correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed a vote on the House’s coronavirus relief package. The bill was delayed due to procedural issues in the House and a vote on an amendment sought by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). This version has been updated.

President Trump’s delay in preparing for the coronavirus might be the costliest presidential bungle in history, one that will likely increase the number of deaths and damage the long-term well-being of Americans. (The pathetic attempt to rewrite history to keep the Trumpian myth intact will not protect his reputation nor that of his enablers, including those who voted for acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial.) He has also poisoned the well of public opinion.

A new NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll finds only 37 percent of Americans “now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president.” Sixty percent have "not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.” Imagine if in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 60 percent of the population didn’t trust President George W. Bush. The understandable loss of trust in a compulsive liar is itself a crisis that might prevent the public and other politicians from taking action to protect themselves. (Fortunately, reflecting the admirable job they have been doing, “public health officials got the highest level of trust at 84%, followed by those state and local leaders (72%).”

The public’s lack of trust is based on Trump’s performance: He has been following, not leading — playing down a risk that others rose to address. Only 46 percent say the federal government is doing enough, a 15-point drop from February. However, “Americans have more faith in their local governments ... with two-thirds saying their state governments are doing enough.”

Trump has also convinced his followers that they cannot trust information provided by the media (despite his 180-degree reversal to align himself with the weeks-long effort by the media to warn of an unprecedented national crisis). “When it comes to the news media, two-thirds of Democrats trust the information they hear coming from them; independents were split; and Republicans overwhelmingly said they do not trust what they’re hearing from the media,” NPR reports. “Having significant chunks of the country either not believing their president (who controls the federal government’s response), the press (which is a gatekeeper for information), or both, could be dangerous in a pandemic.”

These numbers are instructive in several ways. First, to address the crisis, governors should take center stage, perhaps forming a small bipartisan group that can keep the public informed and make recommendations. In other words, we need executives to substitute for a failed chief executive.

Second, the pressure is immense on people such as Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to be candid, informative and forthright. Other health officials (e.g. the surgeon general) do a grave disservice to the country by sucking up to Trump and lavishing praise on him. That conduct diminishes their own credibility, which is critical to conserve.

Finally, the Republican-led Senate must act in concert with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to move relief legislation swiftly through on a bipartisan basis. Delays could result in more Americans dying, becoming ill or experiencing economic hardship.

In sum, we tragically have one of the worst domestic disasters in our nation’s history at the time we have our worst president. The rest of us — public and private individuals — must step up to the plate to fill the trust deficit.

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