The official response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing illustration of the maxim to be careful what you wish — or whom you vote — for.
President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic has been bungling a global health crisis as reality TV. But in this movie, the show loses lives, not ratings. Video was retrieved of Trump responding to the media regarding his dismissal of the pandemic response team that President Barack Obama built and handed over to him. “I’m a business person,” Trump responded. “I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.”
Of his relevant business person experience, he may have been talking about operating casinos. This was gambling the health of the nation that the electoral college elected him to lead on the chance that no pandemic would spread on his watch. Because you don’t only need a pandemic team around once there is a pandemic. You need a pandemic team around to track evidence of a potential pandemic.
You need a pandemic team around to start the laborious, multifaceted machinery of response to quell the pandemic and start preparing for its onset by doing all of the things that our national government has not done, thanks to Trump, such as distribute test kits and establish policy and protocol for administering tests and reporting results. As a result, when we should have been positioned to learn from the experience with COVID-19 in China and Italy, we seem doomed to repeat it.
Belatedly, Trump has dropped his “it’s all a hoax” act. Reportedly scared by a projection of more than a million American deaths to come from the pandemic, he has started to at least include sensible public pronouncements in his scattered messaging. But that only mitigates damage he continues to do every time he opens his mouth or his Twitter account.
Acting, again, like a business person rather than a public leader — like a scummy, ruthless and amoral business person — Trump reportedly tried to corner the market on a vaccine being developed in Germany.
Precisely where national leadership is needed, in the acquisition of medical equipment that will save lives from coast to coast, Trump told the states they are on their own in acquiring the ventilators that save the lives of people suffering from acute COVID-19.
And he continues to ventilate and incite the xenophobia and racism that helped to galvanize the minority of Americans that put him in the White House via the electoral college. He continues to call the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Perhaps Trump thinks he is echoing (only a century behind the times) the blaming of the so-called Spanish flu on Spain, though that bug was not even thought to originate in Spain; its spread into Spain from France was simply reported more widely in the middle of a world war. (Speaking of war, Trump managed to squeeze off a few shots at Iraq while bungling the pandemic.)
Trump has a xenophobic little copycat in Missouri. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft called the pandemic bug the “Wuhan coronavirus” in a statement sent to the press on March 16, the same day Trump called it the “Chinese virus.” The St. Louis Branch of the NAACP called for Ashcroft to resign the next day, though for incompetence and negligence in protecting the right to vote, not for xenophobia. The NAACP also compared Ashcroft to Trump, but for failure to address a crisis, not racism.
In Missouri, voters cannot be accused of voting for the current governor, at least not to be governor. Mike Parson, a cow farmer and county sheriff by trade, was elected to be lieutenant governor, an office with little executive function. He moved up to the big house only upon the resignation of Eric Greitens and has not yet stood for election as governor. (That comes in November, assuming Missouri is in shape to vote come November, a horrific thought we will return to.) It would be fascinating to see what a narcissistic showman like Greitens would do on the world stage of a global pandemic; as things stand, the bug merely interrupted what was supposed to be his comeback speaking tour. Imagine Greitens’ agony in trying to accept that anything (say, the health of global humanity) is more deserving of attention than his square-jawed attempt to restore his good name – that is, his future political prospects.
If Trump is playing the pandemic like a business person — a really short-sighted and unethical business person — then Parson is playing it like a cattle rancher who doesn’t seem properly concerned about keeping his cows alive. Missouri lags behind almost every other state in proactive, coordinated response to the pandemic. On KMOX radio, Parson actually offered the feeble analysis that coronavirus is a virus and government can’t do anything about a virus. If it’s up to Parson to get us more ventilators, then the richest people who care the most about people in the St. Louis region had better go buy us some ventilators.
Leaving cows for dogs, Parson’s response to the pandemic could be compared to the proverbial dog being wagged by its tail. Nicole Galloway — the state auditor who would be governor — said that Parson should declare a state of emergency over the pandemic. A little later, Parson — the actual, albeit accidental, governor — declared a state of emergency over the pandemic. Galloway then said Parson should set up a pandemic command center in coordination with public health experts. Any day now, we expect Parson to set up a pandemic command center in coordination with public health experts. To be clear, governor: those should be experts in the public health of people, not of cows. We’re not in Polk County anymore, sheriff. This is the big show.
Parson did shut down casinos statewide. That brings us back to our casino operator in chief. Pundits that never would have voted for Trump and could never convince anyone not to vote for Trump have been writing the requiem of his presidency, based on his bungling of the pandemic response and further damage to America. The smart money, however, says to wait and watch how this one plays out.
With the best of intentions, local and state election officials are asking permission to reschedule elections that are scheduled for these days and weeks when American public life is being shut down. Missouri had picked a Democratic preference for president in Joe Biden before the state began to wake up to the imminent danger of community spread of COVID-19, but Parson taking Galloway’s lead in declaring a state of emergency seemed to trigger Ashcroft to ask Parson for an executive order for Missouri municipal elections scheduled for April 7 to be postponed to June 2.Voters who turn 18 after April 7 will not eligible to vote.
Trump is not stupid enough, where his own stack of his chips is concerned, to fail to see a possible opportunity in a wave of election postponements. This fear itself may be the best reason to hunker down and contain this virus – now – in spite of our vector in chief. We simply must not let Trump screw up the pandemic response badly enough to justify calling off the election to unseat him and send him back to reality TV where he belongs.