The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We’re No. 1! In a pandemic, that’s no cause for celebration.

President Trump in the White House Rose Garden on June 24. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The coronavirus pandemic is getting worse in this country. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we are forced to see the concept of American exceptionalism in a new and shameful light. In confronting this global menace, the United States is not first and best. We are much closer to last and worst.

History will place the blame for this catastrophe squarely on one ignorant, incompetent, selfish man: President Trump.

On two consecutive days this week, the nation recorded more than 50,000 new cases of the disease. On Wednesday, Trump, for the umpteenth time, irresponsibly promised the disease will somehow just “disappear.”

Governors who reopened their economies too quickly saw their states’ hospital systems buckle under the strain. Some of them, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, scrambled to reimpose restrictions. Trump, by contrast, invited crowds to a Mount Rushmore fireworks show, no masks or social distancing required.

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Officials at all levels of government pleaded with the American people to wear masks. Trump still won’t set an example by publicly wearing one, though finally he says he might, as long as it makes him look “like the Lone Ranger.”

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We are indeed fortunate that the daily death toll has not returned to the levels we saw two months ago, when the pandemic was raging out of control in the New York metropolitan area. But U.S. covid-19 deaths have stopped declining — we lose about 500 to 600 Americans to the disease each day — and medical experts fear the number will soon begin to rise. We have already seen more cases and more deaths, by far, than any other nation. Rather than even make a serious attempt to banish this plague, we have invited it to settle in.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

The European Union, which was ravaged by the pandemic, now is in a position to send children back to school and to ease travel restrictions to allow visitors from countries that have the pandemic under control. If you live in, say, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Uruguay or Rwanda, you are most welcome to vacation in Europe. If you live in the United States, you are not.

It is clear at this point that we would have fared better with no president at all than the one we have.

From the beginning, Trump has not only failed to make Americans safer from covid-19 but also actively put all of us in greater peril. Any positive impact from the travel bans he implemented against visitors from China and Europe has long been nullified by his stubborn denial of even the most common-sense responses to the pandemic.

A good president, or even a mediocre one, would have believed world-renowned experts such as Anthony S. Fauci when they warned that the first few cases of covid-19 had the potential to mushroom into a global crisis. Any reasonably competent president would have seen the way the pandemic gripped northern Italy and resolved to take any available steps to avoid such devastation in the United States. Any president with an ounce of empathy or compassion would have realized that swift, bold, nationwide action, rather than a lackadaisical federalist approach, was the only way to minimize suffering and death. Any president with rudimentary knowledge of science, or a willingness to listen to his own top scientists, would have understood that the goal had to be to lower infections, hospitalizations and deaths as close to zero as possible, then keep them there.

But we don’t have even a mediocre president. We have Trump, focused more on minimizing damage to the economy, and his reelection hopes, than on saving lives. Trump essentially abdicated federal leadership, diverting both responsibility and political exposure to governors, which was bound to create a loose patchwork of restrictions that gave the coronavirus ample freedom to circulate. Then he hectored those governors to give their citizens “freedom” to congregate in ways that scientists knew were unsafe.

Now, Republican Govs. Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona — who listened to Trump and reopened their states too soon — are frantically trying to contain covid-19 outbreaks of their own creation. And who knows what Gov. Ron DeSantis thinks he’s doing in announcing that Florida will not impose new lockdowns, even as his state reported 10,000 new cases on Thursday

The impact of covid-19 in the United States was bound to be bad. No leader could have avoided that, given how infectious the coronavirus that causes it appears to be, and how long it was spreading while officials and citizens were largely unaware of the threat. But it didn’t have to be the worst in the world. American exceptionalism under Trump, tragically, amounts to epic failure.

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Read the transcript of Eugene Robinson’s June 30 live chat: With Trump, it always comes down to Russia

The Post’s View: It seems nothing will stop Trump from moving ahead with his dangerous Fourth of July events

Leana S. Wen: Don’t let the Fourth of July be a repeat of Memorial Day

Cheryl Schreier: I was in charge of Mt. Rushmore. Trump’s plan for fireworks there is a terrible idea.

The Post’s View: The pandemic is not under control in the U.S. Just look at Texas.

Jennifer Rubin: Coronavirus reality is clobbering Trump

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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