March 31, 2020

Trump's Priority Is Making Sure Someone Else Takes the Blame If Things Go Bad

That's why he jumped on Fox News to say

 states have to take the lead in responding

to a global pandemic, even though that

is not possible. 


A main priority for Donald Trump amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is avoiding any responsibility for what happens. The buck stops that-a-way. "I don't take responsibility at all." He did not run for president to lead the country in times of crisis and wield the awesome power of the federal government to safeguard the lives and interests of the American people. He did it for the money and the crowds. Now that there may be some consequences for his criminal inaction for the better part of two months following the first COVID-19 case—a month ago yesterday, he said the 15 U.S. cases would soon go down to zero; there are now more than 80,000—he is working overtime to shift the blame. With the help of TV networks that carry his misinformation briefings live and unfiltered, he seems to have found some success for now.

The basic fact of the matter is that only the federal government has the capacity to secure the supplies—personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, ventilators, test kits—that hospitals need to fight the pandemic. The states cannot do it on their own, which the Trump administration has proven by so far largely leaving them to do it themselves, which has mostly yielded competitions for resources between states and hospitals. Even the most devout libertarian or federalist would grant that responding to a global pandemic, which the president himself has described as requiring a wartime footing, is an essential responsibility of the federal government. The president must lead on this, first of all by invoking the Defense Production Act to fully mobilize American manufacturing to produce, say, the ventilators we need. Pay whatever the cost. Do what needs to be done.

That arrangement will not work for the president, however. If he grants this is his responsibility, he might be held accountable for the outcome. And while that is the definition of democratic self-government, it's not something in which he is particularly interested. So he called into Sean Hannity's Fox News program last night to explain why this is all really on the states themselves to figure out. That way, it's their fault when lots of people die.


This is frankly disgusting, and if there's any justice left in this miserable world he will pay the price. South Korea had its first case a day before the United States did and set to work immediately supercharging its testing capacity, which turned out to be the cornerstone of its gold-standard response. We watched our president yap about how the pandemic would disappear miraculously and take zero action to grow our testing capabilities, much less stockpile masks or ventilators, or task the Army Corps of Engineers with building out our hospital capacity. Even now, The New York Times reports the White House balked at the price tag for securing the number of ventilators we may need if we continue on our disastrous trajectory.



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