Terry H. Schwadron
April 12, 2020
Though we now all are painfully aware of the effects, medical and otherwise, of coronavirus on our lives, the official response continues to feel largely haphazard, too often left to the whim of emergency and of individual actors, of which politically connected governors ask for help, of who is insistent on listening to polticisians or clergy who refuse to accept that there is still widespread disease.
And yet, night after night, Donald Trump stands at his White House podium, basically repeating over and over that things are as good as they can be under the circumstances, and that his administration deserves only plaudits and thanks from citizens who are fearful of an uncertain future, states that find themselves competing with one another, hospitals under siege, and medical and emergency front-line workers who are literally risking their lives to provide heroic care for those testing ill.
TrumpWorld thinks it has done a masterful job not only of managing a pandemic, but of preparing to turn the U.S. economy back on — as if there is a switch — and blithely rewriting the history of the last three or four months to make Trump look like a champ instead of a chump.
Let’s just assert that by listing big numbers for what the government is providing without listing the larger unmet needs, Trump is doing us or even himself no lasting good.
When we finally get to re-opening our businesses and social gatherings, it, too, will be patchwork, and differ from state to state, and soon, area to area, creating a virtual quilt of coverage.
I’m sure that we all know that it’s not just about fairy dust that seems at the heart of Trump management practices. There is real danger in the air, and we apparently need to keep repeating it — just as we do warnings about hand-washing and physical distancing.
It will continue or worsen as we move to declare this time over and try to return to “normal” without testing and the rest in place. From all we hear from the medical folks, this approach seems a guarantee that the problem will merely cycle.
Most of the rest of us think he is sipping too much rose-colored water, and that he actually has failed in many respects or made things worse by his ego-driven view of a presidency that makes it up as it goes along.
What is amazing to me is that roughly half the country — picking your poll says Trump’s approval in the crisis is rising slightly, but less than it might be for other presidents under siege, or dropping slightly — finds this president doing an okay job. I can only guess that these poll respondents are disproportionately either Trump supporters or people celebrating the news that the government is sending them a $1,200 check and expanding unemployment for an insufficient number of months.
Trump clearly is a much better politician than me. To me, we have a make-it-up set of mandates, voluntary orders and unwanted medical advice that started late, that seem likely to drag on for months, and that do not solve any of the myriad problems out there.
Whether these arrangements involve equipment made under wartime “voluntary” compliance, the mishmash that is our equipment delivery system through private companies that each make their own decisions, or pitting states against one another in an endless, expensive bidding war, the White House response is rather more pitiful than heroic.
Whether these actions involve closing national borders, but turning America’s back on the World Health Organization, the Trump White House is pretending that all medical and economic matters end at our borders.
Whether the orders involve use of masks that Trump himself declines to wear is simply inane.
It seems clear that as one reporter after another rises to ask daily, only to be insulted, there is No Plan.
We don’t have a plan for mitigation, for enough testing to know where we are in the fight, for treatment or remedy, to say nothing of economic reparations.
And it will turn out, of course, that the United States, which is suffering mightily, will end up miles ahead of developing countries, refugee centers, or areas where physical distancing is less able to happen.
It also seems clear that Trump simply does not want to address the several issues necessary for getting out of our problems — whether for personal political reasons, what passes for ideology for him or because it is simply too hard for him to do. Instead, he daily undercuts the work of those who can find ways out of the mess — the opposite of what we seek in a leader.
For example, Trump wants to brag on the number of tests given, because the number is large. But that number is dwarfed by the national population. What is dangerous is what we don’t know, of course. But what is more dangerous is not wanting to know, and that is Trump refusing to look at the full limits on testing. Besides, we are testing those who claim to be ill, not asymptomatic people who already may be infected.
And before people can return to work, we will need a testing protocol many times larger as well as contact tracing among newly diagnosed patients.
Somehow, the White House seems to think this is a matter of testing a few people in new hotspots.
We have been less than diligent in isolating patients, in tracing their contacts and in maintaining quarantines. We have been out to lunch at mandating physical separation practices. All these are seen as standard building blocks in the public health world.
Likewise, Trump has so far been silent about what to do with the information we are learning, including the inadequacies of our public health and emergency preparations and how to work with other nations. Trump has failed the test every first-year mayor in New York faces — how to get the streets cleared in a snowstorm.
We cannot seem to agree across state or international borders about how to count coronavirus cases or on whether the disease spread is leveling off or on bragging that the economy is ready to restart despite the dangers of disease. We are in open warfare, bureaucratically speaking, about where any of the $2 trillion is going.
We could use a good dose of fact, and a lot less braggadocio.