Opinion | Trump’s coronavirus response sucks


Drew Angerer, Getty Images | TNS

President Donald Trump takes questions at a news conference about the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic at the White House March 13 in Washington, D.C. Trump is facing a national health emergency as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and 30 people have died from the virus in the United States, according to The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

By Devi Ruia, Senior Staff Columnist

When a global crisis like COVID-19 hits, we often look to our government for leadership.

In the United States we’ve mainly felt the rapid escalation of the crisis in the past week, with schools temporarily closing or shifting to online learning, offices asking employees to work from home, cancellations of concerts and other large gatherings and grocery stores getting increasingly emptier with hand sanitizer as our scarcest resource.

In situations like this, the American people want our president to comfort us by being a competent person capable of managing a crisis and protecting the American people. President Donald Trump is not that person. From the start, Trump and his administration have bungled the coronavirus response on every level, endangering the lives of many. 

It’s not all that surprising that Trump hasn’t handled this well. One of the staples of his presidency has been gross incompetence. However, in the face of this national emergency, Trump has further demonstrated how profoundly unfit he is for office. Trump’s lackluster response to this pandemic is creating even more panic, endangering others and even costing people their lives. At every stage of this emergency, Trump has done the wrong thing, presumably based on a combination of incompetence, narcissism and a desire to protect himself politically.

From the start of the coronavirus outbreak in January, Trump downplayed the seriousness of the virus, leading some to not take it seriously. He did this despite the fact that the White House knew back in January what a serious problem coronavirus could become — though he continued to downplay the issue as recently as last week. During a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trump said “who would have thought we would even be having the subject” in reference to the virus. 

Despite knowing what a serious threat the virus posed, Trump reportedly didn’t push for more aggressive, comprehensive testing to take place in order to keep the number of reported cases of the coronavirus low in the United States. Back in January, the United States declined to use the coronavirus tests that the World Health Organization shipped to about 60 other countries. Trump allegedly wanted to keep the number of reported cases in the United States low in order to better his chances of being reelected in the fall — which is a really stellar example of the leadership that we look for in the face of a global pandemic.

“Leadership: Whatever happens, you’re responsible,” Trump tweeted back in 2013. “If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.”

The White House also ignored and even overruled health officials who wanted to provide serious warnings to the public. The CDC wanted to advise older and physically fragile people not to fly on commercial airlines and to stay home as much as possible in order to avoid exposure to the virus. Officials in the Trump administration told the CDC not to issue these guidelines — endangering the lives of individuals most succeptible to coronavirus.

Trump finally started to take the virus a bit more seriously last week — or else pressure from the public forced him to at least appear like he was doing so. Trump addressed the nation last Wednesday from the Oval Office to announce measures his administration was taking to combat the spread of the virus. Trump spent most of the address lauding his administration’s “great” response to the virus. He then caused some serious problems by making several errors throughout his address.

Among the measures Trump announced was a 30-day travel ban on most European countries that would go into effect the following Friday. However, he failed to mention that the ban didn’t apply to U.S. citizens, which led panicked Americans in Europe to crowd airports and pay for expensive flights back to the United States. He also incorrectly stated that the travel ban also applied to trade and cargo incoming from Europe, and apparently no one in his administration remembered to consult or inform the European Union that they were banning Europeans from traveling to the United States in the first place. 

Following this inadequate address, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor involved in the White House’s coronavirus response, turned to Dr. Kurt Kloss — Karlie Kloss’ father and Kushner’s brother’s father-in-law — for help. Kloss then went crowd-sourcing in a Facebook group of fellow physicians for solutions to combat coronavirus and summarized these solutions in a report for Kushner.

Apparently Facebook is good for more than just exposing the racism of your neighbors and relatives, because when Trump gave a press conference the following Friday, he announced that he’d be partnering with private corporations to provide drive-through coronavirus testing. The lack of widespread testing has been a large problem throughout this pandemic that has allowed the virus to spread further. However, it seems as though Trump misrepresented the scale and scope of these testing plans, as many of the participants in this “plan” — like Walgreens, CVS, Target and Walmart — expressed confusion or contradicted some of Trump’s remarks.

While the businesses did pledge to make some of the parking lots of their stores available for drive-through testing sites, representatives from those businesses stated that they were unsure which of their stores would be used and when this would even start to take place, showing yet again just how unprepared the Trump administration was with yet another one of their response plans.

Still, at least the Trump administration is finally starting to make efforts to make testing widely available — though Trump still refuses to take responsibility for the delay in doing so. Even if testing becomes widely available, it won’t really be accessible unless it’s free — this would ensure that all Americans can get tested. Luckily, the House of Representatives just passed a coronavirus economic relief package that includes free testing, paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, measures to enhance food security and increased federal funds for Medicaid.

The bill passed in the House with Trump’s support after several days of back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. It doesn’t include everything needed to help protect vulnerable Americans — it notably exempts big employers from providing sick leave. However, it was the strongest bill that Democrats could pass thanks to several days of stonewalling from the White House and the GOP — delay that was unnecessary and dangerous in the face of this rapidly spreading virus.

Trump’s focus throughout his administration’s limited response has been more on his political interests and personal image than on the American people. His narcissism and incompetence have been on display in full force throughout this entire pandemic. Trump has shown us yet again just how unfit for office he is — something we should all remember when we vote in November. 

Devi primarily writes about politics for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter for more hot takes @DeviRuia.