‘Dark Winter’

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s the pandemic, Mr. President.

COVID-19 is the most dangerous health disaster to hit the United States since the flu epidemic of 1918. Yet Donald Trump hasn’t grasped its significance or the damage it has caused to Americans since he first learned of the disease Jan. 28 and didn’t tell us.

And the Trump administration seemed to surrender to the disease, abandoning any attempt to control its spread and essentially serving notice it is helpless, leaving 330 million people without central leadership and that it’s everyone for themselves. Instead, it is waiting for a vaccine, which may not be widely available until the middle of next year.

“We are not going to control the pandemic,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN Sunday. “We are going to control the fact that we are going to get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”

Jake Tapper asked why the administration is giving up control. “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu,” Meadows responded, adding that it is “making efforts to contain it.”

“What we need to do is to make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this,” he said. How?

There was no word about what the administration would do that it should have done earlier to combat COVID, which was virtually nothing. And Trump wants to get re-elected?

His indisputably reckless do-nothing approach to the virus from the beginning and his refusal to marshal the mighty U.S. industrial strength to provide the tools necessary to fight the coronavirus is absolutely inexcusable. It’s astonishing.

Thousands died needlessly because of his ignorance, his incompetence, his lack of empathy, his inability to govern.

He still doesn’t seem to understand that ignoring the disease has much to do with whether he will be re-elected. The virus is topic No. 1 among the public, whether over fears of contracting it, dealing with being shut in because of it or financial worries because of a lost job.

But Trump dismisses the virus, which has been here since last winter, it has crashed our economy, it has thrown at least 12 million people out of work, it has kept millions of kids out of school and it’s getting worse.

Instead, we get this from him at Thursday night’s debate: “We’re rounding the corner” in the pandemic and “it’s going away, okay?” He’s been mouthing things like that since a winter ago.

“It’s going to disappear,” he said Feb. 27. “One day – like a miracle – it will disappear.”

Nearly 84,000 Americans contracted the virus Saturday, at least 8.5 million people have been infected and hospitalizations increased in 38 states as the feared second wave of the disease appeared to be taking hold. There have been more than 1,000 deaths a day. At least 224,800 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“We’re about to go into a dark winter,” Trump opponent Joe Biden retorted at the debate. “A dark winter. And he has no clear plan, and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to have a dark winter at all,” the unreality president responded. “We’re opening up our country. We’ve learned and studied and understand the disease, which we didn’t at the beginning.”

Trump skirted confronting COVID by saying Americans were “learning to live with” the disease. “We have no choice. We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does” — a snide reference to how Biden stayed home in a basement office for months to avoid contracting the virus.

“People are learning to die with it,” Biden countered.

“I see it as a colossal failure of leadership,” epidemiologist Larry Brilliant told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. “Of the more than 200,000 people who have died as of today, I don’t think that 50,000 would have died if it hadn’t been for the incompetence.”

It’s puzzling how a ballyhooed businessman who has had successes before ascending to the presidency is such a thorough failure at governing. He focused on the wrong things: sweet-talking the virus, shunning masks and demanding businesses and schools reopen to keep the economy and stock market humming regardless of the casualties, as if they were collateral damage.

All Trump had to do in concert with specialists and industry was devise a Marshall Plan for the United States, to do for us what President Harry S. Truman had his secretary of state, George C. Marshall, do to rebuild a shattered Europe after World War II. It is now we who are shattered, and it didn’t have to be.

It would have been so easy because the financial and industrial sources are there. But he was blinded by himself.

Despite the failure, Trump keeps banging the same drum, lying when Americans need truth about combatting COVID, illogically urging pre-pandemic normalcy as the disease spreads, hosting an unmasked White House event even though he’s fighting against odds to get re-elected.

Trump has an uphill fight to achieve a second term.

Mark Salter, a senior advisor to Sen. John McCain, told the Times Thursday, “It’s been locked in for months, and is now moving away from him even further post-debate. I suppose some unforeseen catastrophe or huge Biden mistake might reverse the trend, but it seems pretty clear that a majority of voters want to get Trump the hell out of there before he screws up even more.”



Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.