An Account of Donald Trump's Coronavirus High-Speed Chase
For over a month, I’ve felt like someone handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser careening through the streets—with a toddler behind the wheel. Powerless to do little more than yell, scream, occasionally throw myself against the car window, and remind myself to breathe, I’ve been praying for a rescue.
The fact is the vehicle every American is locked inside of as COVID-19 rages through our streets is crawling with people in high places who haven’t seemed to be able to press the right pedals and steer straight at the same time. Our president has been fixated on self and the superficial; his Cabinet and staff have been enabling his whims and covering his gaffes; and a Congressional caucus has continued to be largely gambling for partisan profit and fearful of retribution.
Taking America on a Wild Ride
Since occupying the driver’s seat of our country, President Trump has taken millions of us on more unpresidential rides than we care to recount. For three years, we’ve bumped through off-road jaunts, abided lurches, endured screeches, stomached abrupt U-turns, and even survived ignored red lights.
Trump has freely used his presidential license to try to move us wherever and however he wishes. Paying little regard to even some of the most basic rules of the road, far too often he’s shown a level of immaturity that’s dropped jaws both at home and abroad.
Before now, much of what this president has done, at worst, has simply embarrassed or infuriated half of the nation. Before now, we had reasonable means to move past a good deal of his self-serving honking, and even to escape the dangers of his barreling in the wrong direction on one-way streets. We could retreat to safer avenues of distraction. We could go about our daily routines and, for the most part, ignore insult and avoid injury.
Driving Erratically During Crisis
Now . . . the novel coronavirus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) has changed everything. Today, April 17, there are nearly 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and the virus has killed over 36,000 Americans. Yet the person who should be steering us with prudence and selflessness through this catastrophic journey has habitually taken flights of fancy during coronavirus-related interviews and daily press briefings (which haven’t been brief and often have contained no pressing presidential information).
During these “briefings,” it’s been painful to watch the president of the United States robotically read scripted platitudes, apparently thinking that splashing them with anemic ad-libs and hyperbole makes him sound more natural or convincing.
Trump’s used these appearances to heap praises on himself and his administration, all while jammed into a bumper-car approach to drive away a pandemic, when we’ve needed an armored vehicle assault. Further, his highly unprofessional behavior has marred almost every briefing and his written public statements: He’s sparred with reporters who’ve asked legitimate questions. He’s even tweeted about his briefings’ TV ratings and . . . about not footing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s security bill.
Having peddled unscientific declarations as truth and pressed experts to make unfounded statements—to suit his political purposes—on Tuesday, March 31, Trump finally seemed to shift from his public economy-first focus. In his press briefing, he gave scientific data rightful front-seat status (after two months of stuffing it under a cushion of disregard). He allowed White House Coronavirus Task Force scientists to detail sobering projections for American COVID-19 deaths.
Trump’s compulsion to interject comments diametrically opposed to fact notwithstanding, Task Force experts Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci were able to present data-driven snapshots of what the nation might expect in coming weeks and months. They were able to implore the country to follow all directives issued to try to save as many lives as possible. And they were able to field journalists’ questions.
Driving Distractions . . . Again
Still, during that Tuesday’s briefing, in the midst of what’s been termed Trump’s most somber health crisis behavior, the president managed to yield to the road rage he’s infamous for displaying. Again . . . he plowed into members of the media and inexplicably blared his siren at the imagined infractions of perceived political enemies.
At the very next day’s briefing, Trump’s distracted driving zigzagged us all again. Instead of strengthening his grip on the crisis leadership wheel, in light of what the nation’s slogging through and where it’s headed, he stretched to redirect America’s focus to yet another of his theatrically staged presentations.
As if the alarming data highlighted the day before were little more than speed bumps, Trump did not lead with information directly addressing coronavirus health concerns. Flanked by an array of military leaders, he led by announcing “enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere.” He spent prime briefing time putting on a choreographed display designed to convince the public that ramping up the drug cartels fight is as important as ensuring that hospitals have enough ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). It all felt like an April Fools’ Day joke.
Green-lighting an Amateur
Then on Thursday, April 2, Trump trotted out son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, shockingly revealing him as the person who’s been sliding behind the wheel to steer the administration’s coronavirus response. Kushner related that he’s been quite involved in delivering hospital resources, including much-needed PPE, essentially wherever his father-in-law and he see fit. He even repeatedly revved his ill-equipped engine when questioned about reported difficulties a number of states have had securing critical equipment and supplies from the national stockpile.
That day Kushner—who has no crisis management, logistics, or public health credentials—created more concern than he allayed. The extent to which he’s wielding influence is beyond unsettling: Kushner is chairing an unofficial task force comprising representatives from a variety of industries. And he not only handpicked its members, but also, until recently, housed it at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Peddling Without a License
What’s even worse than having someone masquerading as a legitimate crisis manager during a pandemic is having a U.S. president with no medical training repeatedly dispensing advice as if he were a physician. By touting the efficacy of treatments not yet proven as valid COVID-19 therapies, Trump keeps crossing the solid dividing line to go around the steady pacing of White House Coronavirus Task Force physicians, including the head of the Food and Drug Administration. As much as Trump wants a medicinal quick fix for this crisis, experts say what he’s pushing simply isn’t it. And, not administered properly, the primary drug he keeps spotlighting could even harm COVID-19 patients.
