The Washigtnon Post - 03.04.2020

(Joyce) #1

A4 eZ sU the washington post.friday, april 3 , 2020


the coronavirus pandemic


Jabin botsford/the Washington Post
president Trump, arriving to speak with members of the novel coronavirus task force, has sent c onflicting messages during the crisis. “He
at times just says whatever comes to mind, or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite,” said maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (r).

Jan. 21, and the virus was ravaging
China and then Italy and other
parts of Europe. But although
Trump restricted travel from Chi-
na in late January, a decision he
says saved lives, Trump did not
begin fully engaging with the cri-
sis until late february. The presi-
dent did not release guidelines for
social distancing and other ways
citizens could slow the spread
until m arch 16, well after the v irus
already had spread across the
United States.
When confronted with his ear-
lier attempts to play down the
coronavirus, Trump has either
snapped at the reporters asking
the questions or argued that he
was merely trying to offer hope to
people.
“I don’t want to be a negative
person,” Trump said Tuesday. “It
would be so much easier f or me to
come up and say we have bad
news.... But I ’m a cheerleader for
our country.”
Ever mindful of his reelection
prospects, Trump has looked to
avoid personal accountability for
shortcomings in the response. “I
don’t take responsibility at all,”
the president said in reference to
testing failures while speaking
march 13 at a news conference in
the White House rose Garden
during which he declared a na-
tional emergency.
Trump alternately has blamed
China for first spreading the vi-

rus; New York Gov. Andrew m.
Cuomo (D) for being slow to con-
tain what would become by far the
biggest U.S. outbreak; governors
generally for requesting federal
help procuring ventilators, masks
and other equipment and for not
showing appreciation for assis-
tance; hospital workers for hoard-
ing supplies; and the media, first
for allegedly overhyping the dan-
gers and then for allegedly not
giving him adequate credit for the
steps he has taken.
In a pair of tweets Thursday,
Trump wrote: “massive amounts
of medical supplies, even hospi-
tals and medical centers, are be-
ing delivered d irectly to states and
hospitals by the federal Govern-
ment. Some have insatiable appe-
tites & are never satisfied (poli-
tics?). remember, w e are a backup
for them. The complainers s hould
have been stocked up and ready
long before this crisis hit.”
Trump spent his first three
years in office systematically dis-
crediting and attempting to dis-
mantle parts of the federal gov-
ernment’s national security, intel-
ligence and scientific apparatus.
He has harbored suspicions of
career experts in part because he
does not consider them sufficient-
ly loyal to him personally, at t imes
tuning out their advice and
steadily working to erode their
trustworthiness in the minds of
his supporters.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Ca-
lif.) attributed Trump’s difficulty
controlling the coronavirus to his
lack of experience in public ser-
vice and his perspective that gov-
ernment is too big. The president,
she said in an interview, “doesn’t
understand that in this moment
of crisis, this is exactly when we
need our government to work.”
“This is that moment when the
American people need their gov-
ernment, but if you don’t e mbrace
and appreciate the nobility, the
responsibility, the heavy, heavy
responsibility and weight, then
you see what happens,” Harris
added. “You have a president,
frankly, who has been a bit frivo-
lous in the w ay h e has approached
this job, as it relates to this pan-
demic.”
Sen. Angus King, an indepen-
dent from maine who caucuses
with the Democrats, said that
leaders need credibility and com-
petence at moments of crisis but
that Trump lacks both because of
his lack of preparedness.
“People say, ‘oh, who could
have predicted this?’ Well, it was
predicted, specifically, to the ad-
ministration when they took of-
fice that this was a possibility,”
King said.
King criticized Trump for dis-
banding the National Security
Council’s pandemic team as well
as a State Department program
designed to identify outbreaks

and other emerging threats
around the world. “When you take
those kinds of actions in light of
warnings, it’s hard to say they
weren’t warned,” he said.
Trump’s defenders say he is
being unfairly criticized. “Every-
one is winging it,” said former
North Carolina governor Pat mc-
Crory (r). “We’re facing some-
thing we’ve never faced before.
The entire world was slow to re-
act.”
Trump seeks to play the role of
commander in chief navigating a
crisis that has consumed his presi-
dency, and indeed has won plau-
dits for some quick interventions
to marshal resources, but has act-
ed more often as a commander of
confusion.
“He has communicated like
he’s negotiating with everyone,
which is the craziest thing,” said
Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chair of the
department of medical ethics and
health policy at the University of
Pennsylvania and an adviser to
former vice president Joe Biden,
Trump’s likely Democratic oppo-
nent.
one vivid example of this lead-
ership style was Trump publicly
musing last week about reopen-
ing the economy by Easter, or
April 12, which m ost public h ealth
experts warned was far too pre-
mature.
“These things have to be empir-
ically driven, not driven by him

