The Corona Vote

The Corona Vote: Thumbs Up Or Down On Trump’s Performance

By

Leonard Zwelling

         In a long, complicated and detailed article in The New York Times on April 12, a group of reporters relates the time line of the coronavirus crisis as it pertains to the decision-making of the White House. What did Mr. Trump know and when did he know it? And, what did he choose to do about it? It is this article to which the president responded with his self-aggrandizing slide show at a recent daily briefing making the case that he performed perfectly.

         It is evident that there were many early warning signs that this coronavirus from Wuhan was not just another seasonal flu. Nonetheless, it is quite clear that the president was slow to grasp the magnitude of the threat to the American people and did not put into place containment or mitigation strategies to lessen the number and rate of cases of covid-19.

         That’s not the issue, although Mr. Trump’s methods of decision-making are certainly still of concern because he is talking about a rapid re-opening of the economy even as his public health team is warning that a premature move in that direction could be catastrophic. The real issue is how the American voter will judge the performance of Mr. Trump and his government and whether or not that performance earns him four more years in office.

         The article makes a compelling case that the decision-making and state of readiness of the executive branch was inadequate. On Meet the Press today, Steve Hahn, FDA Commissioner admitted to not having been oriented or updated on the tabletop drills for such a pandemic even yet. Now he’s in the real thing, just as the Obama team had warned the Trump team might happen in early 2017.

         The country was not ready for this. The economy has taken an awful hit and probably would have anyway once a containment strategy became impossible thanks to inadequate warnings from China and the WHO, not to mention political considerations in the Trump White House with regard to how to handle China in the midst of trade negotiations. Unfortunately, trade trumped contagion.

         If China had shut down the country, not just Wuhan, in December, as they could have, and had the U.S. and the rest of the west been alerted to the threat then and locked down travel from the Far East, perhaps this could have been contained. But the article makes clear that the competing political interests and the inability of the president to acknowledge the seriousness of the threat, cost America time, money and lives.

         With this now known, regardless how the rest of this goes, it should be clear that the Trump Administration had set itself up for failure by the constant churn of people in important positions, the lack of perception of reality, and a complete lack of readiness despite pretty fair warning that a scenario like this could happen.

         In summary, I cannot see how anyone could back this government’s continued leadership of the country.

         Mr. Trump failed in his most important duty—protecting the American people. Maybe Hillary Clinton would have done better. Maybe Joe Biden will get the chance in the future and excel. Either way, Mr. Trump had his chance. He blew it. Let’s move on. Jimmy Carter redux.

         The same will be the case in the states where how a governor’s performance is perceived could well determine his or her longevity in the job. There can be little doubt that Governors Cuomo (D-NY), Newsom (D-CA), Inslee (D-WA) and DeWine (R-OH) performed well once the degree of the threat was clear to their states. We will see what happens in Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia and Texas. The latter’s Governor Abbott most notably used the virus to outlaw abortions in the state as an elective procedure. Some people simply cannot let a good crisis go unutilized for advancing political agendas.

         And for all the leaders who do not have to face voters in the future, like corporate, university, and local leaders, they will be judged, too. And they ought to be. Managing through a crisis is what leadership is all about. Once it’s all over, the post-mortem begins and the performance of those leaders is reviewed. All will be held accountable for how they did—in lives saved and dollars lost.

         Those leaders who managed to strike a balance between the extremes of full-scale lockdowns and wide-open permissiveness and did so with an eye toward civil liberties and safety will be rewarded with praise. Unfortunately, the arbiters of that praise may well be the press, who I believe did a major disservice to the nation hyping up New York’s plight, while Mr. Trump abused the daily press conference with self-serving nonsense on network TV. He and the media did a miserable job.

         The coronavirus challenge has unmasked some critical shortcomings in the fabric of America.

         First, it is very unclear who is in charge of what, despite the Constitution being pretty clear in what it limits the federal government’s authority to be.  Mr. Trump cannot open the country because he wants to. The governors have control of the police powers of their states.

         Second, the press should be considered entertainment. The television networks have filled the airwaves with partisan nonsense on both sides. The story here is our reaction to the threat. Just as going to Iraq after 9/11 was stupid, so may the uniform curtailing of commercial activity be an error here. Too soon to tell.

         Third, and I will be writing about this later, Congress is virtually dysfunctional. Don’t tell me that an LBJ-led Senate or a Sam Rayburn-led House wouldn’t have gotten the money out to everyone by now. Ditto with a Ronald Reagan-led executive branch.

         The pros from Dover (see M*A*S*H by Robert Altman), would have handled this well. The amateurs from Washington did not.

         Fourth, I am really not happy with the position taken by some leaders of academic medicine to shut down research across the board. This is both shortsighted and detrimental to progress.

         You know, I am starting to see Bernie’s point. Maybe a “revolution” is in order if it means that we get better leadership, better decisions, and better results.

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