While Trump was in deep denial, governors fought the coronavirus war

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President Trump calls the coronavirus pandemic a war. Well, wars are won by taking the initiative, which this president certainly hasn’t done.

Instead, while Trump was denying even the existence of a threat, state governors were on the battlefield.  Compare Trump’s performance in the last three weeks with that of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R-Md.), a businessman before he was first elected in 2014.

On February 25 and 26, respectively, Trump misleadingly insisted that a vaccine would soon be available and that within a few days the coronavirus cases “would be close to zero.” Four days later, Governor Hogan held a press conference to tell the people of Maryland to plan for school closures, cancelled events and working from home, even though there were no diagnosed cases in the state.  

On March 6, Trump predicted that the coronavirus would “miraculously go away” in warm weather. Over the next few days, Hogan signed emergency legislation to allow for increased funds to fight the virus, cancelled out-of-state travel for state employees, convened a coronavirus response team and established a help line for the public to call with questions. 

On March 13, Trump made a misleading claim that Google was developing a website –“it’s going to be very quickly done” – that would determine whether an individual needed testing and direct that person to a test facility. That same week Hogan responded to Maryland’s first case of community transmitted coronavirus by activating the Maryland National Guard, prohibiting mass gatherings, shutting the Baltimore cruise ship terminal and announcing that public schools would be closed.

Hogan isn’t the only governor who went on a wartime footing. The others include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) who pressed Trump for days to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to build and expand hospitals. The Defense Department is only just now prepared to send the Corps to help the states, although Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper has cautioned that there are limits to what it can do. 

The governors are pressuring Trump to supply their hospitals with ventilators, whose shortage is likely to become the next crisis point as more people fall ill with COVID-19. On a recent call with Trump, state governors could not even get a clear answer whether the federal government could or would provide ventilators. 

After the call Governor Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, observed that “some of my colleagues are pretty upset,” and noted that “the governors are really leading and taking charge in their individual states because while the federal government has had some guidelines, which are changing, they have not given clear directives.”

The governors’ message to the president: Lead, follow or get out of the way. Indeed, a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that while only 37 percent of Americans trusted the information Trump has provided about the pandemic, 72 percent, nearly twice as many, trusted what they heard from state and local officials.  

By taking the initiative, state governors may well have bought crucial time, which is measured in weeks, for the United States to flatten the coronavirus curve and avoid a health care catastrophe like Italy’s. They led by being honest with their fellow citizens about the threat, looking ahead, thinking imaginatively and taking responsibility. 

Trump avoided taking responsibility like, well, it was the plague. He denies accountability for the lack of testing kits and the disbandment of the pandemic team at his own National Security Council in 2018, and blames President Obama for whatever he can.  

While medical workers risk their lives to help people with COVID-19 Trump applauds himself for things he didn’t do. On January 22 he said there were no “worries about a pandemic” but now he credits himself with his farsightedness in recognizing the threat before anyone else: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” 

The state governors acted like courageous leaders. Donald Trump, not so much.

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.

Tags #coronavirus #2019nCoV #contagion Andrew Cuomo coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Google Larry Hogan Maryland U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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