What a relief!
I’d worried about the coronavirus, but we’re fine! I’ve been watching the Republican National Convention, and it turns out that while everyone else stood helpless before the pandemic, our national lodestar, President Donald Trump, stepped up and saved millions of lives. Whew!
“From the very beginning, Democrats, the media and the World Health Organization got the coronavirus wrong,” according to a GOP propaganda film shown at the convention. Fortunately, “one leader took decisive action to save lives: President Donald Trump.”
“We did the exact right thing,” Trump said in his speech Monday. “We saved millions.” He has moved seamlessly from the fantasy that the virus would “go away,” as he has said some 31 times, to the fantasy that he has already dispatched it.
I feel well equipped to cover the Republican convention, having covered personality cults in China, Iraq and North Korea. But this grotesque manipulation deserves a response, for it dishonors and erases the 180,000 Americans confirmed to have died from COVID-19.
“The Trump administration is responsible for the single worst public-health failure in the last 100 years,” Peter Hotez, a global-health expert and dean at the Baylor College of Medicine, told me.
Devi Sridhar, an American who is professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said it had been “astounding” to watch the Trump narrative from afar. In Scotland, she noted, children are now back in school because the government there was committed to suppressing the virus.
“The biggest obstacle to an effective COVID-19 response is President Donald Trump,” Sridhar told me. “There is a path through this crisis, but it requires strong leadership, transparency and letting scientists lead the response.”
That’s the problem in America: Trump fought science, and the virus won — so the public lost.
The consensus among health experts is that while local leaders and citizens sometimes messed up, and that luck matters along with other random factors we still don’t fully understand, huge responsibility lies with that “one leader.”
Some 40,000 confirmed infections are being reported each day in the United States, and another American still dies of the virus every 90 seconds. The University of Washington model projects that about 310,000 people will have died by Dec. 1 — a figure greater than the number of American combat deaths during World War II.
So portraying this toll as a tribute to Trump’s leadership takes real chutzpah.
Trump initially dismissed the coronavirus as like the flu, scoffed that it was “totally under control” and insisted it would disappear “like a miracle.” He imposed some travel restrictions on China (with enormous exceptions), which may have helped modestly, but he fumbled testing, didn’t ensure adequate protective equipment and offered confused messaging.
The president resisted masks and embraced miracle cures — some dangerous ones, like injecting household disinfectants. He encouraged followers to “liberate” states with lockdowns, and his administration pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise testing guidelines to exclude those without symptoms. He has suggested that his aim is to “slow the testing down” so that fewer people will test positive; that’s like trying to reduce cancer fatalities by ending cancer screening.
Trump still doesn’t have a national COVID-19 strategy any more than he has a 2020 campaign platform.
The United States does not, as many Trump critics believe, have the highest death toll from the coronavirus on a per-capita basis; deaths per million have been higher in Belgium, Peru, Spain, Britain, Italy, Sweden, Chile and Brazil.
Yet while other countries made terrible mistakes — especially initially — they learned from them. China at first put more effort into suppressing warnings of the virus than into suppressing the virus itself. Italy delayed a lockdown. Britain at the beginning didn’t take the risks seriously.
Yet those countries were able to self-correct and bring infections down, although imperfectly and with risks of a return. Italy brought infections and deaths down and currently has a death rate over the last seven days just one thirty-second that of the United States. In contrast, Trump never learned and still tackles the virus with magical thinking while resisting a coherent national strategy driven by science.
Pandemic control involves not a single tool but a broad set of skills, making it a measure of good governance. It’s not surprising that Germany — led by a disciplined scientist, Angela Merkel — has done particularly well, with a death rate now only one forty-eighth that of the United States.
If Trump had managed the pandemic as well as Merkel, some 143,000 American lives could have been saved.
Think about those people’s lives now that you’ve seen Trump try to rewrite history. The indisputable truth is this: The United States has 4% of the world’s population and 22% of the world’s confirmed coronavirus deaths.