This most certainly isn’t what Donald Trump had in mind, but because of his willful inaction, misrepresentation and mendacious imagination America has achieved a first—in the number of reported deaths from the Coronavirus.
That’s only one among a number of grim ironies emerging from this crisis. Donald Trump, early in his presidency, took on the role of constitutional scholar, asserting that the import of Article II was that he has “…the right to do whatever I want as president.” Now, in the midst of a true national emergency (the existence of which he has only recently and begrudgingly admitted), he has vast powers. The irony is that he has to be coaxed and begged to use them: Does he order manufacturers to make vitally needed medical equipment? He’d rather not. Does he take control of the situation to prevent destructive competition among the states for scarce supplies? That’s apparently not his job. Does he use his platform to assure the American public that his administration recognizes the challenge and that dark days may be ahead but we will emerge and recover? Given a golden opportunity to say something inspirational, he chooses instead to berate the reporter who served it up for him on a golden platter.
Well, no surprise. We can’t be disappointed in his performance because our expectations were so low to begin with. That Trump’s approval ratings appear to have improved because of the way he has handled the Coronavirus crisis is incomprehensible, but we can theorize that people want to believe that he is in charge and knows what he’s doing.
And, by the way, by what measure can we say that if only 100,000 to 240,000 persons die from this disease that we can consider ourselves lucky? After all, that’s only .03 to .07 percent of our population. Considering the down-playing of the threat for weeks, the talk of a new “hoax”, the insistence that governors kowtow to the emperor if they wanted their emergency calls returned–considering all that, where is the outrage?
We could go on about it, but it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose. The question we should be asking now is what about the future? What do we need to do to anticipate and prepare for the next pandemic? As we’ve discovered, 50 year floods have become annual events. We can’t expect that once we get through this current crisis–and we will get through it–that it will be a while before we face another. These rare events seem to have become more frequent.
We need to find out why we were, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, so ill prepared for what we’re experiencing. We can’t correct our mistakes and inaction if we don’t know what we did wrong and why we failed to act. Much of the federal medical establishment saw the tsunami coming and doubtless sent the word up the chain of command. How far did it get, and when? And why were we so short of ventilators, to name one item that now seems critical? How is it that South Korea was able to perform 10,000 Coronavirus tests a day almost immediately? (Hint, they had learned a lesson from their experience with the MERS virus in 2015 and prepared themselves for another viral threat). Why did the CDC reject the World Health Organization’s formula for producing a Coronavirus test and insist on developing one themselves from scratch?
There may be good answers to these questions, but we need to find out. After 9/11 we had a non-partisan, or bi-partisan, commission to investigate and make recommendations. It wasn’t a total success, but it was better than nothing. Given the Republicans’ knee jerk defense of everything Trump does or doesn’t do, we can’t expect Congress to fulfill its oversight responsibility here. But it could do what it seems so adept in doing and pass the buck to a commission and let it dig in.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) reportedly is working on a bill to establish a commission. It’s imperative that its mission be to gather all the information surrounding this experience and not be established to focus on Trump. Politically, that would be a non-starter, which is to say that the Senate would never approve it. In any case, the Senate may be reluctant to approve a commission of any kind, but that’s no reason not to try. In the meantime, in the absence of any official inquiry, perhaps some enterprising journalist(s) might take a crack at getting some answers. There is some precedent for that.