Trump has checked out from the pandemic fight. Now what?

Whether overwhelmed, bored or just plain lazy, he’s done fighting the disease

Published May 15, 2020 6:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Apart from the rah-rah claims from the White House, the theme repeatedly popping up is that Donald Trump has simply given up fighting the coronavirus — even with 83,000 U.S. deaths.

Trump's promotional turn to recovery and re-opening a dead economy, one that lacks consumer confidence and record joblessness, is seen as quitting the underlying cause for continuing concern.

Trump did return to the testing issue yesterday. He selectively picked statistics to declare his administration successfully has provided enough testing — for those who self-select as ill. That allows the country's initial return to work, he presumes. It was another zig in chaotic zig-zagging policy-setting at the White House.

There is a long string of choices building toward this conclusion:

  • Trump has forcefully put the fighting in the hands of governors, taking no responsibility for government missed efforts toward testing, workplace safety, even aid to states
  • His daily, repeated remarks
  • Refusal to wear a mask
  • Refusal to physically distance
  • Insistent support for protests to lift state lockdowns
  • Effective disbandment of a supervising task force and shelving of workplace guidance from the Centers for Disease Control

These all contribute to an unmistakable conclusion that he is done with disease.

The United States, the world's leading economy,  is unwilling to participate in international anti-virus research efforts. We have been flooded with reports from around the world marveling that Trump has proved ineffective in his own country and in theirs.

Trump is being seen as lazy in a situation calling for alert, effective action.

Sure, Trump has oodles of interest in his own political fortunes; he has a special mirror in which he sees nothing but a shining image of self. But this is about not doing his job, all the while having plenty of time to insult and demean, to eschew empathy for the ill and dead or even sitting with opponents to determine appropriate economic recovery plans.

What we hear

"Around the world, countries are winning the battle against the coronavirus and beginning a responsible return to work, school and leisure, confident that their governments have the deadly virus in check," wrote columnist Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

"But the United States plays the loser. Unwilling to do the hard work needed to beat the pandemic, we are quitting: forcing people back to work without protections people in other countries enjoy. The most powerful country in the world is failing."

Here's an op-ed from Andy Slavitt, who oversaw Obamacare for President Barack Obama: "Like many countries, we picked a strategy to beat COVID-19. We just decided not to stick to it. It's a long and difficult road, and after we climbed halfway we decided it was too hard and chose to roll back down the hill. But we've only flattened the curve, we haven't crushed it. The virus is still there. And we only flattened on average. In most places, the virus is still growing."

The Atlantic magazine argued, "Wielding actual authority is hard work for a lazy man…" about the managerial job of coordinating supply lines in 50 states.

The quitting theme is picking up steam, strangely even as Trump protesters are pushing for exactly that result.

It is leaving the door wide open for presidential hopeful Joe Biden to argue we are being presented with a false choice between work and economy on one hand, and health on the other.

As we celebrate heroes who turn to face the fire, Trump is running away.

Racing from the fire

Up until now, I've been explaining to myself that Trump simply hates news and developments that make him uncomfortable, personally and politically.

But I've been persuaded that this doesn't fully reflect why a president would simply turn his back on the worst health crisis to hit in 100 years. It's more that Trump does not want to lose or to be seen as losing — even in a fight with disease that clearly he cannot fully control.

What he can control is what we as a country do about disease. He could be consoler or comeback architect, he could be a strong leader to win Churchill-like commitment to adapting to the problem.

Instead, he is reverting to a selfish, isolated, distant and ineffective obstacle, often with out-and-out dangerous advice.

It will fall to science and manufacturing cleverness to change this story arc. Since the feds are unwilling to back the widespread testing needed to give the marketplace confidence to return, it is the creation of an acceptable vaccine approach, trustable home virus testing and a reliable antibodies test for possible immunity that will allow the country to take any policy decisions out of the White House.

By Terry H. Schwadron

MORE FROM Terry H. Schwadron

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Coronavirus Pandemic Covid-19 Dcreport Donald Trump