“Nasty” Question Tells Us All We Need to Know About Trump and Coronavirus

6 mins read
President Donald J. Trump points to a reporter to ask a question after announcing a national emergency to further combat the Coronavirus outbreak, at a news conference Friday, March 13, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead. Public Domain.)

“What a nasty question” President Trump said during his March 13th press conference on the coronavirus, in response to a question from PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor. She had simply asked him whether, in light of the dramatic spread of the virus across America, he took any responsibility for eliminating the National Security Council’s pandemic team, potentially reducing the federal government’s ability to foresee and prepare for viral outbreaks.

Putting aside that Trump seems to reserve the word “nasty” for women — especially women of color — who criticize or otherwise challenge him (has anyone ever heard him call a man “nasty”?), her question was entirely appropriate. The chief duty of any government is to protect its population from all threats, including disease. President Trump deliberately downgraded the government’s ability to respond to a potential viral outbreak in 2018, when the National Security Advisor that he chose, John Bolton, disbanded the pandemic team in the National Security Council. And, despite repeated warnings from others both within and outside of his administration, did nothing to reverse the policy.

But did Trump accept any blame for any of this at all in his March 13th press conference? Did he even throw out the “mistakes were made” euphemism to deflect blame from himself without sounding like too much of a coward? Of course not. After getting angry that the question was even asked, he flat out said it wasn’t his fault, that “I didn’t do it . . . I don’t know anything about it”. But he did do it. It happened in his White House under his watch.

This absence of a central office for pandemic planning left the federal government without a single organization solely dedicated to watching for diseases that could affect our nation and preparing in advance to deal with those diseases. By itself, that would be enough, but it’s not the only way this administration has failed the American people in this crisis. 

And it wasn’t the only shortcoming of this White House. Even as the coronavirus began spreading outside of China and threatened to become a global epidemic, the Trump Administration fell short. The World Health Organization developed a testing kit which it offered to every nation, and which 60 nations accepted. The US did not. Why remains the subject of much conjecture, with possible explanations ranging from bureaucratic failure to a deliberate attempt on the part of Trump to boost a company in which he owns stock. 

But whatever the reason, the failure is significant: as of March 15, the Centers for Disease Control was reporting that the total number of tests given in the US reached about 18,000. That’s over the course of almost 3 months. Meanwhile, South Korea is testing up to 10,000 people every single day. Lack of testing is the greatest contributing factor to the growth of the virus, and the failure of this administration to adequately test Americans in the early days of the spread of coronavirus will be the major reason more Americans die than otherwise might have had the Administration responded properly. This is regardless of how many tests are made available going forward.

Also at the same press conference, Trump lied when he said that Google was building a web site to screen people for coronavirus, and that it would be up and running “quickly”. Google itself announced later that evening that they were not building any such web site and that the whole thing was news to them. A subsidiary of Google is working on a pilot program, but at the time of the press conference, there was no national testing website and no immediate plans to create one, and certainly not “quickly.” Whatever he knew or thought he knew about the website, he drastically exaggerated what the program was capable of and when it would be available.

So Alcindor’s question was not a “nasty” question at all, but was a good question, one that was relevant, and one that we still need answers to. Reporters asking questions is not nasty but is important to holding government officials accountable. Trump hates accountability and he hates for anyone to say anything that doesn’t inflate his oversized ego. 

But we, the American people, are tired of playing to his ego. We are tired of empty promises that turn into excuses to blame others. Either Trump is to blame for the failures of the administration, or he should get no credit for the administration’s (very few) successes. He can’t have it both ways. If holding the President of the United States accountable for how he manages a crisis is “nasty”, too bad.

This piece was written by Bill Radunovich with other Indivisible Gainesville volunteers.

Originally published in the in the Gainesville Sun. Re-published with permission of the author.

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