The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a deliberate disaster from the beginning. But don’t take my word for it—just look at the facts.
Here’s the timeline:
In 2018, he let the pandemic-preparedness office in the National Security Council simply dissolve, and followed up with budget cuts to HHS and CDC this year. That team’s job was to follow a pandemic playbook written after global leaders fumbled their response to Ebola in 2014. Trump was briefed on the playbook’s existence in his first year – had he listened, the government would’ve started getting equipment to doctors two months ago.
The initial outbreak of the coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December, 2019.
By mid-January, 2020, the White House had intelligence reports that warned of a likely pandemic.
On January 18th, HHS Secretary Azar spoke with Trump to emphasize the threat of the virus just as US Diplomats were being evacuated from Wuhan.
Two days later, the virus was confirmed in both the US and South Korea.
That week, South Korean officials immediately drafted medical companies to develop test kits for mass production. The WHO declared a global health emergency. But Trump … did nothing.
As Hubei Province went on lockdown, Trump, who loves any excuse to enact a racist travel ban, barred entry of any foreigners coming from China (it was hardly proactive) but took no additional steps to prepare for infection in the United States.
He said, “We pretty much shut it down, coming in from China,”
He didn’t ramp up production of test kits so we could begin isolating the virus.
By February, the US had 14 confirmed cases but the CDC test kits proved faulty; there weren’t enough of them, and they were restricted to only people showing symptoms. The US pandemic response was already failing.
Trump then began actively downplaying the crisis and baselessly predicting it would go away when the weather got warmer.
Trump decided there was nothing to see here, and on February 24th, took time out of his day to remind us that the stock markets were soaring.
A day later, CDC officials sounded the alarm that daily life could be severely disrupted. The window to get ahead of the virus by testing and containment was closing.
Trump’s next move: He compared Coronavirus to the seasonal flu…and called the emerging crisis a hoax by the Democrats.
With 100 cases in the US, Trump declined to call for a national emergency.
Meanwhile, South Korea was now on its way to testing a quarter million people, while the US was testing 40 times slower.
When a cruise ship containing Americans with coronavirus floated toward San Francisco, Trump said he didn’t want people coming off the ship to be tested because they’d make the numbers look bad.
It wasn’t until the stock market reacted to the growing crisis and took a nosedive that Trump finally declared a national emergency.
By this time, South Korea had been using an app for over a month that pulled government data to track cases and alert users to stay away from infected areas.
Over the next weeks, as the virus began its exponential spread across the US, and Governors declared states of emergency, closing schools and workplaces and stopping the American economy in its tracks— Trump passed on every opportunity to get ahead of this crisis.
Trump’s priority was never public health. It was about making the virus seem like less of a nuisance so that the “numbers” would “look good” for his reelection.
Only when the stock market crashed did Trump finally begin to pay attention…and mostly to bailing out corporations in the form of a massive $500 billion slush fund, rather than to helping people. And then, with much of America finally and belatedly in lockdown, he said at a Fox News town hall that he would “love” to have the country “opened up, and just raring to go” by Easter.
At every point, Trump has used this crisis to compliment himself.
This is not leadership. This is the exact opposite of leadership.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.