In the midst of a life-threatening crisis the public wants and needs consistent and truthful information from the nation’s leader. Here are some of President Trump’s responses to the deadly coronavirus pandemic:
In January the president told America that the US would face “very little problem with coronavirus.” Through February he was comparing it to the flu. On January 22 he was asked by a CNBC reporter if he was “worried about the pandemic.” Trump responded, “No, not at all. We have it totally under control. It’s one person from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be fine.”
On February 10 he told a campaign rally that “it looks like the virus will be gone by April”, and on March 27 he told a rally in South Carolina that coronavirus was “the new Democrats hoax.” On the same day he said that the outbreak will disappear, “one day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.” On March 6 President Trump said, “Anyone who wants a test can get it. They are there. They have tests and the tests are beautiful.” Now, a month later, that statement is still not true. The current estimate is that the US is short 27 million tests.
On March 13 when he was again asked about the lack of testing, Trump said, “I am not responsible for that. I don’t take responsibility at all.” It is interesting to note that in 2013 he tweeted a criticism of President Obama’s leadership, concluding with “Leadership: whatever happens you’re responsible. If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.”
As the pandemic grew in early March, he placed blame for testing problems on President Barrack Obama’s administration, saying that they “made a decision on testing that turned detrimental to what we are doing.” In fact, the Obama administration did not implement new rules regarding testing. Trump told the press conference on March 30 that the nation should be congratulating his administration, claiming it “inherited a broken testing system” and that his team “made it great.”
The fact is that he didn’t inherit either a great or a broken COVID-19 test because the COVID-19 didn’t exist before 2019. Further, the Trump administration was offered testing equipment by the World Health Organization and declined it.
When blaming testing problems on the previous administration was proven false, Trump said that the Obama response to H1N1 pandemic “was a full-scale disaster with thousands dying and nothing meaningful done to fix testing until now.” Actually, President Obama declared a public-health emergency immediately after the first case was reported (Trump waited seven weeks after the first case) and testing was not the problem it is today. The big issue they faced in 2009 was vaccine development.
On March 17 President Trump claimed he “always knew it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” This came after two months of consistently proclaiming it a hoax, no worse than the flu. On March 24 the president declared that he wants “America opened and raring to go by Easter.” Last week he said he wants to see full athletic stadiums this summer. Both statements were his alone and did not reflect the opinions of either the health experts or the officials of major sports leagues.
President Trump blamed the supply shortage of critical equipment such as ventilators and personal protection equipment on inheriting an “empty stockpile form Obama.” Again, that is not true. Nel Greenfieldboyce of NPR visited the stockpile warehouse a month before Trump was inaugurated. She found full shelves “packed so tall that it made me dizzy.”
She reported that it was filled with millions of doses of vaccines and antivirals, medicine to treat radiation sickness, wound care supplies, IV fluids and antibiotics. And, most relevant to the current situation, there were rows and rows of ventilators that were charged monthly and serviced annually. In all, the “empty stockpile” warehouse contained $7 billion in products and more than 700 line items.
It was the Trump administration that failed to take timely action to bolster supplies. The Associated Press reviewed federal government purchasing contracts and found that bulk orders for N-95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other material needed by the hospitals were not placed until mid-March. The United States was two months behind the curve, and it certainly was not the fault of the Obama administration.
The president reported that his administration’s action to get needed supplies to the states has been “incredible, unbelievable.” The Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Service, however, issued a report to the contrary.
Based on a March 23-27 survey of 323 hospitals from around the country, the hospitals were facing “severe shortages” of crucial supplies and equipment. The lack of “testing supplies and the extended wait for results limited their ability to monitor patients and staff.”
According to the report, they don’t have enough masks for workers and not enough ventilators for patients. When asked about the report at his April 6 interaction with the press, the president did not express concern, but responded “It is just wrong. Give me the name of that inspector general. Could politics be entered into that? When was she appointed?” Last week when his statements were questioned by a reporter, Trump did not respond with substance, but with the words, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” He is a man who has no relationship with truth, integrity, or empathy.
Shame is perhaps an appropriate word, but aimed at the president rather than at those who question him. I agree with Susan Rice, writing in the Washington Post, “As an American I have been horrified by the president’s response to the pandemic.” He is simply not able to deal with anyone who fails to worship him. He runs the country as if he is still acting in a sleazy reality show, firing people for entertainment. On November 3 it will be our turn to say to President Trump, “you’re fired.”
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.