Editorial: The U.S. Response to the Coronavirus Shows a Nation that Was Already Unwell

America has long taken for granted, if somewhat arrogantly, that it was special; exceptional; that other countries would always look to America as a world leader. Now the world is not looking to us, it’s standing at a safe distance and looking at us, dropping its collective jaw as it witnesses our colossal failure in our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As a country, we’ve taken for granted, too, that things would always turn out well for us in the end; that we could somehow fix things if they went too far wrong. The election of our current president, however, has taken us into new and unfamiliar territory.

A certain number of Americans were, and are, avid Trump supporters who have shown that they will support him and make excuses for him, no matter what. Another group of Americans, however, didn’t necessarily want Trump as president, but were more certain they couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton. “Let’s give Trump a try,” they said. They were ready for “something different.” Others who found both candidates unpalatable either wrote in a candidate, or didn’t bother to vote at all. If Trump didn’t work out very well, many told themselves, we’d bounce back as a country and elect someone else in four years.

Our casual belief that America would always right itself has made us blind to the idea that no country’s ability to bounce back lasts forever if taken for granted. We may have been a world leader for decades, and our allies may have been staunch, but under Donald Trump, the weight-bearing walls of our place in the world have been whittled down; the floor is beginning to sag, and now it has a real possibility of falling in.

We were horrified when Donald Trump began to systematically roll back Obama-era protections and alliances for the environment and for public health. When he talked of pulling out of global agreements, we were disgusted. We stared at the news in disbelief when we saw him cozy up to the world’s despots and mock the leaders of our nation’s allies. It angered and frustrated us when he called for violent military responses to peaceful demonstrations. We gasped when he pardoned his corrupt cronies. And when he slithered out of removal from office during the impeachment proceedings, he demonstrated what he and his enablers believed to be true: that he was above the law. We found it chilling.

Over and over, Donald Trump has demonstrated his incompetence, his corruptness, his penchant for telling lies (the Washington Post has documented 20,000 of them to date since he took office), his authoritarian aspirations, and his belief that the law doesn’t apply to him. He has caused us to question his mental and physical fitness for office, even after we’d acknowledged the futility of questioning his moral fitness. The world has watched it all.

As it turns out, in order to navigate and survive a global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, a country must have a leader who eschews those qualities that are all abundant in Donald Trump. The measure of a great nation is not that it is the loudest in the room, the biggest bully, the one that cozies up to despots, the one that pulls out of agreements, or the one that tries to keep others out. And the measure is certainly not that it places its people in peril by downplaying a pandemic or blaming other nations. Nevertheless, we have Donald Trump.

Each successive crisis, drama, and scandal since Trump took office has been and ever-increasing cause for concern. The coronavirus pandemic, however, is the culmination of all that has or that could possibly go wrong in a country. It underscores racial and economic inequity, an inadequate and poorly managed healthcare system, corruption of leaders, mistrust of authority, denial of science, mismanagement of funding, and incompetence of leadership.

Our case count rises daily by record numbers. As of July 20, we have almost 4 million cases and 140,000 deaths. Yet our administration and its loyalists continue to respond as if it were nothing more than a political game.

Kenyan human rights and anti-corruption attorney Maina Kiai, who previously worked for the United Nations, says, “A lot of people in Kenya, in Africa, have been quite shocked at how the United States has been dealing with this pandemic…the fact that it has elevated politics before life, before science, and that this is a response that you would expect from…almost a third world country. The lack of leadership at the national level, and the fact that things are going from bad to worse rather than improving, and so the luster, the sparkle, that the United States has been for so many people has faded in a very dramatic way.”

In countries where the numbers of cases and deaths have fallen in recent weeks, it is a result of their populations following the rules of lockdowns, business shutdowns, mask-wearing, social distancing, and other safety measures. These countries’ populations have largely understood the importance of helping protect the well-being of their fellow humans, and how that reaches all aspects of a society, including the economy.

