200,000 in the United States, Trump told a Detroit TV station that “we have done an incredible job.” He pushed for the reopening of sporting events, businesses, and schools, all the while criticizing Joe Biden for wearing a mask. His followers, both elected officials and regular citizens took their cue from his attitude, instead of the words of his health experts. They banned masks, they reopened indoor dinning, and went about their normal lives. Anyone wearing a mask was considered to be “virtue signaling” and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s own chief medical advisor, became the devil incarnate for trying to push reasonable expectations and promote mask wearing. These attitudes and recklessness led directly to more deaths.
In October, Trump himself was diagnosed with the coronavirus. He was rushed to the hospital and put into isolation, but not before holding a spreading event with his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. The event was linked to a COVID outbreak among high-level Republican officials and White House staff, most of which who were unmasked. As cathartic as it was for some to watch the Liar-in-Chief get what people thought of as his “comeuppance,” it was short lived. Donald Trump was given the highest quality medical care, along with some experimental drugs, and was discharged quickly from Walter Reed Medical Center. Upon returning to the White House he stood for a photo-op where he definitely removed his mask, showing that he had learned exactly nothing from his brush with near-death.
To be fair (and balanced,) Trump and his administration did do a few good things. They were able to sign a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, they eventually employed the Defense Production Act (several months too late) to have companies begin producing ventilators, and Trump did initiate Operation Warp Speed which helped fund and mass produce a COVID vaccine in record time, (which Trump supporters then paradoxically claimed they wouldn’t take.) However, any good that was done was far outweighed by the bad.
If there is one person you do not want in charge of pandemic response… it would probably be a rhesus monkey infected with rabies and wearing a racist hat, but a close second on that list is Donald Trump. After all, at least a rhesus monkey can still understand basic empathy. Trump held super-spreader rally events, he pushed untested and unintelligent treatments, he actively encouraged his followers to not follow CDC guidelines, he increased vaccine hesitancy and was personally responsible for thousands of deaths. All the while he kept claiming that the end of the pandemic was only ever a few weeks away, and that he alone was the sole beacon of truth among a sea of fake news and false doctors.
At every turn Trump seemed to make the wrong decision, but not out of ignorance. Instead, he showed a sort of willful neglect, and a perverse self-interest. His poll numbers, the stock market numbers, and his job numbers seemed far more important than the numbers of reported cases and deaths. Even as people, (like Harman Cain,) died around him he obstinately pushed fake confidence, sham cures, and a belief that the virus was some sort of Democratic ploy that would disappear after the November elections. He approached the situation as if he were the greatest victim of the virus, and not the hundreds of thousands of people who died, or the millions who lost jobs, housing, and family to a global pandemic.
All of this comes back to that old gag, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”
It was originally spoken in 1984 by Chris Robinson, who played Dr. Rick Webber on General Hospital, and it wasn’t spoken as a joke. It was spoken as a sales pitch in a commercial for Vick’s Cough Syrup. The line was made as a statement of willful false confidence meant to sell a product, because human beings tend to trust people we see on TV, even for medical advice… even when they outright tell us that they aren’t doctors. (As an aside, Robinson was convicted of income tax evasion in 1985, which is poetic in a Trumpian sense.)
And so, this leads us back to Donald Trump, the ultimate salesman. Over and over again he was a man that proved he was not a leader, not a successful businessman, not a dealmaker, and certainly not a doctor. However, he was a man who was on TV. So much like a pre-convicted Chris Robinson, there was a large portion of (mostly, but not all) Republican voters who trusted him and took his self-aggrandizing statements, his misleading advice, and his out and out lies as absolute gospel truths, even though they were clearly against their own good.
Donald Trump was not a doctor, nor was he a leader, but people believed him anyway, and maybe that’s the real gag.
You know the old gag, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?” Well, that sums up the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The only difference is that he never played a doctor on TV. (In fact, he could barely play a president,) and that casual ineptitude, that thin pretext of being a […]