Trump's grand promises for the pandemic response are now in ruins

Trump's grand promises for the pandemic response are now in ruins
President Donald J. Trump points to a reporter to ask a question after announcing a national emergency to further combat the Coronavirus outbreak, at a news conference Friday, March 13, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Exactly one month ago today, Donald Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced, with a row of beaming corporate CEOs behind him, a new "Google"-built website for COVID-19 tracking and testing and a new "nationwide" partnership with companies like Walmart, Target, and CVS to open COVID-19 testing sites.

The Google claim turned out to be an invention on Trump's part, possibly the result of his inability to retain and process any information that is not about himself. The partnership to open testing centers now looks to have been a lie as well. By April 1, two weeks after Trump's emergency announcement, the grand total of testing facilities in those corporate locations was five. Five, total. For the whole nation. The administration pulled funding for the program that Friday, saying the testing centers would be "transitioning" to state-run projects.

The grand total of testing sites now, one month later? A National Public Radio report says the total has increased from five to eight. Two Walmarts; two Walgreens; four for CVS. Target says there is no "formal partnership" with the government to open any at all, only committing to "offering our parking lot locations" when and if the federal government is ready to use them.

We can't say that the failure is surprising. It has been clear, every week of the pandemic, that Trump's interest lies in making grandiose claims about his successes, not in actually succeeding. While even the most marginally competent leader might see a grand total of eight testing sites as an abject failure of a much-vaunted program, find the failure humiliating or infuriating, and seek to take action to remedy that failure, Trump's response is to continue to assert success while ignoring all such evidence.

Even setting aside the months of delay in responding to the emerging pandemic at all due to White House fears that the stock markets would become Sad, the administration has been efficient in its incompetence. Trump's signature effort to contain the virus was a "travel ban" from China that was implemented only after the virus had already entered America and which contained such broad exemptions as to be nearly useless. (The most severe outbreak, in New York City, has been traced instead to Europe.)

Shortly afterward, the administration shipped nearly 18 tons of medical supplies to China—the very supplies that government experts had long warned would quickly run out in a U.S. pandemic, and the supplies that experts were already begging the government to ramp up production of.

The administration boasted that the stock market would be fine. The administration publicly told Americans, repeatedly, that the pandemic was "contained" or would "disappear." The administration responded to dire public warnings by government medical experts by restricting their warnings to the public, requiring them to pre-approve each appearance with Mike Pence's office. Pence quickly went on to claim 4 million tests would be available within a week; that number, too, was an abject lie.

It was not until four weeks ago that the Trump administration began placing any bulk orders for the emergency supplies already running low, as every government and expert team had predicted. That new effort consisted not of boosting production of supplies, but commandeering them from states, nations, and medical groups that had placed their own orders.

It was not until the end of March that Trump directed new production of supplies via the Defense Production Act—while simultaneously belittling governors and hospitals claiming to need the supplies. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner would appear at a White House podium days later to claim that the national stockpile the administration was finally bolstering was for the federal government's use, and not intended for the states.

The Trump administration has managed no coordinated testing efforts—and lies about what tests do exist. Trump's team has harmed efforts to procure supplies by out-bidding states, raising market prices, then redirecting the supplies according to political influence and loyalty. They have produced no nationwide containment strategy, instead relying on the states to produce their own while criticizing and undermining those that do. The Trump team has blocked government efforts to assess the crisis. Trump has blocked, as is now typical, lawmakers' efforts to even monitor how his administration is spending the vast, unprecedented piles of money to be doled out as lifeline to the economy. Trump's team has withheld government experts from the public in attempts to dictate the terms of White House press coverage.

None of it is getting better; the Trump team now seems to be occupied primarily if not entirely with how to "re-open" the economy despite their failures at every previous step.

The Trump administration response is such a spectacular failure that it would have to improve tenfold to even be called a fiasco. The federal emergency response to a pandemic is in chaos, with nearly all aspects having so far collapsed. And Trump is a liar; he stood in the Rose Garden and lied, outright, about efforts that he and his administration never even bothered to further pursue.


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