Trump has never stopped making the pandemic worse

He'll continue doing so as long as he is president

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

I think it's fair to surmise most Americans are sick and tired of this pandemic. Nearly 200,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19, and about a thousand more die every day — a tide of carnage not seen in this country in decades. More prosaically, wouldn't it be nice to not bother with masks every time you're at the grocery store? Or go to a restaurant, or a bar, or a concert, or meet up with friends and family, without fearing for your life or the lives of others?

If we want a return to something like normality as soon as possible, the most important thing is whether Donald Trump remains in the presidency. From well before the pandemic struck up to the present day, he has undermined or sabotaged the pandemic-fighting capacity of the government and the states, and he is still to this day carrying out actions that spread the virus. Even a vaccine may not save us if he is still president next year.

The most jaw-dropping thing Trump has done recently is hold another indoor, in-person rally in Nevada — over the furious objections of state officials. (Federalism and subsidiarity are just one of many things that conservatives pretend to believe in if and only if it benefits them personally.) This comes after his indoor rally in Tulsa months ago likely caused hundreds of new infections, and even might have killed Herman Cain. But not to worry, says Trump, he personally is far away from the baying masses, so probably won't be infected. "I'm on a stage and it’s very far away," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "And so I’m not at all concerned." That evinces not only a sociopathic disregard for the welfare of his own supporters, but also unfamiliarity with the latest evidence, which suggests the virus may be fully airborne and thus able to travel substantial distances indoors.

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But that is just the start. As I have previously detailed, Trump has been sandbagging America's pandemic response for years. Back in 2018 he deleted the entire pandemic control bureaucracy set up under President Obama. His one act that could have helped — restricting travel from China — was too late, had way too many exceptions, and, because it was mainly about racist scapegoating instead of pandemic control, ignored the danger from other countries. Sure enough, the gigantic outbreak in the New York region was seeded from Europe. For the last six months, Trump has refused even to try to set up a national test-trace-isolate program which, if properly implemented, would allow the return of something like normal life. A few states are trying to do so with varying success, but without both federal money and coordination, their capacity is necessarily limited. On Monday Trump was gleefully celebrating a comically extreme right-wing judicial ruling that found most of Pennsylvania's pandemic control measures unconstitutional.

More importantly, because Trump is incapable of considering the welfare of people other than himself, and because he is both a product of television and a helpless cable news addict, Trump views all problems through the lens of public relations. That is why, though he knew in early February (at least momentarily) that the coronavirus was much more deadly than the flu, and spread through the air, he publicly downplayed the risk, said it would vanish by itself, spread damaging conspiracy theories and misinformation, and has repeatedly interfered with national testing to try to hide the problem, like some shamed puppy trying to hide a turd behind the sofa. As Will Wilkinson writes:

If Trump had merely said, "Tell me what to do!," had done it, and otherwise had stayed out of the way, I believe it’s almost certain that at least 100,000 dead Americans would now be alive. But Trump didn’t just fail to do what needed to be done. He didn’t just refuse to do what needed to be done. He actively and aggressively undermined both federal and state efforts to contain the virus. [Niskanen Center]

He has also interfered with the scientific process in an effort to win a couple news cycles. He pushed hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment even after it turned out to be ineffective. He bullied the public health bureaucracy into rushing through a preliminary approval of convalescent plasma, and wildly exaggerated its effectiveness, causing an uproar among scientists and confirming wide suspicions among the population. (If he had kept his nose out of these things we'd have solid data on that treatment by now.) Now Trump is clearly planning to announce that a vaccine will be ready by just before the election, despite the fact that the scientific trials will almost certainly not be finished by that time — in other words, a cynical campaign stunt. Partly as a result, a steadily-increasing proportion of Americans report they are skeptical of a future coronavirus vaccine (the other main factor here being the ever-more lunatic anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that have been gaining ground on the far right for years, a trend that has only accelerated with the rise of QAnon).

Now, Joe Biden would not immediately put the U.S. into the class of pandemic superstars like Taiwan, Vietnam, or New Zealand. But he could not possibly do any worse than Trump. All indications are he would at least take the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans seriously and hire people who know what they are doing, which would be an orders of magnitude improvement over the status quo. It's been obvious from January 20, 2017 — Donald Trump cannot do the job, he is incapable of learning, and as long as he remains in the White House he will screw up every problem that arises.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.