While the University of Washington’s coronavirus model — one often cited by the White House — is predicting American deaths will be nearly twice as high as it had previously predicted, and the New York Times reports that the White House’s own internal documents say the death toll could rise to 3,000 deaths every day by June 1, President Donald Trump is telling the American people that it’s time to ease the social distancing protocols.
What could go wrong?
A return to “normal” is impossible and an attempt to return to normal is a crazy proposition given the data we have. But it might make a little bit more sense if we had the disease-fighting basics of a developed, functioning nation in place: Widespread testing and tracking; adequate protective gear for hospital workers and all essential employees; and a health care system that took care of all sick people without pitching them into debt or even bankruptcy.
We should have invested in all of these things months ago, and must do so immediately. At the absolute minimum, the President should not reopen the country until we can adequately test, track and treat patients, and until we can provide enough PPE for all of our front-line workers.
Those aren’t pie-in-the-sky demands; they’re what any functional state would do. But coronavirus has made clear that the United States is no longer a fully functioning country; we are something closer to a failing state.
The Trump coronavirus response started out shockingly and appallingly badly, and has made little improvement over the months of the pandemic. Instead of taking responsibility, Trump offers lies and obfuscation. Instead of a plan, he tweets about his own ratings. Instead of making widespread testing and contagion tracking a reality, he advocated for an unproven preventative treatment, invents a scenario in which warm weather solves the problems he won’t address, and suggests there may be some promise in using disinfectants to treat humans. It would be darkly funny if the consequences were not literally life and death.
One of the few things this administration is putting effort into is politicizing the crisis. The White House has barred top disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of his coronavirus task force, from testifying before the Democratically-controlled House in May, while allowing him to testify before the Republican-controlled Senate, saying “the House is a bunch of Trump haters.”
But why, then, is the President using what one would assume is his precious virus-fighting time spreading misinformation at press conferences and posting a variety of self-aggrandizing tweets? Shouldn’t he be at least as busy as Dr. Anthony Fauci?
It’s hard to imagine the President working all night (or even during the day for more than a few minutes at a time). He has made clear that he cares about the stock market; less clear is whether he cares about Americans living or dying. And some Republican governors, like Brian Kemp of Georgia, have jumped on board, ignoring the advice of prevailing public health officials and reopening non-essential businesses like barber shops and gyms.
As for Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi have declined President Trump’s offer of rapid-results coronavirus tests for members of Congress; they rightly said that the tests should go to front-line workers instead. But this raises another question: Why does one of the most prosperous nations in the world still not have enough tests for front-line workers and congresspeople several months into a pandemic? Why must we ration coronavirus tests at all?
McConnell likely isn’t interested in answering that question. Instead, he’s decided to reconvene the Senate this week.
The average senator is nearly 63 years old. About a quarter of the senate is 70 or older. Coronavirus has hit older folks the hardest and spreads when people are in close physical proximity to each other. Gathering a group of old people together in a city where the infection and death rates continue to rise seems, at the very least, extremely unwise. That is presumably why Pelosi decided not to reconvene the House this week, despite it having a slightly younger (although still graying) demographic.
The American people are right to be frustrated and nervous. Tens of millions have lost their jobs.
Millions have seen loved ones sick or dying, or have become ill themselves. Many of us have been in lockdown for a month and a half. We are worried about our family’s lives and our livelihoods. And yet, still, there’s no plan to get a handle on this thing. Though some Americans have received assistance from expanded unemployment benefits and the paycheck protection plan loans given to small businesses, countless others are still not able to get by.
While Trump has, at times, claimed he has “ultimate authority,” his self-contradicting acknowledgement that much of the power to address this crisis lies with each state’s governor is correct. This does not, however, excuse the lack of presidential leadership in creating an informed and unified nation as we face that changes and devastation this virus has caused.
Trump’s preferred style of leadership is capricious, simple-minded and narcissistic, leaving experts to navigate his unpredictability. Those experts — and public health officials the world over — have noted what is needed to fight the pandemic: widespread testing and widespread tracking, as well as personal protective equipment for all who need it. And, yes, careful and enforced social distancing rules.
The United States is not the first or only country to grapple with this outbreak. But we seem to be handling it far worse than some of our peers. The result is a catastrophic economic downturn and body bags piled high. It didn’t have to be this way. But thanks to our feckless, preening leader, there is no plan. There is only a tremendous (and in a fairer world, criminal) dereliction of duty.