Every other day seems to bring a new headline:
“Blame Trump’s Mismanagement for Virus Delays.”
“This Is Trump’s Fault.”
“Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.”
“How Trump let the U.S. fall behind the curve on coronavirus threat.”
The charge hammered home in such headlines was summarized in the New York Times piece referenced last:
Mr. Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for … the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus. …
(T)he administration’s top public health experts concluded they should recommend to Mr. Trump a new approach that would include warning the American people of the risks and urging steps like social distancing and staying home from work. But … crucial additional weeks went by before their views were reluctantly accepted by the president – time when the virus spread largely unimpeded.
No question President Donald Trump shares a large piece of the blame – but not for the virus’ spread. No, he was once again too trusting of the public-health “experts” around him – and therefore must answer in part for perhaps the worst economic collapse since the Depression.
Rewind to last fall. The president announced – with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar at his side – a ban of all flavored nicotine vapor products. (Disclosure: this commentator’s firm has represented a vapor producer.)
The president was responding to another public health crisis – a series of deaths (ultimately 68 over six months) from a mysterious vaping-associated lung disease. An outbreak that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and media (breathlessly reporting each new case and fatality – sound familiar?), allowed to be conflated with a so-called youth nicotine vapor “epidemic.”
Various state health authorities rapidly identified a probable source: illicit THC vapor brands (not coincidentally, originating in China) with an unapproved thickening agent (also mass produced there). Yet the Feds let vapers, including many adults switching from smoking, believe that nicotine vapes could have caused the illness.
When a furor broke loose in the strongly pro-Trump vaping community, the president approved a compromise that preserved menthol flavoring, along with tobacco. But reports revealed that Trump was privately enraged at Azar for, in his view, steering him wrong. The CDC, which months later finally acknowledged illicit THC vapes as the main culprit, hadn’t done him any favors, either.
Back to the present: Put aside estimates that duplicitous Chinese leaders could have prevented 95% of the virus’ spread and their lies that, until mid-January, concealed the possibility of human-to-human transmission from the world. And the fact that testing, key to managing the crisis, was screwed up by none other than CDC and FDA “experts” who monopolized the process and turned out faulty products.
Let’s take the charges at face value. Several stories agree that early warnings reached the president in January – via Azar, the “expert” who had previously infuriated Trump with his harsh approach to vapor flavors. No wonder Trump is said to have dismissed his concerns as “alarmist.”
Then, more than three weeks later, the “experts” were reportedly ready to recommend their “new approach” to the president. But a CDC official (who reports to Azar) went rogue on a conference call with journalists, asserting “this could be bad” – without clearing her remarks with the White House, according to the Times – completely tanking an already teetering stock market.
There’s a credibility builder.
It then apparently fell to the “elegant” Dr. Deborah Birx, along with the CDC’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, to “shock” the president into action, per the Los Angeles Times. Except this shock therapy involved sharing the non-peer-reviewed, unpublished and widely disputed Imperial College study outrageously predicting more than 2 million U.S. deaths.
We all know what happened next: Trump once again put his trust in the public-health “experts,” overrode his instincts – and duty – to balance the nation’s physical and economic well-being, and went Defcon 1 on America.
This correspondent was once tutored by an old pro in handling experts – in that particular instance, legal types. Lawyers, he explained, will always tell you what you can’t do. Your job? Say, “Thanks. Now tell me how I can do what I need to do.”
In this case, what the president needed to do was instruct his experts to develop a plan to minimize the deadly effects of a virus for the most vulnerable without plunging the entire nation into a devastating downturn. One that has burned up more than 26 million jobs, has incredibly pushed oil prices sub-zero, will have catastrophic public-health impacts far outweighing those of the virus, and has dramatically lengthened the already long arm of the nanny/police State.
A plan that, mayhap, would have been very like the one ultimately offered by Trump to reopen America – but presented earlier to keep it open, and free.
The president must be held accountable, all right – but not for his “suspicion” of experts and mismanagement of the federal mobilization. Rather, for his misplaced trust in those very experts, their numbers, and the disastrous current and future results of their draconian strangulation strategy.