Trump's Priority Is Making Sure Someone Else Takes the Blame If Things Go Bad

Jack Holmes

From Esquire

A main priority for Donald Trump amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is avoiding any responsibility for what happens. The buck stops that-a-way. "I don't take responsibility at all." He did not run for president to lead the country in times of crisis and wield the awesome power of the federal government to safeguard the lives and interests of the American people. He did it for the money and the crowds. Now that there may be some consequences for his criminal inaction for the better part of two months following the first COVID-19 case—a month ago yesterday, he said the 15 U.S. cases would soon go down to zero; there are now more than 80,000—he is working overtime to shift the blame. With the help of TV networks that carry his misinformation briefings live and unfiltered, he seems to have found some success for now.

The basic fact of the matter is that only the federal government has the capacity to secure the supplies—personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, ventilators, test kits—that hospitals need to fight the pandemic. The states cannot do it on their own, which the Trump administration has proven by so far largely leaving them to do it themselves, which has mostly yielded competitions for resources between states and hospitals. Even the most devout libertarian or federalist would grant that responding to a global pandemic, which the president himself has described as requiring a wartime footing, is an essential responsibility of the federal government. The president must lead on this, first of all by invoking the Defense Production Act to fully mobilize American manufacturing to produce, say, the ventilators we need. Pay whatever the cost. Do what needs to be done.

That arrangement will not work for the president, however. If he grants this is his responsibility, he might be held accountable for the outcome. And while that is the definition of democratic self-government, it's not something in which he is particularly interested. So he called into Sean Hannity's Fox News program last night to explain why this is all really on the states themselves to figure out. That way, it's their fault when lots of people die.

This might sound like some boilerplate Republican bullshit about leaving it to the states, but it is not. It's more like if FDR said Pearl Harbor was Hawaii's problem. We are at war, the president says constantly, against a silent enemy, but apparently he is not the commander-in-chief, at least if it means he is responsible for whether we win or lose. He would like to be on television talking about the war, and if it goes well he will claim credit. But if it goes south, it's Jay Inslee's fault.

Meanwhile, his expert opinion that New York does not need 30,000 ventilators is based on his experience...walking into a hospital sometime? Where they didn't have a lot of ventilators, so why would anyone need a lot of ventilators? This is the best we can do in terms of leadership for a nation of 325 million people? And then he went ranting against Michigan's governor until he remembered it's a swing state, so he rolled out one of his go-to lies about auto manufacturing there. Then he couldn't remember Governor Gretchen Whitmer's name, but he knows she's complaining, which is not something he'd ever be caught doing. Again, dude: just get the ventilators. This is a results business.

This was the theme of his Hannity appearance, however. Ol' Sean would sit there rustling papers while the President of the United States talked out of his royal behind about how many ventilators we need based on...his feeling about how many ventilators we need.

This is frankly disgusting, and if there's any justice left in this miserable world he will pay the price. South Korea had its first case a day before the United States did and set to work immediately supercharging its testing capacity, which turned out to be the cornerstone of its gold-standard response. We watched our president yap about how the pandemic would disappear miraculously and take zero action to grow our testing capabilities, much less stockpile masks or ventilators, or task the Army Corps of Engineers with building out our hospital capacity. Even now, The New York Times reports the White House balked at the price tag for securing the number of ventilators we may need if we continue on our disastrous trajectory. Already, we're the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic—more cases than China. But we can't spend $1 billion on ventilators when, also according to the Times, the $2 trillion stimulus bill making its way through Congress contains a $170 billion tax-break "bonanza" for rich real-estate investors. What did the president do before he was a game-show host, again?

Even in a country as unequivocally fucked up as this one, you've got to think that the president will not be able to slime his way out of responsibility when large numbers of people start dying in the coming weeks. And they will. And some of those deaths will have been preventable. And the responsibility for preventing them lies with the federal government, led by the president.

Unfortunately, the same pathological self-interest that led him to extort the government of Ukraine until they agreed to ratfuck the 2020 election on his behalf has led him to downplay the crisis in an attempt to keep the stock market up—which he views as key to his re-election—and now, to reject any responsibility for what may soon be the world's worst outbreak. Everything is filtered through how it affects him personally, and what people are saying about him, and whether they are being very nasty and unfair to him. Always remember that it's your God-given right as an American to tell the president to shut the fuck up and get the ventilators.

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