hours or more and are broadcast
to millions — to try to erase mem-
ories f rom his two months o f play-
ing down the c risis. He s ometimes
scolds reporters who question his
version of events.
The result is chaotic. Leaders
from maine to oregon and from
Dayton, ohio, to Austin say their
constituents are whipsawed by
the contradictory messages ema-
nating each day from the presi-
dential lectern, which exacer-
bates efforts on the ground to
enforce social distancing and mit-
igate the spread of the virus.
“People are confused about
whether this is really s erious. Peo-
ple are confused about how long
this may last,” Austin mayor Steve
Adler (D) said in an interview.
“We’re trying to get as much con-
tainment a s we can by limiting the
number of physical interactions
taking place, but they’re hearing
it’s not a big deal, it’s going to be
over soon, and getting community
buy-in becomes a harder thing to
achieve.”
In Trump’s pinballing state-
ments, Americans have been sub-
jected to a parade of claims and
musings about medicine, a topic
about which past presidents have
avoided speculating in deference
to the food and Drug Administra-
tion’s o fficial role addressing safe-
ty and efficacy matters.
“He at times just says whatever
comes to mind, or tweets, then
someone on TV is saying the op-
posite,” maryland Gov. Larry Ho-
gan (r) said in a recent interview.
“It’s critically important that the
message is straightforward and
fact-based for the public.”
White House spokesman Judd
Deere d efended Trump’s h andling
of the p andemic in a lengthy state-
ment and furnished a list of 115
specific actions the president or
his administration has taken, in-
cluding limiting travel, expanding
testing access and supporting
health-care providers.
“During these difficult times,
Americans are receiving comfort,
hope and resources from their
president, as well as their local
officials, because this is an all-of-
America effort,” Deere said in the
statement, w hich stressed the fed-
eral government’s collaboration
with state and local governments.
Trump has often sought to re-
write history. He now says covid-
19, the disease c aused by the coro-
navirus, is nothing like the sea-
sonal flu because it is far more
contagious and “vicious,” a s if pre-
tending his many previous flu
comparisons never had been ut-
tered. And he now says he has
known since it was first detected
in China that the coronavirus was
horrible and would become a p an-
demic, as if he could halt the
playback reel of his past com-
ments minimizing the threat.
The first coronavirus case in
the United States was reported o n


Trump from A1 waking up and going, ‘You know
what? Easter would be a good
time,’ ” Emanuel said. “That’s not
how you make policy or how any-
one would run an organization.”
message inconsistency has
been a feature throughout
Trump’s presidency, from his zig-
zagging positions on foreign and
domestic policies to his up-and-
down personal relationships and
rivalries. This is caused in part by
the president’s proclivity to speak
his mind at any given time, some-
thing h is followers hail as a virtue.
It also is attributable to his lack of
ideological conviction, which
makes him susceptible to being
persuaded by advisers both i nside
and outside the government, of-
ten on the basis of self-interest.
“This is not the first time this
president has looked schizo-
phrenic, because there’s a long
history of him vacillating between
incompatible messaging and poli-
cy d irectives,” s aid a former senior
administration official, who
spoke on the condition of ano-
nymity to offer a candid assess-
ment. “This is no outlier. This is a
result of a more ad hoc approach
to governing.”
In t he midst of a pandemic t hat
affects every American and that
knows no boundaries of geogra-
phy, class or race, Trump — who
has personalized his office, polar-
ized the public and smeared the
media more than any president in
recent memory — has struggled to
assert national leadership and
summon broad credibility. And
his lack of clear and factual infor-
mation has left governors and
mayors to step in, making varying
decisions for their localities that
have resulted in a patchwork re-
sponse.
“People here are looking to us
to talk about what’s going on in
ohio,” Gov. mike DeWine (r) said
in an interview. “We tell them
exactly what we’re seeing — every-
thing we know, when we know it.”
Asked whether Trump has sent
confusing signals, DeWine re-
sponded with a simple, “No.” But
then the governor went on to
explain that Trump’s Easter float
“did not impact what we were
seeing in ohio or my conversa-
tions with people in the state. It
just didn’t impact it.”
In Dayton, a working-class city
of about 140,000, mayor Nan
Whaley (D) described the chal-
lenges of keeping folks informed
as their lives are uprooted.
“I have people in my c ity texting
me what the president said, and
they go, ‘Well, what you’re saying
isn’t true because the president
says the opposite,’ ” Whaley said.
“Every day is a different message
from the federal government and
there is no consistency, o ther than
from Dr. fauci,” s he added, refer-
ring to Anthony S. fauci, director
of the National I nstitute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases.
philip.rucker@washpost.com
robert.costa@washpost.com


Dealing with crisis, Trump sows confusion and casts blame


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