Trump also hailed his administration’s mobilization of federal resources to combat the spread of the disease. “The virus will not have a chance against us,” he said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”
But that bravado, which preceded the worst day for U.S. stocks since 1987, appeared to backfire. “From the misstatements to the omissions to his labored demeanor, the president sent a message that shook financial markets, disrupted relations with European allies, confused his many viewers and undermined the most precious commodity of any president, his credibility,” wrote The Post’s Dan Balz.
Trump also seemed to buck the expert consensus. The initial weeks of the outbreak in China were met by a lack of urgency from the president, who downplayed the perils associated with the virus and fretted more about outbreak-related jitters hurting the stock market. Some reports suggest that U.S. officials did not test aggressively earlier out of fear of offending Trump with higher numbers of confirmed cases.
On Thursday, Trump flummoxed onlookers when he told reporters that the United States had “a tremendous testing set up” despite widespread complaints from across the country that medical facilities aren’t providing tests or taking too long to provide results. The inability to carry out coronavirus tests with the same efficacy as many other countries has led to a state of affairs in which far more Americans are potentially carrying the disease than have yet been confirmed.
The situation is grim in Europe. On Thursday, the coronavirus-related death toll in Italy, the locus of the pandemic on the continent, surpassed 1,000, with more than 15,000 cases confirmed. Hospitals and medical facilities in some of the country’s most prosperous regions are buckling under the strain of the caseload, while infections in other parts of Europe continue to Mount.
But, in the view of many European officials, Trump’s rhetoric and travel ban smacked of naked ideology, not sound public health policy. After all, quite a few countries from within Europe’s Schengen zone — targeted by the U.S. ban because of the open borders policy inside it — had reported smaller numbers of coronavirus cases than Britain, which was exempt from the restrictions. This is hardly the first time Trump has tried to score a political point against the European Union, a supranational bloc the very existence of which Trump has fulminated against.
“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” read a curt statement co-signed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, which indicated they were blindsided by the decision. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”
Analysts warned of the long-term political damage of Trump’s actions. “This uncoordinated and unilateral response to a global crisis, one more example of ‘America First’ policy, risks aggravating the crisis and will have lasting consequences on American leadership and America’s alliance system,” wrote Benjamin Haddad, director of the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “Wednesday’s speech will resonate in European minds for a long time, echoing previous unilateral decisions, such as the abandonment of Kurdish partners in Syria late last year.”
“Trump needed a narrative to exonerate his administration from any responsibility in the crisis. The foreigner is always a good scapegoat. The Chinese has already been used. So, let’s take the European, not any Europe, the EU-one,” said Gérard Araud, France’s former ambassador to the United States, in a statement posted on Twitter. “Doesn’t make sense but [it is] ideologically healthy.”
Contrast Trump’s premature triumphalism and finger-pointing with statements this week by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Macron announced Thursday his government would “use all the financial means necessary to save lives, whatever the cost,” while chiding Trump, saying that “division won’t allow us to tackle what today is a global crisis.” The previous day, Merkel warned with grim solemnity that, if current conditions continued to prevail, up to 70 percent of the country could be infected. She promised significant stimulus funding in the months ahead.
Trump’s main opponents for the White House — former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are vying for the Democratic nomination — delivered their own speeches on Thursday, bemoaning what they described as the administration’s failure of leadership and urging sweeping bipartisan action to contain the virus.
Sanders echoed Merkel’s fears, suggesting that the U.S. death toll could ultimately “be even higher than what the Armed Forces experienced in World War II.” Biden scoffed at Trump’s empty nationalism. “The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation,” he said.
Trump finds himself in altogether different company. “The same denigration of science and urge to block outsiders has characterized leaders from China to Iran, as well as right-wing populists in Europe, which is sowing cynicism and leaving people uncertain of whom to believe,” wrote Mark Landler of the New York Times. “Far from trying to stamp out the virus, strongmen like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have seized on the upheaval it is causing as cover for steps to consolidate their power.”