No matter how you spin it, 6 million cases of Covid-19 and 185,000 dead Americans is not a success story. It is a tragic story of failure … a failure in leadership to safeguard the American people.
This story begins early this year with the president being repeatedly warned of the danger and failing to take timely substantive action. The action he did take, partial travel bans from China in late January and from the E.U. one and a half weeks later, was too little too late. Chinese deception was met with presidential indecisiveness. The president squandered the precious time needed to prepare and mobilize the nation to contain the virus. Instead, his repeated denials downplayed the threat.
Then, as presidential denials conflicted with rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases and deaths, he belatedly acknowledged the danger. To his credit, he brought CDC officials into the public dialogue and created a coronavirus task force. He declared war on the virus, but also said, “No, I accept no responsibility.” And, when CDC scientific experts contradicted many of his pronouncements, he pushed them aside and sought a way out … a way out for him.
The president’s way out was to transfer responsibility and blame away from himself. Domestically he pointed to governors; internationally he pointed to China. As in his reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” the actor-president wanted to create his own reality and sit in judgement of others … to assign failure and culpability. No amount of misdirection, however, changes the fact that we are three and a half years into the Trump presidency, and it is his watch.
The middle of the story has the president trying to control the narrative. He presided over reconvened task force briefings, which turned into rallies designed to divide us politically rather than unite us in common cause. He used his bully pulpit to spread misinformation, make rosy predictions, and bask in vain self-praise. But as the pandemic worsened, his efforts failed to convince the majority of Americans that the situation was under control.
The president then tried to change the conversation. He relied upon his proven technique of manufactured chaos and used it upon multiple fronts with the intent of worsening situations in order to administer dubious cures. Whether enflaming protestors with authoritarian tactics, creating fear in suburban communities with minority invasions, or embroiling us in a U.S. Post Office dispute over mail voter fraud, all was done to divert our attention from his mismanagement of the pandemic. And, all the while, Americans continued to die in the thousands.
At present the story has become cyclic; it just continues to repeat itself. Eventually it will end, but not all stories end happily … certainly not for everyone. History will be the ultimate judge of how the U.S. with 4% of the world population suffered 23% of COVID-19 deaths. But, beyond the judgement of history, what can we do until better treatments and an effective vaccine are developed?
In the absence of a fully coordinated national response, we must rely upon the truth tellers. The CDC, even though partially muzzled, is still a good source of reliable information. We can also look to enlightened governors, national science centers, and local administrators and medical communities who offer fact-based protocols to guide us.
This disjointed approach is not the ideal, but, as the president says, “It is what it is.” Maybe so, but we must do our part. Whether conservative or liberal, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or high-risk, we must act responsibly for the benefit of all Americans.
Our nation will survive this crisis, but sadly, not all its people.