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In this test of leadership, Trump flunks

By Bill Press, Tribune Content Agency on

Yes, miracles do happen. After two months of dismissing the threat of the coronavirus, this week Donald Trump finally started to take it seriously. He admitted that many more Americans would die, that things will get worse before they get better, and that the economic impact of the virus could lead to a recession.

Yet he still couldn't help himself. He had to add a self-congratulatory "I told you so." He bragged to reporters in the White House Briefing Room: "This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."

Mic drop! No, he didn't. As reported by the New York Times, here are some of the things he actually said about the coronavirus. On January 22, asked if there were "worries about a pandemic" in the White House, Trump scoffed: "No, not at all. We have it totally under control. It's one person coming from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."

On February 26, commenting on the first cases in the United States: "We're going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So, we've had very good luck." On March 7, at a party at Mar-a-Lago attended by four people who've since tested positive for the coronavirus, Trump shrugged: "No, I'm not concerned at all."

On Friday, March 13, I was in the Rose Garden when the Pinocchio president assured us that we were "totally in control" of the virus. Reality check. Fifteen minutes later, an alert on my iPhone from the CDC projected that 160 to 214 million Americans could become infected with the virus and from 200,000 to 1.4 million Americans might die. No wonder, according to the latest NPR poll, only 37 percent of Americans trust Donald Trump to deal with the virus scare.

So, it was a relief to see Trump turn around and take the coronavirus seriously. Unfortunately, we lost two months in the fight against COVID-19 because Trump was in denial, dismissing it as a "hoax" invented by Democrats to harm his chances for re-election and refusing to take any action. Perhaps most harmfully, Trump initially rejected the offer of test kits developed by the World Health Organization, insisting that the CDC create its own tests, which it did, except, at first, they didn't work. Again, weeks wasted. And, without widespread testing, we really don't know how many cases of the virus there are in America.

But even a more serious Trump can't resist lobbing cheap shots. He now insists on calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus," which is not only racist, but which sends the absolute wrong message. This is not China's virus, this is "our" virus. This is Maryland, Georgia, California, and every state's virus, which we should all work together to put behind us instead of pointing fingers at anybody else.

Quick note: Reportedly, Trump changed his tune only after a group of British scientists led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson warned that 2.2 million Americans could die of the virus. He listened to scientists about coronavirus. Now if only Trump would listen to scientists about climate change. But that might be asking too much.

 

In the end, amid the frustration, there's more than a little irony, on two fronts, watching the Trump administration muddle its way through this crisis. First the fact, as even some conservative commentators acknowledge, that the ideal answer to making sure every American has access to the testing and medical attention they may need is -- wait for it -- Medicare For All! If only we had such a system in place. The coronavirus crisis makes Bernie Sanders's case.

Second, on the economic front, it's more than a little amusing to see Republicans suddenly embrace two of the most socialist ideas of all. One, bailing out hotels, airlines, and cruise ships. Remember how they accused Barack Obama of being a "socialist" when he bailed out the auto industry?

Two -- thank you, Andrew Yang -- sending every American a check, or maybe two, for $1,000 each. Democrats or Republicans, I guess we're all socialists now.

As many have pointed out, we Americans have survived crises before: during the Great Depression, World War II, September 11. And each time we looked for leadership from the Oval Office. Once again we look, but this time no leadership is there. Yes, we'll survive this crisis, too. Not thanks to Donald Trump, but despite him.

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(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, "Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him)." His email address is: bill@billpress.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)

 

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