Our Leadership Crisis: Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Failure

It has been nearly a month since COVID-19 landed on our shores and led the United States into its worst crisis since the Great Recession. An estimated 216,000 United States citizens have the virus, while so far around 5,000 have passed away as a result. These numbers are likely to change as we are currently weeks out from the predicted height of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is seen as the leading figure in the fight against COVID-19, estimates that by the end of all of this, some 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will die during this pandemic, and millions more will be infected. The side-effects of this crisis are also clear, the economy facing weeks of collapse in the stock market, wiping out all of the gains in the Dow Jones since January 2017, while after three weeks of state after state shutting down to avoid a rise in cases almost ten million people have filed for unemployment, surpassing the total number from the Great Recession. These numbers are likely to change over time, but it is clear that we are as a nation suffering from a crisis of leadership, and President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been lackluster at best.

Nearly two years ago in May 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton disbanded the health security team that was on the National Security Council. This team was responsible for coordinating a response to a potential pandemic and to lead the labyrinth of federal organizations in that effort. During this time in the Trump administration, global health security across the board suffered damage from the White House, and according to The Washington Post reduced funding for preventing the spread of infectious diseases abroad. The Trump administration has also attempted to cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most recently proposing a 15% cut as recently as March 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Russ Vought, Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget proposed the $1.2 billion cut to the CDC and an additional $9.5 billion cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). At a time when we are not even at the height of the current pandemic wreaking havoc on the global economy, Donald Trump is sticking to his guns on the budget. Although the OMB Director claims that the cuts are not against the infectious disease funding, but instead on research, this is a clear sign of either the administration’s incompetence or their lack of care in handling this crisis.

Perhaps the most disturbing is President Trump’s own actions at the height of this pandemic. For example, Trump has repeatedly claimed that COVID-19 is no worse than the common flu, which was quickly disproven by scientists and other medical professionals. Dr. Fauci himself has criticized the administration’s early failures in a lack of testing, and as the administration was struggling to get testing efforts off the ground with poor leadership at the head of HHS under Secretary Alex Azar, the President was working on downplaying the threat. At the end of February 2020, Trump claimed that “It’s [COVID-19] going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.” He has even suggested reopening the country by April 12 for Easter with absolutely no backing from health officials such as Dr. Fauci. Even the National Review, a conservative and often pro-Trump periodical, saying that “So far in this crisis, Donald Trump himself has obviously failed to rise to the challenge of leadership, and it does no one any favors to pretend otherwise.” Even worse, after President Trump promised to use the Defense Production Act to create new medical supplies such as safety equipment for medical professionals and ventilators for victims of COVID-19, he said that he will only invoke it in the “worst-case scenario” and failing to understand that the act exists to place orders with private companies to build these supplies. At best, the Trump administration’s response has been lackluster. Their policies are reactive and not preventative. Rather than starting a proper response in early-February or even late-January as health officials were warning the White House of the crisis, Donald Trump waited until March to truly kick off the response. Precious weeks were wasted, and now an estimated 100,000 Americans at a minimum will lose their lives.

The most insidious part of this crisis is the rise in xenophobia and racism towards Asian-Americans and in particular Chinese-Americans. Reports of the use of racial slurs and even physical abuse towards Asian-Americans have skyrocketed. This has been bolstered by Donald Trump’s use of the term “Chinese Virus” as opposed to the proper name of the virus “COVID-19” or “Coronavirus” as health officials and the public have been using. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 even reported that the name of a virus has led to reported incidents of hate and discrimination. Instead, the WHO argues that the names of various diseases and viruses should avoid location, people’s names, animals, food, or occupational or industrial references. Rather than take heed of this, some media organizations such as Fox News, The FederalistBreitbart, OANN, and others have taken to the name “Chinese Virus” or “Wuhan Virus” and following President Trump’s lead on a stunning rise in xenophobia. CBS White House Correspondent Weijia Jiang even reported than unnamed White House official even called the virus “Kung-Flu” to her face. Other instances of bigotry and xenophobia have been reported across the country as early as February. One instance reports a woman in New York City calling a Korean woman an “Asian b-tch” and asking her where her “corona mask” is. The victim was then punched in the face and sent to the hospital with a dislocated jaw. In Texas, a Burmese man and his young son were stabbed in early-March in a reported hate crime. There are many recorded instances of this type of bigotry occurring, and while the true number of hate crimes towards Asian-Americans are unknown, it will have likely skyrocketed as a result of this crisis. It is clear that the rhetoric used by President Trump and right-wing media is fueling an unnecessary crisis of fear and hatred towards Asian-Americans, and it is incumbent on them to refrain from calling the virus “Chinese Virus” and instead refer to it as “COVID-19” or “Coronavirus” as WHO officials say is proper.

The COVID-19 Crisis will hopefully come to an end soon, but it is important to recognize the massive flaws in the handling of the situation on the part of Donald Trump and the federal government. State leaders including Democrats such as Andrew Cuomo, Gretchen Whitmer, Jay Inslee have handled the crisis valiantly, as have Republicans such as Brian Kemp, Charlie Baker, and Mike DeWine. This bipartisan group of state leaders has worked hard in ensuring the increase in testing and pushing for safety measures that will flatten the curve. Instead, an early denial of COVID-19’s threat has led to the United States being weeks behind in testing and only now catching up, and xenophobic comments on the part of the President and others have led to a sharp rise in hate crimes towards Asian-Americans. His dismantling of our institutions in the years before this crisis has left our government weaker, while we have lost vital weeks due to the President’s refusal to tackle the problem over a month after he was first informed of it. Although it has been my hope that President Trump would rise to the occasion and uplift and unite the nation behind the effort to tackle the virus, instead we are divided and faced with a health crisis as well as an economic crisis. Now, between 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will likely lose their lives over the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic and millions will be infected. This crisis has made it clear that Donald Trump’s response has been an abject failure and is defined by reaction, not prevention.

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