The bad record of this national crisis

United Press International

During national crises, we count on presidents to rise to the occasion, to mobilize and galvanize, and to lift us from our fears. Think of the fireside chats that Franklin Roosevelt held during the Great Depression and World War Two, the promise by John Kennedy to land Americans on the moon despite the staggering risk, and the stirring address that Ronald Reagan gave the country after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

These moments have tested and measured our ability to do bold things. So it is worth enshrining the actions of Donald Trump since the outbreak of the coronavirus. It is a record of delay, denial, and disinformation. The president undermined our defense against this pandemic by dismantling the National Security Council Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense, which monitored and prepared responses to global health crises. He refused to replace its leader, Admiral Timothy Ziemer.

His mismanagement started when he proposed slashing the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He severely downplayed the coronavirus for nearly two months when it emerged in China. He deceived us on January 22 when he declared, “We have it totally under control. It is one person coming in from China. It is going to be just fine.”

He deluded us on February 24 when he tweeted that the coronavirus “is very much under control” and the stock market was “starting to look very good.” Within two weeks, it would lose around $3 trillion in value, which was, well, not very good. He disregarded his own health experts. He lied about the progress for a treatment on February 25 when he stated, “We are very close to a vaccine.” He continued to disregard his own health experts on February 26 when he said the 15 cases in the United States “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

In an interview with Sean Hannity on March 4, he dismissed the death rate statistics by the World Health Organization and offered his own based on a “hunch” that turned out to be ridiculously wrong. He endangered us when he stated the same day, “We have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better.” Doctors across the country had to correct him and warn people not to go to work.

He lied about that comment when he tweeted on March 5 that he “never said people that are feeling sick should go to work.” He lied when he said on March 6, “Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They are there.” He acted frivolously when he showed up at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press conference on the same day wearing a “Keep America Great” campaign hat. Why was there silence from Fox News, which once excoriated President Obama for showing up at a White House press conference in, god forbid, a tan suit?

He failed to meet his own goal of deploying one million virus testing kits by March 6. Three days later, Atlantic Magazine reported, “After surveying local data from across the country, we can only verify that 4,384 people have been tested for the coronavirus nationwide.” It added, “These data are as comprehensive a compilation of official statistics as is currently possible.” Meanwhile, South Korea conducts 10,000 tests daily.

He flip flopped when he spoke of a “perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on coronavirus” on March 8, then a day later said, “This blindsided the world.” He confused us, and the world. Within minutes of his national address on March 11, the White House had to correct his own statements about the European travel restrictions. It is simply no wonder the stock market plummeted the next day.

His party cynically tried to add language against abortion into a sensible House bill to fund economic relief for families and businesses impacted by the coronavirus on March 12. He then tried ducking blame for his own incompetence the next day, as he decided to falsely accuse the Obama administration of enacting a health regulation it never did.

He exaggerated wildly on March 13 when he announced a new website to expand testing for the coronavirus involving 1,700 engineers from Google. It surprised the technology giant, which has an embryonic pilot program and no coronavirus tests. He confused us by arbitrarily prohibiting travel from some countries, but allowing it from others, and then eventually expanding the ban to the countries he had initially exempted.

Once we had presidents of both parties who mobilized us to land on the moon and return safely. Now we have a president who can barely manage to deploy coronavirus test kits. It is possible that a warm summer, and not the hot air of this president, will alleviate the pandemic. Like everything else, he will take credit for the sun. But remember that the coronavirus may return when summer turns to fall. Either way, the response by this president has been a trainwreck and we are the passengers.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Government President Steve Israel White House

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