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How Trump lost to the coronavirus

How Trump lost to the coronavirus
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Behind in the polls and flailing, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE finally has met an opponent he can’t bully, belittle or bury in an avalanche of lies. Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE? No, the coronavirus.

The pandemic is surging again, just as the 2020 presidential election enters the final stretch. A frustrated Trump this week groused that the public is “tired” of hearing about the pandemic. Maybe so, but according to Five Thirty Eight’s daily tracker of public opinion, two-thirds of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about COVID-19. Even more – 86 percent – are worried about the pandemic’s impact on the economy. 

Apart from hardcore Republicans, Americans don’t share Trump’s view that he has done a “phenomenal job” in managing the pandemic. More than 57 percent of U.S. voters disapprove of his response to COVID-19, while just under 40 percent approve. Only 35 percent of independents think he’s done a good job.

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A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll has more bad news for the president: “Sixty-three percent say Trump has not been wearing a mask or social distancing appropriately; 60 percent say he has not followed the advice of medical experts closely enough; and 59 percent he has underestimated the risks of COVID-19 – something that just 8 percent of registered voters say about Biden.”

Biden now has a 19-point advantage over Trump on managing the pandemic. Especially notable has been a dramatic swing among older Americans – who are among those most likely to die from the virus – from Trump in 2016 to Biden, who now enjoys an eight-point lead.

In desperation, Trump has turned to his signature technique for dodging responsibility for his own behavior: the total, Orwellian inversion of the truth. Is Trump a racist? No, he’s the most pro-black president since Lincoln. Did Trump sit on his hands while the pandemic ravaged the country? No, he orchestrated the “greatest national mobilization since World War II” and miraculously saved two million lives.

That phantom mobilization, of course, never happened. But it is what should have happened and would have happened had America had competent leadership at the top.     

To help U.S. voters separate fact from Trump’s self-aggrandizing fictions, the Progressive Policy Institute since early spring has been documenting the pandemic’s destructive rampage across the nation, and our government’s fumbling response to it. The key milestones are highlighted in PPI’s meticulously documented “Chronology of the COVID-19 Debacle,” which serves as a first draft of the history of the great plague of 2020. 

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The story begins not earlier this year, however, but on the eve of Trump’s inauguration. On Jan. 12, 2017, the now-ubiquitous Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci urges Americans to conduct 'risk-benefit assessment' before holiday travel Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Fauci: 'We're in a very difficult situation at all levels' but 'help is on the way' MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, alerted the incoming Trump administration to be prepared for outbreaks of viral diseases. 

“If there’s one message that I want to leave with you today based on my experience, it is that there is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases,” Fauci warned in a speech at Georgetown University. 

His was just the first of a long train of reds flags raised by public health professionals within the administration itself. They weren’t just ignored. Many were fired by Trump, whose unwillingness to hear bad news and disdain for “deep state” expertise led him astray on the pandemic, as on climate change and other critical issues.

In his first budget, Trump proposed cuts in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget, as well as an emergency fund set up to combat Ebola and other pandemics. The Trump administration was blindsided by the appearance of a new virus.

Once the coronavirus started claiming U.S. lives, Trump fell into the characteristic pattern of his presidency under fire: denial, dissembling and diversionary attacks on his critics. The virus was just another kind of flu, it was under control, it would soon disappear. Instead of marshaling federal power and resources to help the states limit infections, Trump feuded with governors and bemoaned the economic shut-downs necessary to prevent the pandemic from overwhelming hospitals and medical personnel. 

Thanks to Bob Woodward’s book, “Rage,” we know now that Trump understood from the beginning that the virus posed a dire public health threat but hid the truth from the public. “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I want to create panic,” he told Woodward.

The American people can handle the truth — it was Trump who panicked. He was terrified that the pandemic shutdowns would wreck his “beautiful” economy and deprive him of his best argument for reelection.

Having rebounded after a late-summer lull, the pandemic is rampaging through the Midwest, Great Plains states and rural communities — aka Trump Country. Daily cases last week climbed over 70,000 and hospitalizations are rising in 39 states.

Yet incredibly, the Trump administration still has no plan to contain the virus. Washington lags far behind more effective governments – like those in South Korea, Japan and, yes, China – in intensive, well-targeted testing, contract tracing and quarantining only the most vulnerable citizens. Instead, Trump offers happy talk about his own swift recovery, imminent vaccines that experts say are not yet in sight, and a roaring, “V-shaped” economic recovery that is just around the corner.

He and Senate Republicans seem to be giving higher priority to adding another conservative Supreme Court justice than to passing a major pandemic relief bill. To find a comparable example of presidential cluelessness in the midst of crisis, you have to look back to Herbert Hoover’s feckless response to the Great Depression, which made him a one-term president.

We’ll learn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election soon enough. But we already know Donald Trump has lost to the coronavirus.

Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).