Test kits and face masks are the way out of our pandemic.
Very few national leaders have been unmitigatedly evil – not even the most authoritarian dictators. After all, didn’t Mussolini get Italy’s trains to run on time? And didn’t Fidel Castro help set up very good healthcare and elementary educational systems in Cuba?
Even Hitler – the winner of numerous World’s Most Evil Head of State awards — did a pretty decent job of helping Germany recover from the depths of the Great Depression.
The next few months may provide President Donald Trump with the opportunity to share the limelight with these other national leaders – and perhaps earn as much adulation as they did from their adoring subjects.
So far, however, about the only thing President Trump may have done right was to have presided over the last three years of our nation’s record ten-and-a-half-year economic expansion. But now, although his record on climate change, voter suppression, abortion rights, gun safety, immigration, foreign trade, relations with our allies, civil rights, and fighting corruption have been considerably less than stellar, he will long be remembered for how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
While a leader with even minimal scruples might concede that just maybe he did not get off to a very great start – denying for months that our nation would be stricken by this gathering plague – Trump would subsequently insist that he had predicted the pandemic all along. Then, even after acknowledging that increasing numbers of Americans would soon be dying, he continued to drag his feet in securing sufficient numbers of test kits, face masks, ventilators, and other essential equipment.
Trump acted too late
On March 10th, he blithely asserted that “When people need a test, they can get a test.” On that day, just over 5,000 Americans were tested for the coronavirus – just a tiny fraction of those who needed to be tested. Indeed, even now we still don’t have nearly all the test kits we need.
And when governors complained about not receiving enough help from the federal government, he instructed Vice President Mike Pence, the chair of his coronavirus task force, not to call any governor who had not voiced sufficient gratitude.
In recent weeks the president, however grudgingly, bestirred himself to meet the governors’ pleas for help. He even endorsed social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and other necessary measures to prevent the spread o the virus. There were slip-ups, of course, like his prematurely suggesting that we just call the whole thing off by proclaiming victory over the virus and allowing full scale Easter Sunday services, allowing crowds to gather in tens of thousands of churches across the nation.
Always the political animal, Trump had hoped to offer this gift to his legions of evangelical followers, many of whom actually considered the president a messenger sent by God himself to carry out His wishes. What better way to make this highly symbolic gesture?
When sounder minds prevailed, Mr. Trump was persuaded to keep his foot on the brake at least through April 30th. By then, he will have reappraised whether or not to reopen our economy and encourage millions of Americans to return to work, while relaxing their social distancing.
Test kits and face masks just the start
On April 10th, after consulting with his closest advisors, the president said that he would soon decide whether or not to encourage millions of Americans to go back to work. This would be “…the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
It would be especially difficult because there could be a huge downside if he does not encourage people to go back to work, and perhaps an even bigger downside if he does. If they don’t start going back to work, the sharp economic downturn will grow much worse. But if they do go back to work, additional tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of Americans may die from a reaccelerating spreading of the virus.
If the outcome of his forthcoming decision is bad, we know exactly which fifty state officeholders Trump will blame. After all, they will have been the ones who so poorly implemented his orders. But if his decision works out well, then we know to whom all credit will be due.
But let’s be fair: Even a pathologically lying, infantile, narcissistic ignoramus can sometimes make a wise decision. And who knows? When future presidential scholars ponder President Donald Trump’s place in history, he may soar from his current standing as our worst president into the ranks of the highly incompetent.