The last time the White House held an official coronavirus press briefing was May 1, but that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from sowing chaos and confusion about the federal government’s pandemic response. This week, he has instead turned to falsely buoyant publicity events to project an image he considers politically advantageous. His unrelenting push to reopen the economy in the midst of still-climbing virus cases is having dire consequences, all while he attacks the media and manipulates government officials to obscure his failures during this public health disaster.
- With abject disregard for common sense and public safety, Trump encouraged the actions of armed protesters who stormed Michigan’s state Capitol to demand the lifting of coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders and business restrictions. With “quarantine fatigue” already putting more of the populace in danger, Trump’s blithe support of these “very good people” is inexcusable. A positive response to the threat of violence from the highest executive office in the country has already lead to more violence, including the murder of a security guard in Flint, Michigan.
- To shield himself from the consequences of his actions, Trump and his administration continue to take drastic steps to reduce oversight of their response to the pandemic. In addition to replacing a public health official who candidly reported on the federal government’s severe supply shortages, Trump recently said he would only permit Dr. Anthony Fauci and other members of the White House coronavirus task force to testify before the Republican-led Senate.
- Trump is likely stonewalling legitimate government oversight to support companies to which he has close ties with financial assistance. Despite funds running out before many small American businesses could receive coronavirus stimulus aid, a prominent Chicago family closely linked to the Trump administration received a $5.5 million loan. At least three other companies with ties to the administration received $18.3 million, as did Trump-connected fossil fuel firms. Well-connected and already well-funded businesses were far better positioned to utilize the Small Business Administration’s initial coronavirus aid program, further disadvantaging the businesses which are truly struggling during the pandemic. Additionally, the Trump administration has announced that it will not disclose data surrounding federal medical supply distribution during the crisis, and the business leaders Trump has been consulting for advice about reopening the economy include at least three large campaign donors. He also named one of his key allies, a top Republican fundraiser, to the role of postmaster general, potentially furthering Trump’s ongoing campaign to hinder peoples’ ability to vote by mail through dismantling the U.S. Postal Service.
- While Americans are suffering, Trump is otherwise focused on the progression of his 2020 reelection campaign, particularly after being shown polling data for several states that had him trailing behind presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. After lashing out at his campaign manager, Trump then put into motion an ad blitz to promote his self-described “success” in responding to the coronavirus crisis. And, with the timing of the election likely in mind, this week Trump made unfounded promises to the public that a working coronavirus vaccine would be ready before the end of the year, contradicting the timelines of both health officials and vaccine production experts.
- Even though the federal government has made no significant progress in increasing coronavirus test supply production and distribution, Trump continues to make overblown claims about having done so, including that the United States has “tested more than every country combined.” In reality, health care professionals across the country still lack both testing and personal protection equipment (PPE). While celebrating a National Nurse Day event at the White House on Wednesday, Trump directly contradicted a nurse who described her and others’ access to PPE during the pandemic as “sporadic,” and then made the unprompted comment that the “shelves” had previously been “empty” of PPE because “it wasn’t put there by the last administration.” This just continues a pattern of Trump blaming President Obama for medical supply shortages and having “broken tests” for an illness that wouldn’t exist for at least another three years after the administration turned over.
- Trump let the federal guidelines regarding social distancing measures expire to allow him to focus on reopening the economy, even if the recovery data didn’t back up his desire to do so. No U.S. state has met the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations that they see a 14-day drop in cases before reopening businesses and easing other restrictions. Within days of the guidelines expiring, states such as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, and Georgia all recorded a marked increase in confirmed cases of and deaths related to COVID-19.
- The final storyline from Trump’s involvement with the coronavirus response this week tracks his promises regarding and dismissal of the rising death toll – and his preference for saving the economy over saving human lives. During the past week, the death toll in the United States has risen above a staggering 70,000 lives lost to coronavirus (even with many deaths likely undercounted). Previously, the White House had predicted that we wouldn’t reach a death toll of 60,000 until August, and Trump has been using that number for weeks as a benchmark for the total national deaths overall. To address the new data pouring in, Trump changed his messaging to claim that as many as 100,000 Americans would die during the pandemic, even as he quietly strategized with his aides about how to undermine the accuracy of these death tolls. The administration ordered 100,000 new body bags, but gave mixed signals about the status of the White House’s coronavirus task force, going from it being phased out before June to Trump trumpeting its success as the reason for it continuing indefinitely. Privately, the White House projected the death toll in the United States to increase to 3,000 per day by June. Trump’s actions are becoming even more divorced from the reality of the pandemic on the ground, and millions of people are at risk because of it.
In addition to the ever-increasing death rate in the U.S., nearly one in five Americans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus-prompted economic downturn, and Trump’s increasingly strident “disaster nationalism” is having frightening consequences for Americans across the country.
As criticism mounts regarding the administration’s calculated failure to protect human life during a crisis in a shortsighted attempt to revive the national economy, Trump has continued to praise himself aggressively. “The one thing that the pandemic has taught us is that I was right,” Trump said at a recent event, “and that includes medicine and other things, you know.” Leaving aside the fact that the Federal Drug Administration has officially cautioned against using hydroxychloroquine – the anti-malaria drug Trump spent weeks promoting – as a treatment for COVID-19, there is ample evidence that Trump has done nothing right in his response to coronavirus.