Editor’s Note: For another viewpoint, see Point: Administration’s Reaction to Coronavirus Has Been Good for America
In a time when protecting the nation’s public health demands clear, truthful and compassionate leadership, President Trump has offered exactly the opposite. He is a clear and present danger to the nation’s public health, and he should resign immediately.
Trump has dissembled about the seriousness of the coronavirus epidemic, either because he refuses to accept the truth or fears the effect on his political fortunes, or both. Months too late, he has finally started to acknowledge that the crisis is real, serious and likely to persist. Even so, as late as March 15, he untruthfully claimed that the U.S. government has the virus under “tremendous control.”
Trump repeatedly has refused to make science-based recommendations (e.g., older people should avoid cruise ships and plane travel) or to declare a public health emergency, reportedly out of fear about the effect on the stock market. It turns out that denying the truth visible to all doesn’t fool the market; and, in fact, when Trump did finally declare a public health emergency, markets reacted positively.
Trump has misstated his administration’s own policies, making multiple material misstatements in just one news conference, wreaking havoc across the world. At that one news conference, he stated there would be a ban on European cargo imports, which would have massively disrupted the global economy and in fact has not been imposed. He also failed to make clear that Americans in Europe would be permitted to return home, sparking a pointless, desperate scramble and emotional turmoil for countless Americans who sought a plane back to the United States before new travel restrictions kicked in (in fact, the restrictions don’t stop Americans from returning home).
Trump has presided over an administration that inexplicably has failed to deliver vitally needed coronavirus tests to health care providers around the country and then repeatedly lied to or misled the American public about remedying the problem. Instead of taking responsibility for the problem and fixing it, Trump has bizarrely blamed it on his predecessor, Barack Obama. “No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” says Trump.
This testing failure may be the single most consequential human factor responsible for the spread of the disease. It has been impossible for public health authorities to calibrate appropriate responses without a clear understanding of COVID-19 incidence in the United States. Even now, public health experts are merely guessing about the actual extent of disease spread in the United States. Nearly two months into the start of the disease in the United States, South Korea is testing 161 times more people per capita than the United States.
Beyond the testing debacle, there has been a shocking lack of leadership from the federal government under Trump. Governors and local authorities have stepped into the gap, but they are all clear that they are desperate for federal leadership. It has not been forthcoming. With states seeking federal assistance in providing the equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients, Trump replied, “Try getting it yourselves.”
Even for Trump, this Marie Antoinette response was shocking.
Crisis moments typically give rise to inspirational words from our leaders. Whether naturally gifted orators or not, they typically rise to the moment. They understand the need to share the truth with their compatriots. They understand the need both to calm and galvanize the nation in the face of fear and great challenges. And they understand the need to bring people together for shared national purpose, to spark kindness and solidarity.
Leaders do these things because they care about their people and their country — and because they understand that honesty, calm, shared purpose and solidarity are necessary to meet fearsome national challenges.
That Trump is doing the opposite of all this is not just a shortcoming or just another example of his boundless self-absorption.
Trump’s failings have nothing to do with political ideology or legitimate areas of policy disagreement. They are intolerable failures of leadership in a time of national crisis that have endangered the lives of all Americans. Trump should step down immediately.