This op-ed has been updated.

As markets continued their dizzying downward spiral and other countries took heroic measures to fight coronavirus, President Trump sat down at the White House Thursday evening with two leading public-health authorities: Diamond and Silk.

Trump told the online provocateurs and other African American supporters about his “incredible,” “very good,” “great,” “best” and “fantastic” response to the virus.

“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle,” he told them.

The real problem, he said, is Democrats and the press, who aren’t giving him “credit,” who are trying to “build this up,” and who are demanding a bigger federal response. Amid an extended attack on Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Trump said: “Politics is fine, but when it comes time to talk about pandemics you’ve got to get away from politics.”

If only he could heed his own advice.

Sure, some Democrats are taking political advantage, but mostly they’re demanding the Trump administration do more. And so are Republicans.

President Trump on Feb. 28 spoke of expanding the travel ban to more countries with coronavirus and blamed the media for stoking public fear. (The Washington Post)

The one playing politics is Trump, cheerleading about miracles and silencing those trying to prepare the public. It won’t work — investors obviously see through the happy talk — and by playing down the crisis, he’s causing preparedness and monitoring to lag, which will worsen the spread.

What Americans need now is massive federal mobilization. Instead, Trump has pulled out the usual tricks, contradicting experts, blaming the “fake news media” for the market plunge, condemning opponents and even some of his own appointees (at the Federal Reserve), changing the subject, and making things up.

Thursday night, the New York Times reported that the White House has ordered officials to seek approval from Vice President Pence’s office before speaking publicly about the epidemic — apparently a move to muzzle public-health officials and scientists.

In his first major remarks after taking over the coronavirus response, Pence spoke Thursday to the CPAC convention, a conservative gathering: “I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that is our movement, our party and America need four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House!” He seemed oblivious to the absurdity that 73 seconds earlier, he had declared that, because of coronavirus, “This is not the time for partisanship.”

It’s standard when losing a political argument to protest that the other side is playing politics. But it was Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), a Republican, who warned that the administration is “lowballing” the amount needed to respond to an emerging pandemic and “will pay for it later.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), another Republican, says he’s “very disappointed in the degree to which we’ve prepared for a pandemic.”

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.), also a Republican, expressed incredulity at the administration’s lack of information.

And Republican Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.), when asked on MSNBC whether Trump’s past action left the country less ready than it could have been, said: “I think you could make that argument.”

Clearly. Last year, Trump disbanded disease-security groups in the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security created during the Ebola outbreak. He has attempted dramatic cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has disparaged the expertise and thinned the ranks of scientists throughout the government.

Now, we see a depleted federal government struggling to respond to coronavirus: flawed diagnostic tests and disagreements about lab capabilities; fewer than 500 tested in the United States as of midweek, compared to 7,100 in Britain (with one-fifth the population); inadequate protection for health-care workers; infighting in the administration; and a president who seems not to know what he’s talking about.

At his briefing Wednesday evening, Trump declared “This is a flu,” and that Americans, like him, should “bail out as much as possible when there’s sneezing.”

A questioner pointed out that the death rate for seasonal flu is 0.1 percent, compared to 2 percent to 3 percent for coronavirus.

“The flu is much higher than that,” Trump replied, incorrectly.

In previous crises of this magnitude, Trump’s predecessors dropped everything else. George W. Bush unified the country after the 9/11 attacks in a bipartisan rethinking of national security. Barack Obama relied on members of Bush’s team, such as Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, to spare the country a second Great Depression.

Now Trump faces his first major crisis. And he’s sitting down with Diamond and Silk, meeting with actors from a “low-budget conservative play” called “FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers,” firing off “caronavirus” tweets attacking Democrats and the media, and holding a political rally where he calls the coronavirus a “hoax.” (Trump said Saturday the “hoax” referred to Democrats’ pinning blame for the virus.)

But a reckoning has come for Trump’s politics of distraction, deception and blame. The markets see through it. And Americans will hold him responsible if he doesn’t do more, fast, to protect us.

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