drew54_Jim Watson-PoolGetty Images_trumpmedia Jim Watson/Pool/Getty Images

The Trump Presidency Turns Deadly

Harry Truman famously had a sign on his White House desk that read, “The buck stops here”: ultimate responsibility for the country’s welfare rests with the president. Now contrast that with how the current occupant of the Oval Office has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

WASHINGTON, DC – For the first three years of his administration, US President Donald Trump focused on consolidating power. And yet, as the United States approached its greatest domestic peril in a century, he refused to use that power. Instead, as a deadly coronavirus was poised to invade the country, the president opted for denial and delay.

But toward the end of March, Trump’s science advisers presented him with evidence from a voluntary 15-day experiment indicating that where social distancing measures were taken seriously, the disease spread less rapidly than in places where such restrictions were not observed. At the time, the number of COVID-19 infections was over 100,000 and deaths exceeded 1,000. Science advisers’ models indicated that if people behaved perfectly, 100,000-240,000 US residents would die, and Trump’s political advisers told him that polls showed the public wanted to extend social distancing. For once, he took the sensible approach, extending the federal government’s recommendation of social distancing for another 30 days, until the end of April.

At long last, Trump, who just days earlier proclaimed that he would lift all restrictions and “reopen” the US economy by Easter (April 12) – which he couldn’t do because the business shutdowns had been ordered by state governors – seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously. Earlier, he had also dismissed the Democrats’ criticism of his handling of the crisis as “their new hoax.” He took over the daily news briefings when he noticed that Vice President Mike Pence, whom he had put in charge of the emergency task force, was winning praise for conducting the sessions. And then he bragged about the TV ratings. But his behavior remained uneven, and he continued his harsh attacks on reporters who pressed him on his slow response.

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