Derelict Leadership on Health Security

If one event shows both Trump’s flawed character and his ineptitude, it would have to be his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is all about him, claiming superior knowledge of the medical issues while constantly downplaying the extent and seriousness of the virus, ignoring early warning signs, and withholding vital information from the scientific community as well as the public. “Maybe I have a natural ability,” he said during a tour of the CDC. “I understand that whole world” of medicine and should have been a doctor. When that claim falls apart, Trump casts a wide net of blame for the rapid spread of COVID-19—Obama, the Democrats, the Chinese—rather than focus on his responsibilities as a leader.

Trump’s efforts to calm the public might, under any other leader, be reassuring. But they fall short in two major respects.

First, they are inconsistent and contradictory, sometimes suggesting urgency and other times resurrecting the false optimism—“It will go away”; “stay calm”—that proved so terribly wrong when the virus first hit the US.

Second, Trump continues to ignore the experts and the facts. The overwhelming body of medical opinion is that testing kids, hospital beds, and protective masks are urgently needed but have not been provided, creating a potential nationwide disaster. Trump never accepted the World Health Organization’s offer of testing kits, has failed to draw on all the US military’s capacity, and has been granted but not yet used his power as president to compel emergency production of vital medical supplies.

His speech to the nation March 11 and his subsequent comments come belatedly and, for all the hype about hundreds of billions of dollars being thrown at the pandemic, the administration still falls short of adopting the kind of comprehensive, strategic approach we are seeing in South Korea, Singapore, and (now) China.

Trump only now realizes, weeks after saying that COVID-19 presents “very, very low risk” to Americans and is more like some ordinary flu, that you can’t talk your way out of this crisis. To proclaim that he aims at “total victory” is empty political rhetoric when the figures on infections and deaths show a pattern more like Italy than Korea.

Under political pressure to do something about the economic fallout from COVID-19 besides trying to talk up the Dow Jones, the White House has decided to attend to the needs of the largest corporations and Trump’s allies.

Tax breaks for the airline, cruise ship, fracking, and other major industries; testing for any of his buddies who wants it; and a reduction in the payroll tax that would take money away from Social Security and Medicare—these are Trump’s priorities. Following his March 11 speech, he tweeted: “Please remember. . . The restriction [on European travel] stops people not goods.” Same goes for closing the Canadian border: It only affects people, not trade, Trump reminded us.

Congress and state governments must step up to fill in the leadership gaps when it comes to meeting the needs of the unemployed, the quarantined, the homeless, the small business owners, and others whom the coronavirus has put in dire straits.

This commander-in-chief’s behavior may be the tipping point come November, for if anything is going to arouse the anger of independents and at least some Trump supporters, it is the government’s failure to deliver sound information and an effective strategy in what looks to be a prolonged health crisis.

Liberals and progressives have an enormous opportunity here. Health care, as we all know, is the top issue for most Americans along with climate change. The notion of health care as a human right is well entrenched, and not just on the left.

Now, in response to COVID-19, we should add another idea: public health is national security. Cuts in funding for medical research must be restored; testing, ventilators, and other equipment should be prepositioned for this and the next pandemic; an expert disease crisis group should be permanently in place; decisions should be made on the basis of the best science; and the health of all citizens must be considered fundamental to our economic and social well-being.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers