No country ever finds it easy to address a public-health crisis, but the basic outline of any response is obvious: officials need to (1) rely on evidence and expertise; (2) craft a responsible plan; and (3) carefully execute that plan.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages, Donald Trump and his White House have fundamentally rejected such a model. The president and his team have gone out of their way to marginalize and undermine evidence and expertise, while refusing, even now, to come up with anything even resembling a strategy for success. The Washington Post's new report on Team Trump's missing plan is simply brutal.
While most developed countries have managed to control the coronavirus crisis, the United States under Trump continues to spiral out of control, according to public health experts, with 3.3 million Americans infected and more than 133,000 dead. There is no cohesive national strategy, apart from unenforced federal health guidelines. Instead, the administration is offering a patchwork of solutions, often in reaction to outbreaks after they occur. Although Trump and his team declare sweeping objectives, such as reopening schools, they have largely shirked responsibility for developing and executing plans to achieve them, putting the onus instead on state and local authorities.
To be sure, the president has offered a great many predictions. In late February, for example, Trump told reporters, "It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear." He echoed the ridiculous claim two weeks ago, saying he hopes COVID-19, "at some point," will "sort of just disappear."
What the Republican doesn't seem to appreciate is the role governing can and should play in creating these outcomes. Trump is waiting for the crisis to go away without any understanding of the fact that he could take steps to try and make it go away.
The Post spoke to Ilhem Messaoudi, an immunologist at the University of California at Irvine, who likened the absence of a national plan to “going on a road trip and not having a map.” She added, “It’s a complete disaster. This is how this administration has handled this entire pandemic -- conflicting messages, knee-jerk reactions, lack of cohesive plans and undermining the CDC and attacking science on a regular basis.”
To be sure, it would be a problem if the White House crafted a poor strategy or came up with a sound plan that officials struggled to implement effectively. But the United States is confronting a vastly worse problem: an administration that hasn't come up with a coherent plan and apparently won't develop a blueprint for success.
The Post's article added that Trump "has expressed little interest in the specifics of the response outside of updates on a coronavirus vaccine -- or the 'cure,' as he frequently calls it."
This isn't altogether surprising, though it's a dynamic that's impossible to defend: the president's own country has 3.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases; COVID-19 has claimed the lives of nearly 138,000 Americans; and both infection and fatality rates are increasing nationwide. It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump -- the nation's first amateur president -- "has expressed little interest in the specifics of the response."
This is clearly the attitude of a president who isn't prepared to address the crisis afflicting his own country, but it's also what one should expect from a leader who doesn't know or care about governing. It's as tragic as it is inevitable: as I argue in my new book, Trump is leading a post-policy party, indifferent toward evidence, expertise, and problem-solving. Today's GOP does not know, and does not care, about how to develop plans for governing success, which helps explain why the White House hasn't bothered to prepare a cohesive national coronavirus strategy. It's as if the president read my book and decided to prove the thesis true.
The price Americans are paying for Trump's indifference is very high, indeed.