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Juan Williams: Trump must be held to account over coronavirus

What’s next?

Cancel the November election?

It could come to that, because despite the power of incumbency and a passionate political base, President Trump’s political prospects are looking shaky.

{mosads}The Trump administration’s incompetent response to the coronavirus has sent financial markets on a rollercoaster ride while triggering an explosion of public anxiety.

Last week’s nationally televised speech from the Oval Office was full of factual errors. And on an emotional level it failed to reassure the public or the financial markets as evidenced by the alarming response from apolitical money managers.

They voted with a sell-off. Suddenly the word “Recession” has new currency. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average saw their single biggest drops last week since the “Black Monday” stock market crash of 1987.

Then there is the political backlash from the right to consider:

Trump regularly fires up his base by telling them he is looking out for them. He presents himself as their guardian, standing between them and every threat.

He will build a wall to keep out the immigrants.

He will bring back jobs in coal mines and manufacturing factories.

He will ignore climate change so the government won’t ask his fans to limit use of fossil fuels.

Well, four years later there is no wall. Coal mines and manufacturing remain in decline. Household debt and the national deficit continue to balloon.

And now he has failed to protect anyone with his faulty response to a pandemic. Local officials in the absence of federal leadership took the lead by shutting down schools, major sports leagues and Broadway shows.

Trump’s primary response has been political spin.

He blames his failures on the “Fake News” media and the Democrats. He blames Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. He blames President Obama.

The reality is that Trump’s failure to protect Americans from the virus is very hard to spin.

Last week a Hill/HarrisX poll found 53 percent of registered voters disapproving of the president’s response to the virus. And 58 percent of independent voters also disapproved.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 55 percent of Americans are either “somewhat” or “very” concerned there will be a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus.

Keep in mind these numbers are likely to go up because Trump’s base among Republicans is currently the least concerned about the impact of the virus. Trump told them not to worry.

A week after the first American was diagnosed with the virus in January Trump said, “We have it totally under control.” 

On February 24 he sent the same message, tweeting: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

Trump’s spin, echoed by his choir in right-wing media, continued to downplay the public health crisis and dismissed the need to declare a national emergency.

He predicted on February 26 that the number of infections is “going very substantially down, not up” and in “a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Incredibly, on February 28 he put more spin on the message by saying: “It’s going to disappear…like a miracle — it will disappear.”

When it did not disappear and passengers got sick on a cruise ship off the California coast, Trump put political appearances first by saying he did not favor allowing sick people off the boat for treatment.

“I like the numbers being where they are,” he said of the total number of people counted as suffering with the virus in the U.S.

“I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Trump’s biggest failure is his administration’s inability to provide testing kits to detect the virus.

Seven weeks after the first case of Coronavirus in the U.S. was made public, the problem with inadequate supply of tests is there for everyone, including Trump’s supporters, to see.

And without proper testing, medical authorities have no idea about the size of the population already infected and spreading the disease.

{mossecondads}Congressional panels have spent weeks grilling top Trump administration officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over the government’s failure to provide enough testing equipment in the early stages of the outbreak.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now…That is a failing. It is a failing, let’s admit it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That is just one part of the failure.

In 2018, the Trump administration decided to disband the White House’s global health security team.

Given the depth of the political hole he has dug eight months before the presidential election, does anyone really think the president would hesitate to use the coronavirus as justification for postponing or canceling the next presidential election?

Now is the time for journalism to hold the president and his administration and their Republican enablers in Congress fully accountable for their spin and failure to govern effectively.

Americans are panicked. The markets are tanking. People are dying. If now is not the time for Trump’s base, independent voters and journalists to challenge him on his failures then there will never be a good time to do it.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel

Tags 2020 presidential election Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Infectious diseases

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