The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter
After this I am really going to stop with the Trump posts. But the Washington Post did us all a great service by running the above piece documenting Trump’s most stunning breakdown. It’s long, so I summarize and comment here on the salient points. Also, I’m going to take a few days off from this blog, back after the New Year. We’ll hope for a much happier one this time, of course.
Trump’s incredible mishandling of the Covid pandemic in all likelihood cost him the election. The recent Post article documents not only his failure but his administration’s. However history comes to record the pandemic, it will be seen as a gigantic breakdown in presidential responsibility.
The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.
Contradicting his task force
As he refused to accept the reality of the pandemic, it became clear to Trump’s advisers that, despite frequent attempts, they could not penetrate the president’s delusions. They would contradict him at their peril. The Fauci-Birx taskforce made no real impact and was frustrated from the beginning.
Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.
From the beginning, the team had no strategy and no consistent messaging. They were attempting to put out fires with untrained people and ill-advised tactics. Jared Kushner got some ventilators dispatched but his volunteers played whack-a-mole with other problems. They faked models for disease propagation, punted on the involved question of testing, and ultimately turned their backs on properly dealing with the states.
They did not communicate in any effective way with the public or with the private sector that tried to help. The Post tells us about a failed plan to enlist the country’s underwear makers, like Hanes, to make and distribute masks nationwide. This was at the beginning of what could be called the mask debacle, which Trump and his blind administration continued to foster.
Paul Offit, a member of the FDA vaccine advisor council called Trump “a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable. . . . What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk.”
When Trump stepped in to replace Pence at the task force briefings, it was a signal of defeat, as the president proposed bleach and other nonsensical remedies. He looked at Covid as some kind of bothersome issue you could defuse with a TV advertising approach. He was like the Ron Popeil of Covid. “What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” Offit said of Trump.
Mark Meadows lied to the press, confused every issue he discussed, and still couldn’t please Trump. Birx and Fauci hung in there on the periphery but basically gave up, though Fauci continued to broadcast his sentiments. Scott Atlas, the phony doctor, preached a line that pleased Trump because it let him off the hook. That is, promote herd immunity, forget testing, keep up the anti-mask façade, advance the economy over basic CDC safety, etc. Then there were the rallies and the continuing White House super-spreader parties, all basically mocking the potency of the disease.
Yet it is impossible to mock the 324,000 deaths that have occurred to date. Theatrics are basic to Trump’s reality and, unfortunately for us all, there’s no business like show business—until the curtain comes down.