Those who complain about the media’s relentless focus on President Trump during a pandemic have yet to internalize the horrendous reality of his pandemic response: Trump’s failures of leadership and character have increased the death toll and continue to threaten lives.

For me, that is a difficult sentence to write. Having spent time in the executive branch, I realize how complicated presidential decisions can be. America’s chief executives are often forced to make momentous choices, based on scant information, under the pressure of a ticking clock. It is easier to attack such decisions than to make them.

But the fact of Trump’s deadly negligence is now demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Detailed investigative articles in The Post and New York Times have established that there were six weeks of denial and dithering between a credible warning about the virus and decisive action by the president. It is now evident that Trump:

  • ignored early intelligence reports of a possible pandemic;
  • delayed the ramp up of practical preparations;
  • was often more focused on political considerations, on the news cycle and on stock market performance than on epidemiological reality;
  • deceptively played down what he knew to be a rising threat;
  • coddled China when it should have been confronted;
  • instinctively distrusted experts and seemed unable to absorb simple information and sound advice;
  • lashed out at aides who took the crisis seriously;
  • shifted reluctantly and belatedly from a strategy of containment to mitigation;
  • is strangely obsessed with unproven treatments for the novel coronavirus; and
  • has systemically lied about the promptness of his own response.

These accounts reveal a White House staffed by incompetent loyalists, distracted by turnover and riven by feuds. A White House carefully pruned and shaped to resemble the chaos in Trump’s mind.

I urge you to read the articles themselves. In this case, it is a duty of informed citizenship. Americans need to understand the epic smallness of our president in times that demanded something more.

The tension between National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci and President Trump has been simmering for weeks. (The Washington Post)

All this is bad enough. But our interest, unfortunately, should not be merely forensic. Trump draws bitterness and resentment out of his experience of the world. He does not draw lessons or wisdom. And he remains just as dangerous to public health on the back side of the curve as he was on the front.

For evidence, look no further than the president’s retweeted attack on Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: an attempt to inject the hashtag “FireFauci” into the sick Internet culture of the Trump right. Such bullying is designed to intimidate. But for what? The tweet Trump passed along complained of a CNN interview in which Fauci said: “You could logically say, that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.”

In fact, denying such obvious facts is Trump’s definition of political loyalty. If reality casts critical light on Trump, the president dictates that reality must give way. We must affirm that Trump’s inaugural crowd was larger than President Barack Obama’s, even though it was smaller. We must agree that the call to the president of Ukraine was “perfect,” even though it was corrupt.

Fauci goes out of his way to be deferential to the president — as he was in the CNN interview in question. But Fauci, who was honest about early testing failures at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will not dissemble about the late turn to mitigation. And so Trump has threatened his job. (The inevitable, but not particularly credible, White House denial of Trump’s intent followed.)

Consider the moral calculus for a moment. No reasonable person denies that Fauci’s engagement has made the U.S. response to the pandemic more effective. No one doubts that he is highly competent, informed by tremendous experience and motivated by the public interest. No one questions that his continued advice on the far side of the infection curve remains essential to public health.

This means that the president is perfectly willing to play political games by threatening an action that would risk U.S. lives. Trump conducted his tantrum by putting a gun to the head of the American people. This is vanity swollen into infamy.

The fulfillment of Trump’s threat against Fauci would, I assume, result in some kind of a national uprising. But the threat itself remains revealing. We look and look for some limit to the president’s irresponsibility and shamelessness. But there is no bottom.

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