By Bob Chaplin
A leader of a democratic government has the responsibility to bring together its citizens in times of national crisis. President Donald Trump’s lack of cohesive leadership in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic has had unfortunate consequences for the people of the United States.
Some basic background:
The Chinese government’s knowledge of COVID-19 dates back to October 2019. Despite their awareness of this health catastrophe, they did not restrict travel of their citizens for their major holiday, Chinese New Year, nor did they alert the World Health Organization. They kept the virus a secret until a doctor from Wuhan blew the whistle on them.
In January 2020, this doctor was ordered by the Chinese government to stop passing along COVID-19 information. A short time after, the doctor died from a COVID-19 infection contracted while treating affected patients.
What followed were missed opportunities for President Trump to prepare the U.S. for what was to come and to lead in the management of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization went to Wuhan during the first part of January 2020. During that visit, the Chinese were not truthful about COVID-19 cases. President Trump insisted he was a good, trusted friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping and that there was nothing to worry about in reference to a possible pandemic spread of the virus here in the U.S. (this contradicted his executive order on Jan. 25 to ban travel from China to the U.S. on the Chinese New Year). Then President Trump proceeded to cancel the virus research lab contract (dating from 2017) between the U.S. government CDC and a Wuhan lab, eliminating the potential discovery of valuable information about the coronavirus through their collaborative effort.
In February, COVID-19 was exponentially spreading in China and Italy. At a press conference that month, President Trump waved away worldwide concern saying, “It will magically disappear.” When it didn’t, as the coronavirus rapidly spread in our population, the president had every opportunity to coordinate the flow of necessary supplies to our medical communities through, for example, invoking the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s WWII Defense Act. Instead, President Trump abdicated this responsibility, assigning the coordination of procurement and delivery of crucial medical supplies to the state governors. This created a competitive market for medical supplies and COVID-19 tests among the states and between the states and the federal government, resulting in much higher prices and severe disruption of distribution. This also contributed to political divisiveness as states differed in policy about how to handle the pandemic. Had President Trump stepped up to coordinate a supreme effort of American industrial ingenuity to make sure that all health providers had access to what they needed, citizen deaths and risks of exposure to our medical community heroes could have been reduced.
President Trump has also disseminated misinformation about the protection of U.S. citizens against COVID-19. He announced that he personally took hydroxychloroquine as a deterrent to contracting the virus, ignoring the proclamation of the medical community against this. Many Americans followed his lead, which led to a shortage of hydroxychloroquine, depriving some individuals of this effective drug for the treatment of lupus.
As well, while CDC scientists promoted the importance of wearing a mask—protecting against contracting and spreading the virus—President Trump failed to reinforce this critical guideline with a national mandate. Following an October meeting at the While House, where no one was wearing a mask, or social distancing, a number of staff members and two senators, along with the president, were diagnosed with the virus. This is an example of an unfortunate consequence related to President Trumps’ irresponsible denial of the CDC’s key recommendations.
The U.S. has had one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the world, to date more than 246,000, which represents 25 percent of the deaths worldwide. Due to President Trump’s lack of decisive leadership, he has consistently failed the citizens of the United States during this rapid spread of COVID-19. Had he stepped up to make some hard decisions about containing the pandemic, these tragic consequences may well have been far less challenging with far fewer deaths. This has been a dramatic failure of presidential leadership.
Bob Chaplin resides in Bar Harbor