Terry H. Schwadron
April 10, 2020
For Donald Trump to present himself as a “winner,” there always must be a loser.
It’s a basic Trump building block. The art-of-the-deal is that someone must win and therefore the other guy must lose. There seldom seems a place to acknowledge that a global pandemic makes losers of all of us or that for an actual piece of bipartisanship to pass the Congressional aid bills is a shared win.
In his world, as we see on daily display now, anything good that his government has achieved towards distributing necessary emergency stockpiles means that governors and states must have screwed up in not building their own, or that every question from a reporter that he does not want to answer must be a “nasty” criticism, as if the reporter’ jobs are to promote his propaganda.
The new foe: The World Health Organization, which spoke out before Trump did in calling for worldwide measures to counter coronavirus. In his rewriting of history, Trump now basically says that WHO, the global version of CDC, was way off the mark in calling attention to the global nature of this disease spread, to call for closed borders, or to act sufficiently to call attention. Or at least his attention.
As a result, in the middle of a pandemic that is sure to rock the world for another year or more, he wants to pull American support for doctors, medical researchers, epidemiologists and anti-disease experts mostly just so he has a strawman foe. Trump has made WHO the loser to his own winning status.
Have we mentioned that Trump is running for reelection and wants Americans to applaud and thank his every breath rather than express fears that their actual medical status, homes, work and hopes and dreams could well have been seriously funded by Trump’s own failure to act early and aggressively?
The record is becoming full with documents, interviews and news reporting that illustrate the Trump administration itself was slow to the fight. What is obvious, but what will be difficult to draw agreement in our huge political divide, is that these delays resulted in delays in getting sufficient testing under way, appropriate equipment manufacture of ventilators and protective equipment, to reckoning with the economic fallout. Those delays led to thousands of American deaths.
Indeed, the record is filled with the opposite, as repeated daily on television, with statements by Trump downplaying the worst dangers of the disease. Or suggesting that warm weather would make it disappear. Or than one drug among many would dissolve medical effects.
Now Trump is threatening to withhold funding from WHO as the virus continues to hold the world hostage. “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” Trump said, insisting that WHO served Americans poorly. “They called it wrong. They call it wrong. They really, they missed the call.”
The New York Times, among others, looked at the various timelines involved. “In fact, the WHO sounded the alarm in the earliest days of the crisis, declaring a “public health emergency of international concern” a day before the United States secretary of health and human services announced the country’s own public health emergency and weeks before Trump declared a national emergency,” concluded the news outlet.
Indeed, about 40 nations had shut down travel from China by the time Trump ordered flights to stop to the United States. As documented now, at least 470,000 visitors came to the United States from China during the coronavirus outbreak, including 40,000 in the days after Trump’s shutdown of flights.
In effect, The Times and other news reports say, “Trump sought to denounce the WHO for the very missteps and failures that have been leveled at him and his administration. Public health experts have said the president’s public denials of the virus’s dangers slowed the American response, which included delayed testing and a failure to stockpile protective gear.”
Trump is particularly angry that WHO did not support his decision to limit some travel from China, preferring the kind of stay-at-home lockdown we now have in place. At the time, the group said that “restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.”
In fact, WHO repeatedly issued warnings about the emergence of the virus in China and its spread across the world, though Trump finds that the organization has been “China-centric” without significant explanation, and noting that the U.S. support for WHO dwarfs China’s contributions.
The irony here is that examination of the genetics of the illness show it came from Europe to the United States, not directly from China.
So, how are we supposed to view this tiff?
It is clear that Trump enjoys having a new target to blame for the pandemic and that has caused American disruption as if there were no effect across the rest of the world.
But it is hard to avoid concluding that Trump simply needs a loser to declare himself a winner.
If the United States stops aid to the UN health group, halting efforts in 150 offices around the world on this virus and a host of other communicable diseases, it simply masks the real problem of debilitating disease around the world and particularly in developing countries. As we see, the illness in far-off Wuhan or Romania is going to be ours in short time.
In other words, it is hard to see how punishing a global health agency either excuses the Trump administration failures or makes Americans safer.
Doing so merely gives Trump a shadow sparring partner.