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Sunday morning, Trump tweeted what might be the most offensive tweet of his offensive presidency. “Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News…shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”
That’s the Signal: In what is shaping up to be one of the biggest crises in American history, and the biggest public health calamity in a century, Trump is still fiddling while Rome begins to burn. After two months in which he ignored the warnings of his public health experts, his intelligence agencies, and presumably the State Department, the Pentagon, and everyone else in government with an ounce of common sense—time that could have been spent building up stockpiles of medical supplies—now this moral midget is turning on the governors. These men and women, who by default have become the nation’s political first responders, stand accused by the American president of “failing,” should their medical systems become overwhelmed by a surge of critically ill patients.
The Trump administration’s response to this crisis continues to be a combination of ineptitude and criminal lack of concern for the most vulnerable.
Some particularly awful highlights, on the malign-ineptitude front: The president continues to peddle snake-oil cures that his own infectious diseases specialists then have to pour cold water on. The latest: his notion that anti-malaria drugs, in combination with an antibiotic, will cure coronavirus. It’s one thing to project optimism in a time of crisis; it’s another thing entirely when a national leader spouts nonsense that flies in the face of expert opinion. There is a world of difference between Churchillian defiance in the face of grim news, and sheer hucksterism.
Also on this front: Trump has triggered the Defense Production Act, allowing the government to compel private industries to produce medical supplies. But, inexplicably, he neglected to actually order the mass production of masks, protective clothing, and ventilators. The Feds, he said dismissively, aren’t shipping clerks. Instead, he urged states and cities to simply scramble for products however they could, setting up an insane competition among them.
On the criminal-lack-of-concern front: The State Department ordered the immediate return of all Peace Corps volunteers, which makes some sort of sense. But it then followed up by announcing that they would all immediately be fired instead of being placed on paid leave. These 7,300 brave men and women, who have been volunteering for health campaigns, innovative agricultural and environmental work, and other development projects vital to global well-being, aren’t even eligible for unemployment checks.
What a perfectly Trumpian action: Use the cover of the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to neuter America’s most successful soft-power program, one that he has sought to eviscerate from his first months in office.
Trump continues to talk about bailing out the airlines, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. But the administration has done nothing to protect the thousands of airport workers who are being summarily laid off without any severance, many of them after years of employment. One couldn’t find a better example of the lack of empathy and solidarity at the core of this administration.
Last week, thousands of doctors publicly urged ICE to empty its detention facilities, fearing that otherwise the tens of thousands of impoverished, often medically fragile immigrants being held in them would succumb en masse to the virus. To no one’s surprise, despite these frantic entreaties, the administration has made no move to release the detainees.
Meanwhile, the virus is now spreading in New York City’s Rikers Island jail, one of the country’s largest lockups, and there have been reports of workers in California’s prison system testing positive. Yet, again, the administration has made no effort to coordinate with county and state correctional officials regarding a coherent nationwide program of furloughing vulnerable inmates as the epidemic picks up steam.
The world is facing a cataclysm, but the plastic man, our reality-TV president, is still more interested in posturing and preening, in beating up on his favorite targets, than doing the hard work of navigating through this crisis.