But Trump wasn’t paying attention. “It will all work out well,” he blithely tweeted on Jan. 24 while credulously thanking Chinese President Xi Jinping for “working very hard to contain the Coronavirus.” (A British study suggests China could have eliminated 95 percent of its cases if it had acted three weeks earlier, when a doctor first called attention to the epidemic in Wuhan.)
Because of Trump’s negligence, the United States lost two months of response time — precious days that should have been used to test the population, produce more N95 masks and ventilators, and build new hospital beds. This past week, the Pentagon finally announced that a Navy hospital ship would be heading to New York — but it will take at least two weeks to get ready. Why wasn’t the deployment order given sooner? Even now, with the crisis upon us, Trump hesitates to use his full authority to order wartime production of ventilators needed to keep thousands of patients alive.
Utterly lacking in empathy, Trump is incapable of rallying a shell-shocked nation. When asked on Friday, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?,” Trump launched into a tirade against the reporter who asked the question. Like the snake-oil salesman that he is, his version of reassurance is to tout miracle cures that have not been verified by medical science.
It was precisely because we were afraid of how Trump would mishandle his weighty responsibilities that some “Never Trump” conservatives supported Clinton in 2016. On May 8, 2016, I wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “There has never been a major party nominee in U.S. history as unqualified for the presidency. The risk of Trump winning, however remote, represents the biggest national security threat that the United States faces today.”
I do not cite my earlier article — one of dozens I wrote in 2015 and 2016 warning in ever-more-urgent tones of the danger of electing Trump — as a way of patting myself on the back for prescience. It took no foresight to predict that Trump would be a catastrophe in a crisis. It was close to the conventional wisdom. Yet nearly 63 million voters chose to disregard such warnings.
There were many reasons Trump won. Ironically, one of the most oft-cited was the desire to blow everything up, because Trump voters were convinced that things couldn’t get any worse than they were in 2016. As they shelter in their homes and the economy grinds to a halt, I wonder if perhaps they now realize how good they had it under President Barack Obama?
For the past three years, Trump supporters have scoffed at critics, claiming we are out-of-touch, pointy-headed, coastal elitists too focused on Trump’s unconventional way of speaking while ignoring his historic policy achievements — meaning an expanding economy that he inherited from Obama. Perhaps they would like to rethink that argument now that the stock market has given up all of the gains it made under Trump and the unemployment numbers are heading for Great Depression levels?
One of the biggest, if unstated, reasons so many voters opted for Trump is simply because he is an entertaining showman. His unscripted rallies were so mesmerizing that he earned billions of dollars in free airtime. The underlying assumption was that the federal government is so unimportant that it could be handed over safely to a reality TV star who revels in “unpresidented” behavior.
This was the result of post-Cold War, post-9/11 complacency, with voters imagining that they could take peace and prosperity for granted. If the coronavirus should teach us anything, it is that governing is a deadly serious business. Electing a grown-up isn’t a luxury; it’s a matter of life and death. The price of “owning the libs” turns out to be far higher than even most Trump critics could have imagined.
I knew he would be a bad president — but even I didn’t expect him to be Herbert Hoover-level bad. In a way, you almost can’t blame Trump for his epic incompetence: He is who he is. He didn’t deceive anyone. I blame the voters who elected him — and the senators who refused to impeach him. They should have known better. Because they didn’t, we will all pay a fearful price.