In late January, the first case of COVID-19 emerged in the United States. When questioned about the danger of a pandemic, President Trump was optimistic: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
As cases continued to increase, Trump remained optimistic, stating on February 27, 2020, “One day the virus will just disappear.”
Nine months later, 40,000 new cases are recorded each day, while over 180,000 Americans have died. It is likely that America will not be “just fine” for a while.
There is much to criticize about the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. While it might be unfair to cite this response as the sole factor, it certainly played a major role in why the virus was and is so severe.
At a campaign rally on February 28, 2020, Trump stated that the Democrats were politicizing the virus and called their criticism a “hoax” while downplaying the virus, comparing it to the flu. This set the administration’s tone regarding the virus: one of carelessness and borderline disregard.
Trump’s remarks on facemasks during an April 3 press briefing perfectly demonstrate this: “The CDC is advising the use of nonmedical face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure… so it’s voluntary, they suggest it for a period of time. This is voluntary, I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”
This was one of Trump’s biggest errors. It is scientifically proven that face masks reduce the spread of COVID-19. The President could have easily stressed the importance of face masks as a simple, effective way for American citizens to prevent COVID-19 spread and set an example. Instead, he emphasized its voluntary nature and stated that he would not be wearing one, setting the precedent for questioning science and anti-mask rhetoric among his supporters. In fact, a late-March Business Insider poll showed that Republicans trusted President Trump more than the CDC for information regarding the virus.
It does not help that Trump and his administration continued to contradict and undermine professionals such as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. While Trump maintained that the virus will “one day disappear,” Dr. Fauci warned the American public that COVID-19 will continue into the fall and winter. Additionally, Trump claimed that Dr. Fauci was against his travel restriction on China, when in reality, Dr. Fauci supported it. Peter Navarro, Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, used flawed studies regarding hydrochloroquine’s effectiveness on the virus in an attempt to discredit Dr. Fauci’s statement that hydroxychloroquine was not an optimal method.
The administration’s antagonism of Dr. Fauci is baffling and worrying. While an NBC News poll in early August showed that over half of American adults still trust Dr. Fauci and the CDC, the Trump administration’s attacks convey that it is reasonable to question a certified professional. The same poll also showed that 70% of Republican adults trust Trump for coronavirus information, compared to 32% that trust Fauci and 38% that trust the CDC.
Trump justified his response using an interview with Axios’s Johnathan Swan. In regards to his handling of the pandemic, Trump said that “under the circumstances, I think it [the virus] is under control.” Swan asked “How? A thousand Americans are dying a day!” to which Trump responded “They are dying, it’s true, it is what it is, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as we can control it.”
Regardless of how much Trump believes his administration has done to combat the virus, the fact that American citizens are dying shouldn’t be brushed off with a simple “it is what it is.” Intentional or not, Trump diminishes the severity of the virus and value of human life.
Additionally, he emphasized that “big countries don’t test like we do,” arguing that the U.S. numbers are exaggerated. Ultimately, more testing should not be the sole reason as to why the United States has the most COVID-19 cases in the world.
On the topic of COVID-19 deaths, Trump used the United States’ case fatality ratio, the number of people who die after contracting the virus, as evidence for an effective response. According to NPR, the case fatality ratio for the United States is roughly 3%, which is one of the lowest in the world. While this does have some merit, it is an unreliable measure of success. Furthermore, Trump was quick to brush aside the deaths per capita, a statistic where the United States ranks significantly worse. This is a clear case of the President selectively picking statistics in an attempt to defend his response. It is no secret that Trump comes under intense scrutiny from the media due to his lackluster COVID-19 response. He contradicted experts and attempted to minimize and deflect from the results of his actions. Come election day, Americans must decide the next four years of this country, and voters must determine if his mishandling of COVID-19 will influence their vote.