Trump, as he often does when he has made a mistake or revealed his ignorance, changed course to claim that he knew all along that we were facing a pandemic. That is, of course, a lie. He is caught on videotape lying. Trump spent weeks calling COVID-19 a hoax created by the Democrats in Congress.

Trump didn’t cause the pandemic. What he did was squander America’s only advantage — a lag time during which to prepare for the crisis — thus encouraging the spread of the disease when it might have been contained. He has, in real and material ways, made this crisis worse.

He has consistently downplayed, denied and misled the public about the seriousness of the threat. On top of that — since the first cases appeared in China in late December, Trump took few steps to prepare the country for the pandemic before it inevitably reached our shores. If he knew there was a pandemic, then we can believe one of two possibilities — first, that he was ignorant, buying into the Fox News disinformation loop,  or second, he was thinking of his election, which he thinks is tied to the economy, so he refused to take action that would have spooked stock markets.

I’m not sure which scenario is true. What is inescapable is that had Trump not frittered away valuable time that could have been spent deploying tests (which could have been obtained from the World Health Organization), building up medical equipment and facilities, and preparing for a series of escalating steps to promote social distancing, he might have reduced the strain on our health-care system and saved lives. 

This is the biggest blunder in presidential history. Former Department of Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem writes for the Atlantic: “With little guidance from the federal government, governors — along with mayors, CEOs, university presidents, and leaders in the sports and entertainment businesses — have taken it upon themselves to try to slow the spread of the virus before it overwhelms the medical system’s capacity to respond.” She adds that “a 50-state strategy has emerged to fill the vacuum left by an administration that is still unable to distribute enough testing kits, is still focused on closing borders, and was slow to tell the American public to just stay home.”

Trump has turned the governors into rivals for scarce resources. He did not show any real recognition of the magnitude of the problem until his administration got hold of a study from Britain. “The Imperial College London group reported that if nothing was done by governments and individuals and the pandemic remained uncontrolled, 510,000 would die in Britain and 2.2 million in the United States over the course of the outbreak,” the Washington Post reports. Even if we now institute uniform, serious measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, we would “reduce mortality by half, to 260,000 people in the United Kingdom and 1.1 million in the United States.”

Trump shares the blame for failing to develop an infrastructure to fight pandemics and removing structures put in place by the Obama administration to identify and fight pandemics. Trump made the crisis infinitely worse by doing nothing for so long when leaders around the world were responding forcefully and then lying about it!

Bob Haisman is a member of the Democratic Party of Oak Park and a longtime Oak Park resident.

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