Trump’s Viral Conversion

The Viral Conversion Of Donald Trump: March 17-An Inflection Point?


Leonard Zwelling

         Finally, on Tuesday March 17 at the now daily news briefing, the current President of the United States looked presidential. He still was breaking his arm patting himself on the back for closing down travel from China even though the novel coronavirus probably entered the United States via an American citizen coming from Wuhan, but he looked like the captain of the team finally.

         He answered questions for an hour and a half and was making good sense about what has been done to quell the spread of the virus to date, the fact that measures could get stricter, that he was working with governors from all states, including New York, and that he was marshaling the forces of the private sector to blunt the ascending curve of the rate of viral infections. After a series of federal missteps surrounding messaging, the seriousness of the threat, the fact that this was not a coastal war on Donald Trump or a plot against America, and an awful roll-out of coronavirus test kits  (see above link), the team struck a conciliatory tone that appropriately reflected the moment of gravity and uncertainty that is gripping the country.

         The truth is, as Dr. Fauci keeps saying, we don’t really know where we are on the coronavirus infection curve and wherever we think we are, our thoughts are behind reality. Thus, it is reasonable to pull out the stops and really ask of the American people to contribute to the country’s response to the virus. This is as it should be and it is about time. It’s an “ask not” moment in time.

The message has not fully penetrated America yet as the beaches of Clearwater, Florida were jammed with Spring breakers in close proximity to one another. The large cities of America by contrast, have largely shut down their eateries and bars and most gyms are closing. Even the JCC in Houston has closed most of its services.

         Finally, America seems to be mobilizing on two fronts. First, the populace realizes this is a real threat, reminiscent of past pandemics, but hopefully less deadly than the Spanish flu of 1918. Second, the federal government is starting to lead. For some reason, probably the enormous downturn in the stock market, President Trump is facing his responsibilities and being the leader of America. His entire attitude has changed from arrogant dismissal to sober command. Well, who knew he had it in him?

         There are still several challenges ahead.

         The testing has to get out there and the primary caregivers must be cleared and the symptomatic people tested and isolated if positive. The asymptomatic carriers should also be identified, but that may take massive testing beyond the capabilities of our system.

         If hospital beds in certain areas (e.g., New York) are likely to be in short supply, now is the time to move federal resources to devising ways to deal with such a shortage. If it takes the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary facilities, let’s not dawdle. Get on with it. Ditto the need for ventilators. Rosie the Riveter needs to be supplanted by Vickie the ventilator maker. We are, as the president said, in a war. Let’s act like it.

         Finally, there is one last challenge that is reflected on the beaches of Clearwater where many younger people seem not to be taking the president’s admonitions seriously. There are also people who don’t believe that this is any worse than seasonal flu and will kill fewer people despite the fact that there is no vaccine for coronavirus, no treatment yet, no herd immunity, and there are numbers from Italy showing 31,000 cases already and 345 dead in one day. There is still a credibility problem with some Americans, but I guess, there always will be.

         It is indeed possible that all of this activity may prove to be for naught. The virus will go away and few will be sickened or die. But if you were a political leader and saw what happened in Italy and South Korea, would you bet on that? Me, neither.

         Today, March 17 Mr. Trump may have finally become President of the United States. It happened to George W. Bush on 9/11. People can grow up. Let’s hope this Trump sticks around at least until this crisis is over. Then we can go back to arguing about politics. For now, let’s pull together.

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