“There has been so much unnecessary death in this country. It could have been stopped and it could have been stopped short, but somebody a long time ago, it seems, decided not to do it that way. And the whole world is suffering because of it.” President Trump uttered these words at a White House coronavirus response briefing on Monday, once more playing the role of spectator in his own presidency. It is not difficult to locate the person capable of stopping or at the very least minimizing the pandemic.

U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

This report adds one more indisputable layer that Trump was not tricked by the World Health Organization or China but rather chose to ignore advice of his own aides — some of which originated as far back as November. Trump reportedly chooses not get briefings every day (the notion that he works hard is belied by his schedule and TV watching habits) but, in this case, it is hard to imagine he was not repeatedly informed of the danger.

The frequency with which the novel coronavirus was mentioned “reflected a level of attention comparable to periods when analysts have been tracking active terrorism threats, overseas conflicts or other rapidly developing security issues.” This is indicative of Trump’s entire presidency — a mixture of laziness, denial, arrogance (he knows more than anyone), inattention and willful blindness. He plays president but he does not do the job.

In Trump’s narcissistic brain, he is never to blame for any error no matter how egregious or obvious. He declared on Monday that he bears no responsibility for the uptick in poisonings after he suggested disinfectant injected into the body might be a coronavirus cure. Asked whether he should be reelected as the number of covid-19 deaths approaches the number of Americans killed during the entire Vietnam War, Trump insisted he and his team had done a great job since some estimates had a projected death toll as high as 2 million. He congratulated himself (prematurely) for keeping the figure to 60,000 to 70,000 (he used to brag about a projection of 50-60,000) — a number we may blow past in the coming weeks (and which may not have captured all of the coronavirus-related deaths).

Are Americans going to applaud Trump for not allowing even more people to die? It seems unlikely. Telling tens of thousands of families that they are fortunate because even more people could have died is cruel. Telling workers even more economic pain could have descended is, at the very least, unsatisfying and, worse, perverse. Deaths have occurred that could have been avoided with an attentive and competent president. There is no one but Trump to blame for that.

The Joe Biden campaign has adeptly run ad after ad depicting Trump’s false assurances and misguided projections (“We have 15 cases . . . going to be down close to zero”; by Monday evening, the number had closed in on 1 million). Trump consistently misled the American people — and perhaps himself — in denying the looming threat in some childish hope it would all go away and leave his reelection prospects intact. Trump has continued to falter, refusing to take command of manufacturing and purchasing of scarce personal protective equipment, masks and ventilators, and now leaving the states again to scramble and compete against one another for testing kits and reagents needed to build testing capacity, which in turn would allow economic activity to restart more quickly and safely.

Just as he downplayed the risk of the virus, the president now goads governors to throw open the doors of businesses, schools and public places — although his own guidelines suggest the worst-hit states are not ready to reopen (because cases are not declining, hospital capacity is not sufficient in case of a new wave, and testing is not up to speed). He sets phony, arbitrary deadlines for reopening (Easter! May 1!) as though just saying so will allow it to happen.

Trump’s refusal to accept blame for one of the worst blunders in U.S. presidential history appears to be just another psychological device to create his own reality. He, in fact, is the “somebody” who could have stopped or considerably slowed the pandemic (as leaders in Singapore, South Korea and other countries did with immediate and widespread testing, tracing and isolation). Voters living in the coronavirus nightmare should not be expected to accept Trump’s fantasy.

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