Trump’s daily briefings prove he’s uniquely incompetent to handle coronavirus

He wasted about six weeks assuring himself and his gullible followers that the worst public health crisis in 100 years was a fake news Democratic media hoax.

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White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

During a recent spate of cynicism, I made a prediction to friends: Before this thing is over, Trumpists will be calling COVID-19 God’s will. So let’s get back to work, save the stock market and let the disease sort them out. There are more than 300 million individuals in the United States. Surely we can spare a few million old-timers who were going to die anyway.

But you almost can’t get cynical enough. Before the day was out, Boss Trump was hinting that maybe the time had come to kiss Grandpa goodbye: “America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” he said during the daily performance of the Mighty Coronavirus Art Players. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Interviewed on (where else?) Fox News, the lieutenant governor of Texas suggested that grandparents should be willing to die to protect the economy for their grandchildren.

Let their headstones read: “They gave their all for the GDP.”

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Trump is also said to be losing patience with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the universally respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to whom it has fallen to correct Trump’s mistakes and downright whoppers on national TV.

“A major television star” was how Trump described Fauci before the doctor made the mistake of confessing his frustration to an interviewer for Science magazine. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” he said of Trump’s daily blunders. “OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

Speaking of which, why do CNN and the rest continue to broadcast these absurd spectacles live? They should edit them as they do other press conferences, giving audiences the expert advice they need, and summarizing Trump’s odd pronouncements as appropriate. It’s called journalism.

Anyway, the next performance of the White House coronavirus troupe went on without Fauci. Who knows how long he’ll last? Possibly Jared or Ivanka can take over at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But I lapse into mere sarcasm, inadequate to the crisis we face.

Leave it to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to supply humane perspective: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing,” he said, “doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world. There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”

As for Trump, the good news is that he has no constitutional authority to countermand mayors and governors who have shuttered public places in their jurisdictions. He probably doesn’t know that. He has no real idea how government works. In Trump’s mind, he tweets and everybody obeys.

Look, Trump didn’t cause the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s one of nature’s nasty little tricks, like ticks, water moccasins and the bubonic plague — a worldwide biological catastrophe. Or, for that matter, like impassioned mobs cheering leaders displaying all the diagnostic criteria of narcissistic personality disorder. “Moral imbeciles” was the 19th-century term.

However, Trump has proven uniquely incompetent to do anything about it. As the contagion spread out of China, wholly unaffected by his purely cosmetic border closing —people could fly from Beijing to Singapore or anywhere else in Asia, and then directly to the U.S., unhindered and unchecked — Trump wasted about six weeks assuring himself and his gullible followers that the worst public health crisis in 100 years was a fake news Democratic media hoax.

Meanwhile, the underfunded public health bureaucracy dawdled along: Testing wasn’t done; masks, protective gowns and ventilators weren’t being manufactured and distributed to hospitals. Why hurry? Trump said it would all blow over. I have friends who remained in active denial until maybe 10 days ago.

Perhaps it’s too late, but attitudes are changing. After Trump sneered that the government wasn’t a shipping clerk, John Brummett quoted the impeccably conservative GOP state Senate leader Jim Hendren in his Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column: “This is failure of the worst kind. It’s like telling states to go procure F-15s and battleships for self-defense. This is a national crisis. The full power of the USA should be leveraged to solve this problem. Not 50 individual states left to compete with each other.”

Yet after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo all but begged for 30,000 ventilators, FEMA sent 400. That’s 29,600 Americans who are apt to die absent dramatic change. It will be up to exhausted, heartbroken doctors and nurses to decide which ones.

Speaking of battleships, if a Navy captain fails to heed navigators’ warnings, sails into an iceberg and sinks his vessel, he’s promptly relieved of his command. It isn’t even controversial.

No hope of that here, of course. Trump’s surrounded with vassals and flunkies. But it’s worth keeping in mind all the same.

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Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” 

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