They were warned. They were staffed. They were trained. They were given a playbook.
They were asked to prepare.
U.S, intelligence agencies raised the alarm of the novel coronavirus threat beginning in early January in presidential daily briefs, including China’s coverup.
But for weeks in January, Trump either didn’t read or listen — or perhaps rejected the intelligence and the agencies he doesn’t trust.
For 70 fateful days, he tried to control the growing crisis with spin and bluster, applying the playbook he learned from Roy Cohn, but lethal viruses don’t care about lies or get distracted by blaming the media, immigrants, or your political opponents.
[Editor’s Note: The headline of this post was updated throughout 2020 as the death toll rose.]
In April 2020, there are nearly a million cases of COVID19 across the USA. Tens of thousands Americans are dead, with many more to come. More than 26 million people are now unemployed. We will be living in a different world for many, many months to come, even after we develop a vaccine.
This was not an intelligence failure. It is a leadership failure. History will show that Trump was warned of a threat to the health of the public, but failed to act.
No amount of White House press spectacles and tweets will change those facts, though we should expect a tidal wave of disinformation from his campaign and hostile foreign nations to try to do so in the minds of Americans.
“This tragedy teaches us many things about preparedness & public health, but it also warns us about the dangers of presidents who are manifestly unprepared to govern.”
President Trump should abjectly apologize and resign, but he won’t. He is not going to change who he is: a “micromanaging meddler and can’t-be-bothered, broad-brush, big-picture thinker.”
Trump’s character and capacity have been on vivid display since he became a national figure in the 1980s. His racism, cruelty, ignorance, xenophobia, lack of empathy, and corruption have continued in office. His grandiose narcissism makes it “impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.”
He’s tried to run the US government like a family business, replete with nepotism and patronage, and produce a daily reality TV show about it. It’s what Trump knew how to do. But it doesn’t work on this scale of public health crisis.
He won’t become competent.
He won’t stop being corrupt.
He won’t stop lying, deflecting, being divisive, and shifting blame to others.
Pundits, press and politicians who report otherwise aren’t being responsible.
A Fortune 500 board would remove a CEO who behaved this way, failed this badly, and refused to take responsibility. The Senate could have done so this spring by removing Trump from office; we’d have Vice President Pence leading the response, without Trump’s narcissism and ignorance getting in the way.
But here we are.
Every President will be tested in an unexpected way in office, by war or natural disaster or pandemic, and judged based on how they reacted when they learned, and what happened as a result — or didn’t.
Leadership matters. Competence matters. Intelligence matters. Integrity matters. Character matters. Decency matters.
Never forget that the pain we are enduring now didn’t have to be this way: a series of bad decisions, incompetence, and malignant neglect add up to catastrophic leadership failures that literally have meant the difference between life and death for our friends, families and neighbors, and the employment and education of many more.
[Graphic Credit: Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, CDC. This headline and post has been updated with new data.]