Trump, in keeping with his penchant for sowing divisiveness, has instead planted suspicion and paranoia in the heads of his base, so that they see any caution toward COVID-19 as a Democrat plot against Trump, and any safety guidelines (such as mask-wearing) as “ineffective” at best, and “tyranny” at worst. Response to the virus has become a demonstration of political loyalty or disloyalty. Trump’s own refusal to wear a mask has spoken more loudly to his base than any recommendations from health experts.

At the same time that he has caused a great divide among Americans over the coronavirus, Trump has shown indifference to the virus’ seriousness. He has said numerous times that it would “just disappear” on its own; that it was no worse than the flu; that the country was doing “really well” at managing its spread. He wants churches and schools and rallies to go on as if America’s cases weren’t growing exponentially, and as if we hadn’t lost more than 140,000 Americans to the virus.

According to public health experts, COVID-19 is nowhere near done with us yet. Trump, however, talks of windmills and dishwashers, plays golf, and when asked, reasserts how “well” our country is doing in its battle against the virus.

Other countries see plainly how well we’re not doing. They have begun to question whether we’ve simply become resigned to the rising number of cases and the tragic loss of human life.

A public news website in Germany had this recent headline: “Has the U.S. given up its fight against coronavirus?”

A headline in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper reads, “U.S. increasingly accepts rising covid-19 numbers.”

If Donald Trump’s divisiveness, incompetence, and indifference weren’t dangerous enough, the fact that his administration has begun to take on an authoritarian tone regarding its response to the virus should be chilling.

The Trump administration has mandated that hospitals send all COVID-19 related data directly to the Trump administration, bypassing the usual transmission to the CDC. Trump has also threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that don’t re-open to hold classes on-site this fall, despite CDC guidelines for safely reopening. The White House coronavirus task force hasn’t briefed the public since April, and Donald Trump and the White House have taken to overriding any information or recommendations from health and science experts if they don’t align with Trump’s narrative around the virus.

“Like many other aspects of our country, the CDC’s ability to function well is being severely handicapped by the interference coming from the White House,” said Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. “All of us in public health very much hope that this is not a permanent condition of the CDC.”

Outside the U.S., some fear our situation here will be difficult to reverse. Following the CDC’s botching of the early testing effort, Siouxsie Wiles, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, said “I’ve always thought of the CDC as a reliable and trusted source of information. Not anymore.”

Everything is not going to turn out all right for us in the world if Donald Trump and his loyalists continue to bulldoze any effective response to COVID-19. The coronavirus is not going to disappear “like a miracle,” as Donald Trump hopes it will. We may soon have an effective vaccine, but in the meantime, the physical, spiritual, and moral damage done by Trump’s response (or lack thereof) to the coronavirus pandemic has put the U.S. on a trajectory that could leave us unwell — and no longer exceptional— as a nation for a very long time.

What the U.S. coronavirus response says about American exceptionalism |
PBS NewHour [2020-07-08]

Zuckerberg blames Trump for coronavirus hitting US ‘significantly worse’ than other countries | The Sun [2020-07-17]

Editorial: Trump’s “Knowledge” about COVID-19 Endangers Us All

When a world leader like Donald Trump postures as an expert on a topic he knows nothing about, it can be problematic. When he or she does so around medical information in the midst of a pandemic, it is deadly. Many Americans have died as a result of Donald Trump’s presumption to know more than the experts about infectious disease and the COVID-19 pandemic.

With his “musings” about questionable treatments during press briefings, his many unsupported predictions and recommendations about the spread, and his deliberate contradictions of scientific evidence, Donald Trump has put not just the United States, but the world, in deadly danger.

Donald Trump, the anti-science president, never went to medical school a day in his life, and apparently thinks he didn’t need to. He has often claimed to know more about science and medicine than the medical and scientific experts who are working day and night to help stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.

In Mid-March, Trump said this about his “knowledge” of infectious disease and epidemiology while visiting the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

A well-known ancient proverb says, “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool; shun him.”

