Coronavirus is the first major crisis Donald Trump has faced that is not of his own making. People who know what it is like to be in charge when disaster strikes have warned us this moment would come eventually and we can now see why they were so terrified.
Trump in a time of coronavirus is a lethal combination. Everything about the president his reliance on his gut instincts in place of expertise, his overwhelming selfishness, and his unfailing tendency to lash out at others when things go wrong make him the worst person imaginable to hold the worlds most powerful job in the face of pandemic.
Confronting the threat requires global cooperation, perhaps more than at any time since the second world war. But Trump and his junior imitators around the world have taken a sledgehammer to the very notion of international solidarity.
Americas closest allies were given no notice of his decision on Wednesday night to suspend flights from Europe. The EU mission in Washington only found out about it when journalists started calling.
The president has dealt with coronavirus the same way he approached every other challenge in his administration, first trying denial and when that failed, blaming outsiders. The disease has slid from a Democratic hoax to the foreign virus. It came as little surprise that his speech had been written by Stephen Miller, the author of the administrations cruellest anti-immigration policies.
The declaration of a European travel ban was only the second time Trump has addressed the nation from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. The first time was to announce the building of a wall on the Mexican border. The administration has made xenophobia its defining ethos.
It can stir up passions and corral votes, but railing against foreigners is useless against a virus that is indifferent to ethnicity and nationality.
Slamming the gates shut is also pointless in the face of a disease that already has taken hold within. Its incidence appears lower in the US than in much of Europe so far but almost certainly because US has barely started testing.
And the US is only shutting some of its gates. The exclusion of the UK and non-Schengen countries like Ireland from the ban makes no sense if stopping the spread of disease is really the aim. Contrary to Trumps claim, the UK is not doing a great job in containing coronavirus compared with most of its European neighbours.
It may or may not be a coincidence that Trump has golf resorts in the UK and Ireland. Given Trumps preoccupation with his investments throughout his time in office, it is as plausible an explanation as any for an otherwise pointless decision.
On the one strategy known to be effective in curbing the pandemic screening for the virus and organised social distancing the US is far behind most of the countries it has now cut off.
The production and distribution of diagnostic tests has been a fiasco. The initial test distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was flawed and had to be recalled. Production of new tests has been held back by a global shortage of a key component, reagents used to extract RNA from samples. Largely because of complacency at the top, the US was last in line putting its order in.
The same complacency has allowed the institutions that the US now most needs to wither and die. Trumps third national security adviser, John Bolton, axed the office in the national security council to coordinate a US response to pandemics, which was established after the Ebola outbreak.
Bolton, like Trump, did not see it as a real national security issue, like China or Iran.
Who would have thought we would even be having the subject? Trump wondered aloud, in explanation of why the administration had been taken by surprise.
With an eye fixed on the money markets, the president has sought to cover up the real lack of resilience in the system, insisting: Were testing everybody that we need to test.
But the truth has quickly become felt around the country, as people with symptoms and risk factors have been denied testing.
The CDC director, Robert Redfield, an evangelical conservative with no previous experience in managing a large state agency, revealed how out of touch the administration was with the reality on the ground on Wednesday.
When asked by the House oversight committee why the US was not providing drive-through tests, as have been introduced elsewhere he replied: Were trying to maintain the relationship between individuals and their healthcare providers.
Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat pointed out to him that most Americans do not have a regular doctor, and certainly do not see a physician often enough to have a relationship. When they get seriously ill, most head for the emergency room of the countrys overstrained hospitals.
The lack of tests means that the country is stumbling blindfolded into the worst health crisis in decades. Despite warnings from his own experts, the president reportedly clings to the relatively low number of confirmed cases as a sign that the US might be spared the worst.
When the country is struck by the inevitable wave of sickness and deaths, sweeping aside Trumps reassurances, it is hard to predict how he will react.
We do know he will see it through the prism of his prospects for re-election, and we can be fairly certain he will look for someone to blame along with a distraction, most likely some form of conflict at home or abroad.
The scale of the debacle will require a major distraction. Awful as the coronavirus pandemic looks now, Trumps backlash could be even worse.
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