Cursed as a country, we are now led during this time of crisis by a man who has proved himself incapable of mastering the details of a complex set of facts outside his area of expertise. As a result, President Trump can neither weigh the relevant facts and contingencies, nor navigate the best way forward through a deadly global pandemic.
Last fall, before the coronavirus reared its ugly head, Trump removed, from his National Security Council, the admiral responsible for crafting a U.S. response to a novel global virus.
What's more, the President did nothing in his first three years in office to build up the necessary medical stockpiles. Knowing in January the virus was deadly and easily transmissible, Trump minimized the danger till mid-March. Still, he blames the previous administration for our lack of preparedness.
To call these messages mixed is charitable. Small wonder some of his most devoted followers, who hang on his every word, believe this global pandemic is a hoax.
To be sure, the President should fashion, or certainly approve, our national strategy to fight this pandemic – not doctors or public health officials. Battling the spread of COVID-19 is analogous to war, when an elected President, not an unelected general, acts as Commander-in-Chief.
Even so, a civilian Commander-in-Chief should consider the opinions of his generals in crafting a military strategy. Likewise, the views of medical scientists should be balanced – to the extent they conflict – with the dire need to open up our economy.
President Trump has not demonstrated the capacity to do this.
The Trump Administration has set forth guidelines to reopen the economy three phrases, provided certain criteria are met, including declining infection rates and increased testing capacity. No state that's opening has met any of that criteria.
Still, Trump eggs them on. We now get Presidential happy talk about how we need to be warriors, instead of a reasoned, calm assessment of the real risks his warriors – we citizens - face on his battlefield.
To Make America Great Again, the President is not, as did John F. Kennedy, telling us to “Ask not what your country can do for you.” He is, in effect, exhorting us to ask what we can do for his re-election.
Were he alive today, the journalist, satirist and cultural critic H.L. Mencken likely would have viewed the assessment of the President made by ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as affirming the prediction he made almost 100 years earlier:
“As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
The federal government's failure to provide the equipment and supplies for widespread testing, and lead a national testing and contact tracing program (room can be left for flexible state guidelines) is a dereliction of duty. It is a failure to provide for the common defense in a national crisis, which is a federal responsibility. States and local municipalities are not equipped to lead such an effort.
Two recent cases of COVID-19 in President Trump's inner circle led to extensive testing and contact tracing – something the entire country desperately needs if it is to safely reopen.
Trump has adamantly opposed having the federal government lead a Manhattan-like Project for testing. In these circumstances, where the privileged are more privileged, with far greater access to testing, the President appears to be saying of the masses: “Let them eat COVID.”
For Trump to blame the Chinese for our early lack of preparation – they may have kept secret the virulence of the virus until late January – is an un-transparent attempt to evade responsibility for making this catastrophe worse than it should have been. Before it's over, the COVID-19 pandemic will take more American lives than all the wars in the last 120 years, except the two world wars.
But take comfort: Trump said he knew all along it was a pandemic. Unfortunately, "Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid," said Valery Legasov, chairman of the Chernobyl investigation commission.
Sadly, that debt will be paid by the honest dead. (85,000-plus Americans and counting.)
Dr. Robert McFarlane is an internationally renowned cardiologist in Palestine.