Thursday, April 02, 2020

Did The "Six Ways From Sunday" Impeachment (((Coup))) Distract Trump From Controlavirus?


nationalreview |  To the extent that impeachment was consuming the finite attention of senior policymakers in the White House and on Capitol Hill, we can only be thankful that Senate Republicans wrapped up the trial by voting down additional witnesses on January 31. Had the Democrats gotten their wish, Washington would have been consumed for additional critical weeks into February looking backward at Ukraine instead of forward at the threat of the virus.

Key health agencies within the federal government — the CDC and National Institutes of Health — were not inactive during January, but aside from a ban on foreign travel from China, there was little public leadership from the president. There were early, obvious-in-retrospect missteps such as the CDC’s botching the early coronavirus-testing kits and the FDA’s dragging its feet on approval of private testing development and inspection of equipment. While FDA red tape is a problem inherent to the agency’s design and culture, it is precisely the kind of problem that can be mitigated by the hands-on leadership of a bull-in-a-china-shop figure such as Trump. If you read the timeline on the Trump campaign’s website, which is designed to cast the federal response in the most favorable possible light, you will notice that the items before February 5 are almost all agency-level actions rather than White House actions. The White House Coronavirus Task Force wasn’t formed until January 29.


On February 4, Trump included a brief mention of the outbreak in the State of the Union address: “Protecting Americans’ health also means fighting infectious diseases. We are coordinating with the Chinese government and working closely together on the coronavirus outbreak in China. My administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.” Little of the media commentary on the speech focused on that line. As late as February 19, Lester Holt and Chuck Todd of NBC moderated a Democratic debate without asking a single question about the virus.


Some voices in politics and the media (including, as Ross Douthat notes, an odd assortment of people on the right) were beginning to sound alarms about the virus in late January and early February, but they were a distinct minority. As Zeynep Tufekci details at The Atlantic, “From the end of January through most of February, a soothing message got widespread traction, not just with Donald Trump and his audience, but among traditional media in the United States, which exhorted us to worry about the flu instead, and warned us against overreaction.” Many politicians focused more on fear of anti-Asian racism than on the risk of a real health crisis. Mayor Bill de Blasio spent much of that period giving New Yorkers disastrous health advice.