A modern variation of this might be, “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Elect him not for president.”

In psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability,” according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

And sometimes, it is, as Salon’s Chauncey DeVega less kindly puts it, “a psychological phenomenon in which stupid people do not know that they are in fact stupid.”

Though Trump’s affliction with Dunning-Kruger started long before we had even heard of COVID-19, his latest flare-up began when reports of the deadly virus reached the U.S.

As COVID-19 ravaged China and was beginning to spread to other countries, there was his early prediction on February 10 that the virus would “go away in April. We’re in great shape.” At that time, there were 11 known cases in the U.S.

On February 26, with 57 documented cases in the U.S., Trump, ignoring the predictions and advice of experts, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, “Within a couple of days, we’ll be close to zero.”

Trump’s base believed him. They continued to believe him when, like the public health expert he thinks himself to be, he downplayed the coronavirus by comparing it the the seasonal flu: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Think about that, indeed. Since the time of Trump’s baseless prediction that the virus would just disappear, there were now more than 50 times the number of confirmed cases.

Two days later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force and head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health said that the coronavirus was far more deadly than the flu.

“This is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” said Fauci, when he was asked for data by a House of Representatives committee regarding how we should gauge the danger.

“He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a student; Teach him,” continues the ancient proverb.

Trump knows not, but seems to think he doesn’t need experts like Fauci to teach him anything.

Whether Trump’s mischaracterization of COVID-19’s deadliness influenced the way pundits like Rush Limbaugh were also playing it down is not certain, but as a result of these cavalier attitudes, Trump supporters, too, did not take it seriously. Trump, his base, and his loyal pundits stepped up their games of presenting faulty “statistics” and false equivalencies (such as comparing the number of COVID-19 deaths to the number of annual auto accident-related deaths). They “lived their lives,” helping to spread the virus, and more people got sick and died.

When Trump finally began to realize that “the numbers” were increasing—that is, the number of confirmed cases and COVID-19 deaths was growing exponentially in the U.S., he began touting the antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine for treatment of the virus, based on a small study in France that was later found to be faulty.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said, encouraging the use of the unproven drug. “It’s been out there for a long time. What do you have to lose? I hope they use it.”

Despite the fact that Anthony Fauci and numerous other medical experts cautioned that hydroxychloroquine had not been proven as a treatment, and that it may in fact be dangerous to some patients, Trump continued to promote it as a “possible game changer.”

“What do I know? I’m not a doctor, but I have common sense,” said Trump. “The FDA feels good about it, as you know, they approved it.”

Trump loyalists quickly began imitating their leader, waxing poetic about the miracle drug hydroxychlorquine, a drug they knew almost nothing about, as if they were experts themselves. (Hydroxychloroquine was approved years ago, but only to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis…not COVID-19.) Hydroxychloroquine has been found to cause cardiac issues in some patients, and researchers have now cautioned against its use for treating COVID-19).

Trump continues to disagree with scientific evidence, contradicting experts such as Dr. Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx (White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator), researchers and specialists from the CDC, and others. His supporters unfailingly choose to listen to him, dismissing scientific evidence, and disputing data and facts as if they were merely a matter of opinion or political persuasion.

Today, May 1, 2020, the United States has over one million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and has seen over 62,000 deaths. Trump continues to act as if he were the public health expert in the room, contradicting the physicians and scientists, downplaying the seriousness of the situation, and doling out irresponsible recommendations. Red states, having taken their cues from what Trump had “expertly” told them early on, are disregarding the recommendations of public health experts about social distancing and taking precautions, and are now “opening up” their states—as they no doubt are opening up to more deadly disease in the near future.

They who know not, and know not that they know not, are fools—and even if we shun them, as the ancient proverb recommends, they will likely kill many of the rest of us.

Trump contradicts Fauci, slams reporter over drug |
Associated Press [2020-03-20]

Experts Awkwardly Correct Trump On Coronavirus | HuffPost