Friday, March 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He wasn't responsible.

This afternoon, Trump finally, and reluctantly, declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, something that public health officials and state governments have been begging him to do for weeks. Over the course of a long press conference, Trump made a number of confused or otherwise false statements, but the underlying theme seemed to be that Trump didn't want to be held to account for how he's handled the crisis so far.

Trump repeatedly tried to shift blame for this newly-evolved virus to the Obama administration, whose pandemic response team Trump disbanded in 2018. When a reporter asked about the critical shortage of working tests—the United States has still tested only about as many as smaller countries like South Korea are testing in a single day—Trump had this exchange:

Q: Dr. Fauci said earlier this week that the lag in testing was, in fact, “a failing.”  Do you take responsibility for that? 
And when can you guarantee that every single American who needs a test will be able to have a test?  What’s the date of that? 
TRUMP: Yeah, no, I don’t take responsibility at all.

Moments later, he snapped back at a reporter who pointed out that actual public health experts have criticized his administration's response as too little, too late, and too worried about not offending Trump:

Q: My first question is: You said that you don’t take responsibility, but you did disband the White House pandemic office, and the officials that were working in that office left this administration abruptly.  So what responsibility do you take to that?  And the officials that worked in that office said that you — that the White House lost valuable time because that office was disbanded.  What do you make of that? 
TRUMP:  Well, I just think it’s a nasty question because what we’ve done is — and Tony has said numerous times that we’ve saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing.  And when you say “me,” I didn’t do it.  We have a group of people I could — 
Q: It’s your administration. 
TRUMP:  I could ask perhaps — my administration — but I could perhaps ask Tony about that because I don’t know anything about it.  I mean, you say — you say we did that.  I don’t know anything about it

Why is this a problem? 

  • Presidents don't get to "not take responsibility at all" for a major economic and public health crisis.
  • If Trump genuinely can't remember disbanding President Obama's pandemic task force, that's probably even worse than him lying about having done it.
  • Presidents who can't handle "nasty questions" when people's lives and jobs are at stake can't do the job.
  • This is too important a subject to lie or spread misinformation about.