Seven months ago, when the coronavirus pandemic reached its first peek in infections, the United States saw over 30,000 new cases per day, and Americans were right to see that as a public-health disaster. Yesterday, however, as the nation struggles with its third peek, the daily total for new cases topped 144,000.
Alas, it's not just the infections. Hospitals are being pushed to the brink, and fatalities are climbing. The New York Times reported yesterday that as the crisis surges, the United States is struggling with a "federal leadership vacuum."
It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump appears to have simply given up -- not on undermining his own country's democracy, but on responding to his own country's public-health catastrophe. The Associated Press reported that the outgoing president checks in with "friendly governors" and conservative media personalities, but he's effectively given up on governing.
[Trump] has not been as responsive to Republican lawmakers as before the election. Always an obsessive cable news viewer, he has been watching even more TV than usual in recent weeks, often from his private dining room just off the Oval Office. While he ponders his options, his involvement in the day-to-day governing of the nation has nearly stopped: According to his schedule, he has not attended an intelligence briefing in weeks, and the White House has done little of late to manage the pandemic that has surged to record highs in many states.
The fact that this isn't surprising does not make it any less galling. The U.S. president for the next 10 weeks has effectively decided not to even try to protect his constituents from a pandemic. I wrote an entire book about Trump and his party's indifference toward governing, and even I'm a little taken aback by fiddle-while-Rome-burns posture.
In the weeks and months headed into Election Day, the Republican incumbent insisted that interest in COVID-19 was part of an elaborate conspiracy: Democrats, journalists, and public-health officials were only pretending to care about the pandemic as a way of undermining political support for the president during his re-election campaign. Once Nov. 3 came and went, Trump insisted, the focus on the coronavirus would immediately evaporate.
The president had it backwards: the election is over, but it's not our collective interest in the crisis that's disappeared; it's the pretense that Trump cares at all about the pandemic that's gone away.