Seven of Trump’s Most Nauseating Coronavirus Crisis Stunts . . .
(1) He refuses to accept any responsibility for his woeful crisis preparedness and response. He insists he “inherited a mess” from previous administrations and wrongly says nobody could’ve seen this coming. He also blames the governors of embattled states, vilifies the World Health Organization, and attacks hospital administrators.
(2) He urged reporters and New York officials to investigate the “apparent” theft of PPE (implicating hospital staff), because some hospitals’ reported usage has increased almost thirtyfold, burning through up to 300,000 pieces of protective gear within a specified period (which . . . um . . . might be expected in frontline pandemic patient care).
(3) In the middle of announcing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that all Americans wear a cloth face covering when away from their homes, Trump rammed the guidance into a wall. He said he has no plans to don a mask himself because it wouldn’t look good. And he stressed that complying with the directive is voluntary.
(4) He flatly refutes the logic in having a national coronavirus testing strategy, ignoring state and local leaders’ cries for testing assistance. Referencing the data on total tests performed in the U.S., he erroneously claims that, per capita, America leads all nations. Actually, the country is well behind several developed nations in coronavirus testing. And not until two days ago, April 15, did the total reportedly rise to a mere one percent of the entire population.
(5) Amid coronavirus briefings, that America has tuned in to for expert updates, Trump has had jokes . . . about the “Deep State” Department, being involved with fashion models, taking the uncomfortable standard coronavirus test, distancing himself from a slightly ailing doctor on the dais (as she was informing the nation).
(6) He suggested that his signature be added to millions of economic stimulus checks, reportedly delaying their dissemination, because the check template had to be recoded. (Trump’s position does not qualify him to legally sign these disbursements, so his name will be placed in the “memo” section.)
(7) During a briefing about his push to reopen the nation, he again declared himself as having “total” and “absolute” authority to do whatever he wishes. This time he wrongly asserted that he has the power to force states to lift restrictions they put in place to fight the coronavirus’ spread.
All while across the nation . . . overwhelmed hospital staffs, emergency responders, and grocery personnel were endangering their lives and those of their loved ones . . . women were laboring and giving birth with slim or no family support . . . patients were suffering and dying in isolation . . . refrigerator trucks were holding morgue and mortuary overflow . . . and mass graves were housing unclaimed bodies.
Accelerating Toward a Risky Course
Trump’s rush to reopen the country for the sake of the economy (originally targeting Easter and then May 1) shows he doesn’t grasp the magnitude of the response needed to mitigate the spread of this virus.
Yes, he’s acknowledged that the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in some hot spots is gradually declining. And, when questioned, he acknowledged that African Americans are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for an alarming number of deaths.
But he claimed not to know why—despite the enduring disadvantages heaped on blacks by systemic racism. He seemed ignorant of three critical barriers impeding many African Americans’ ability to defend against the coronavirus: limited access to health care, physical distancing challenges (due to dense living and transportation conditions), and little to no opportunity to telework. All meaning a rushed wave of reopening puts generations within families at immense risk.
And even with yesterday’s introduction of the administration’s phased reopening guidelines, Trump still does not see the necessity of a consistent, detailed road map that includes a centralized logistical operation for emergency equipment, supplies, and volunteers, along with much-expanded testing and contact tracing systems. And he refuses to embrace the obvious: Reopening the nation before adequately addressing what’s feeding the health crisis is dangerous—to the very workers and consumers central to the economy’s success.
Certainly, as an unprecedented number of Americans are turning to food banks and struggling to pay their bills, we all want to see the nation recover as quickly as possible economically. And most of us understand that aggressively attacking this health threat is the key to this happening. Doing everything possible to significantly slow the spread of the virus and to determine who’s already recovered from it (perhaps indicating immunity) is critical to knowing who might safely reenter the workplace.
Disturbingly, though, Trump is prepared to race on and ignore pavement markings, flashing red lights, clanging bells, and crossing gates. Today he posted tweets actually encouraging protesters (many openly armed and violating the very congregating and social distancing measures the Coronavirus Task Force reiterated the day before). This foolish behavior further shows he doesn’t care that this coronavirus will not respond to rhetoric or bullying, abides by no calendar but its own, and travels along on its own course, at its own pace.
Pleading for Intervention
As this president drives on, squinting through the fog of a pandemic, overwhelmingly reliant on his own vision, easily turned aside by whims and grudges . . . human nature juggles my screams with my not-so-quiet pleas:
Somebody, please, get this president to see that denying accountability—that comes with being a wartime president (which he dubbed himself weeks ago)—is inconsistent with leading the fight against this coronavirus . . .
Somebody, please, get him to see that riffing about witch hunts, reelection conspiracies, and others’ character and capacity is inconsistent with the image of commander in chief that he apparently holds so dear . . .
Even as I plead, the glaring light of Donald Trump’s unfitness washes out my hopes that—barring a miracle—he can develop the capacity to find humility, to cultivate empathy, to adhere to wise counsel, to value right instruction, to silence the clamor of distraction . . . to toil for the greater good.
He keeps saying he sees the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” . . . I’m just afraid he doesn’t know it’s because he’s driving in the dark—about to meet a bullet train.