A lot has changed since my March 17 “Trump Lacks the Leadership Gene” was posted. The day before that Spy op-ed piece appeared, I added a hopeful addendum after the president declared a national emergency on March 13: “As I finished this commentary . . . President Trump suddenly got serious at a press conference, though he later tweeted snarky complaints about two governors and the New York Times. Trump has not yet earned the benefit of our doubt. But let’s hope he rises to the occasion, however belatedly.”
Since then, the president has only sunk deeper in the mire of incompetence and dishonesty regarding his tragic mishandling of the pandemic. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared on “Meet the Press” that the week between Palm Sunday and Easter “is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment,” echoed by the warning of “really disturbing” days ahead by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The White House had no scheduled coronavirus task force briefing at the time. But when the president changed his mind following such dire predictions by government medical experts, an important announcement was widely expected.
Instead, we got even more drivel than usual.
In all likelihood, Trump added this last-minute briefing in order to obliviate Joe Biden’s virtual town hall, scheduled for the same hour, 7 p.m. Sunday, with his wife, Jill, a PhD in education.
For three years, many Americans have wondered what would happen if and when Trump faced a real crisis—one not of his own making. Now we know.
Trump has failed America.
Yes, we should all get behind the president in a time of crisis. But now it may be too late to matter. The virus will take its course. All we can do is heed the experts, stay home and pray for the sick, the healers and governors, Maryland’s included, who get what it is to lead in a crisis.
I don’t have a mask. But I’ll wear whatever I can find to cover my face next time I go to the supermarket. My next doctor’s appointment will be via Zoom. Trump can’t even manage to fake support for recommendations by his own team. There’s little attention to social distancing at his briefings. He still refuses to order nationwide shelter-in-place. And he all but mocked the latest recommendation—yes, it was a voluntary one—by declaring he wouldn’t wear a mask, suggesting he’d look silly to visiting potentates. Worse, he belittled science indicating that even assuming perfect compliance with social-distancing, stay-at-home and other prudent precautions, the minimum range of U.S. deaths we can expect is 100,000 to 240,000. That’s what disease models show—to which Trump remarked that he’s not involved in modeling, adding “not that kind of model.” As if this is an appropriate time and place for an off-color joke, which in the context is obscene.
Nor was it the time or place to blast still another governor for complaining about the federal response to pleas for life-saving ventilators and protective medical equipment. “There’s a governor, I hear him complaining all the time. Pritzker [Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker]. He has not performed well.”
Trump conceded that the country is in for one of the “toughest weeks” yet. But he also called the 1.6 million tests conducted so far in the United States as the most in the world—surpassing Italy or South Korea. As “Morning Joe” Scarborough pointed out, “It’s like saying California did more tests than Delaware.” A day later Trump lied that testing was not the federal government’s responsibility, after weeks of lying that testing was available to “everyone who wants one.” We’ve subsequently learned that Trump was warned by trade adviser Peter Navarro in January that up to a million Americans would die in a pandemic without decisive action.
Trump squandered at least a two-month heads-up.
The president still brags about blocking flights from China, though 40,000 passengers got through anyway, and about hospitals being “thrilled” at supplies they’re receiving from his administration, while his own Health and Human Services report by the department’s inspector general reveals a starkly different reality. Nurses demonstrate outside New York hospitals, holding photos of colleagues killed by the virus. Meanwhile, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, a know-nothing slumlord—just ask his Essex, Md., tenants—claims the national stockpile of vital medical equipment belongs to the federal government, not the states. To prove Kushner right, the “national stockpile” definition was amended on the White House website the next day.
Expect the HHS inspector general to be fired on the heels of the dismissal of the IG who referred the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. (Yes, the president’s supporters still use that excuse for his viral inattention when the true fault is that he fires almost everyone around him who tells him what he doesn’t want to hear. In any case, he doesn’t read, doesn’t listen.)
But most suspect in his Palm Sunday briefing was the 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine Trump says were added to the stockpile. Based on no credible scientific evidence, he’s relentlessly touted the anti-malarial drug as a possible COVID-19 treatment. Navarro, like Trump a medical amateur, had the temerity to challenge Fauci about the drug’s efficacy in a tense exchange at a task force meeting. When Trump repeated his plug at the briefing, reporters challenged him, to which he spun more out-loud wishful thinking. When Fauci finally appeared at the podium, a CNN reporter pointedly sought his opinion on the drug as a coronavirus treatment. Trump stepped forward before Fauci could speak complaining, “He’s already answered that question 15 times.” Citing more “fake news,” he ended the briefing.
What is it with Trump and hydroxychloroquine? Since he refuses to divulge his tax returns or details about businesses he refused to divest as president, it begs the question: Do the Trumps have a financial interest in this unproven-for-COVID drug?
Steve Parks is a retired New York journalist now living in Easton.