Tragically, the events leading up to the Coronavirus outbreak and the manner in which he has bungled the federal response confirms that the Trump Presidency is destined to go down as one of the most disastrous in US history, says Sean Ledwith
The country is poised to become the epicentre of the global pandemic with a death toll that threatens to surpass that of the worst-hit countries so far such as Italy and Spain.
With only a few days scratched off this calendar month, the national death toll now stands at 6,000 based on 25,000 recorded cases and the peak in the US is still weeks away. At the end of February, Trump foolishly predicted: “When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going down to close to zero, that’s a good job we’ve done.” The upper end of the predictive scale now indicates the US could end up with a staggering 250,000 deaths by the time the outbreak subsides.
One month after his first delusional prediction, the President makes another commitment about containing the outbreak that now also sounds like the ravings of a madman: "I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter…Easter is a very special day for me. Wouldn't it be great to have all the churches full? You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it’ll be a beautiful time." In reality, the only places likely to be packed in the US over Easter are the country’s emergency wards, groaning under the weight of a public health disaster that has overwhelmed its already threadbare healthcare system.
This unfolding nightmare does not just reflect on the risible performance of a sociopathic President; at a more fundamental level, it illustrates the grotesque failure of the world’s dominant capitalist state to safeguard the lives of millions of its own citizens. The selfish opposition of the US elite over many decades to anything even remotely resembling a socialised healthcare system has left the country horrendously exposed to this devastating epidemic.
The bile-filled hate that the American right spewed over the relatively modest demands of Clintoncare in the 1990s and then Obamacare in the first decade of this century now looks like the hopelessly misguided recalcitrance of a venal elite. A state that, over many decades, has invested most of its industrial and technical expertise into exporting death and destruction around the world has been brought to its knees by an invisible enemy that makes nuclear weapons, smart bombs and the other paraphernalia of the US military machine appear even more irrelevant.
Pandemic preparedness scrapped
Trump’s mismanagement of this crisis began long before the virus was first identified in China at the end of 2019. One of his first acts following his election three years earlier was to shut down the Pandemic Preparedness Office of the National Security Council established by Obama in response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Beth Cameron, one of the senior members of the office, explained "its inception was based on the recognition that epidemics know no borders and that a serious, fast response is crucial. Our job was to be the smoke alarm — keeping watch to get ahead of emergencies, sounding a warning at the earliest sign of fire — all with the goal of avoiding a six-alarm blaze."
Slash and burn
The absence of such an informed authority in the early phase of the US response to the current crisis is the striking characteristic of the Trump administration. Stephen Morrison, another Washington commentator on federal policy, notes: "You can attribute some of the sluggishness and confusion that we have seen bedevil this effort since the very beginning . . . to the absence of effective structures within the White House."
Eliminating essential elements of the apparatus of the state such as the Pandemic Preparedness Office was the disastrous consequence of the slash-and-burn approach to federal agencies hard-wired into Trump’s turbo-charged brand of neoliberalism.
Trump tried to claim at the start of this year that everyone has been blindsided by the corona crisis and no one could have seen it coming: "Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before." Actually, only last year twelve US states enacted a multiagency exercise based on the possibility of a mass flu-type contagion. Operation Crimson Contagion was supervised by the Department of Health and Human Services and included the involvement of other key federal agencies such as the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the American Red Cross. The conclusion of the operation pointed to a chronic shortage of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers, and the need to enforce social distancing from an early point in an outbreak.
Shamefully, the report was initially suppressed by the administration and only became known thanks to a leak to the New York Times last September. The paper concluded that Trump’s claim not to have seen a disaster like this coming is a lie: “What the scenario makes clear . . . is that his own administration had already modelled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory.” Although it should be added, the man’s attention span is so deficient it is equally likely he read the report and then forgot about it.
Apart from Trump’s narcissistic personality, the administration’s response has also been hampered by his revolving-door approach to hiring and firing which has seen four men in as many years trying to cope with the impossible job of being his Chief of Staff. The lack of continuity and consistency has affected all levels of White House but in this case, has had a catastrophic consequence. Healthcare analysts noted that Tom Bossert, the President’s Homeland Security Advisor appeared to be taking the pandemic threat seriously in 2018; only to be stunned by Bossert’s sacking and his replacement by the arch neocon, John Bolton, who swiftly reoriented the Department’s focus to an illusory threat from Iran.
One of the few who is emerging with any credit in Team Trump is Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Commenting on the closure of the NSC pandemic office, he told Congress last month: "It would be nice if the office was still there". Fauci is often to be seen standing alongside the President during the White House press briefings, often with an exasperated expression on his face as he listens to Trump’s idiotic comments.
Once it became apparent in the early weeks of the year that this crisis was escalating on a scale never before experienced, Trump reverted to the racism and ignorance that are the hallmarks of his politics. A list of some of his blundering comments on the corona outbreak would be funny if the consequences of his idiocy were not so tragic:
- January 22nd: It’s one person coming in from China and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.
- January 24th: It will all work out well.
- January 30th: We have very little problem in this country – five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.
- January 31st: We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.
- February 10th: Looks like by April you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.
- February 19th: I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.
- February 27th: It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.
- March 10th: It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away. I’ve been briefed on every contingency you could possibly imagine. Many contingencies. A lot of positive. Different numbers, all different numbers, very large numbers, and some small numbers too.
- March 16th: I’d rate it as 10 (when asked to evaluate his own crisis management out of 10).
Paranoia and xenophobia
Alongside these outbursts of crass stupidity, Trump has allowed his congenital paranoia and xenophobia to affect his judgement on the nature of the threat. For instance, downplaying the lethality of the virus, comparing it to the common cold; alleging the virus was a hoax, promoted by the Democrats as another means to impeach him; labelling it a Chinese or foreign virus – as if nationality was a relevant factor in this situation; and being more concerned about the effect of the outbreak on his November election chances than the clear and present danger to millions of citizens.
Shoot the messenger
Even more incredibly, the domestic disaster has not impacted on the willingness of the US imperial leviathan to torment the handful of states that try to resist its power around the world. Sanctions on Venezuela and Iran have remained in place despite the declaration of a global pandemic, adversely affecting the ability of those states to combat the virus. The absurdity of White House priorities is also illustrated by the sacking of a US naval commander who reported a corona outbreak on his aircraft carrier!
Just as on this side of the Atlantic, the American people have tragically found themselves with a bigoted buffoon for a leader when a disaster of unprecedented magnitude hits them. Fortunately, also like the UK, workers on the front line have stepped up to defend their own safety in the face of negligence at the top. Chris Smalls, an Amazon worker in New York, sparked a wave of walk-outs at other warehouses across the US following his dismissal for highlighting a lack of social distancing in that company’s operations. Courageous nurses and doctors have defied gagging orders from privately run health authorities to denounce the criminal lack of PPE and ventilators. One of the few positives from this calamity is that those activist voices that have repeatedly called for a properly funded federal healthcare system in the US will be impossible to ignore in the future.
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