My granddaughter’s school has planned a trip to Thailand.
Two things worry me. First, that she or her classmates might be exposed to or catch the coronavirus. Second, that if they did, President Trump would try his best to keep them from returning to the United States.
In my view, if any of them became sick, the first priority should be getting them home where they can have access to the best medical care. In Trump’s view, the first priority is to make things look good for him, no matter what happens to the people he’s stranded.
Therefore he opposed having Americans who were stuck on the Grand Princess cruise ship off Japan return home to the United States. His concern? How the number of infected Americans would make him look. “I like the numbers being where they are,” he candidly (and shamelessly) explained.
National health professionals believe Covid-19 is a serious threat. Every state that’s had an outbreak takes it seriously. So do cities, schools, event organizers, airlines, shipping companies, bus and train operators, museums, and businesses of all kinds — and not to mention the stock market.
Everyday life is changing across the country as millions of Americans adjust to the possible presence of the virus. But facing harsh realities isn’t in Trump’s skill set. “It’s going to all work out,” he assures us instead. “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Indeed, he has gone so far as to call the coronavirus threat a “hoax.”
In Trump’s view, it’s all part of a great conspiracy to make him look bad. That real people might die if we fail to face the problem squarely — because no scientist believes Covid-19 is “under control” — doesn’t seem to count for much with him.
The idea that real scientists should guide our response to the pandemic is unacceptable to Trump, because who knows what they might say? Instead, he has made Vice President Pence, a man with less than no experience in public health, the head of the coronavirus task force.
And consistent with Trump’s main priority — making sure he looks good no matter what is really happening — U.S. government health officials and scientists have been barred from making public statements about the disease unless okayed by Pence’s office. This is called “controlling coronavirus messaging.”
In one recent instance of “controlled messaging,” the White House overruled a CDC recommendation that the elderly not fly on commercial airlines because of the virus. That would sound too much like there’s a crisis, and Trump is running for re-election on the assertion that everything is wonderful in our country, and it’s all thanks to him.
Better that more seniors be put at risk of Covid-19 than that the virus be seen as a grave, unfolding danger.
Of course, this is not the only — and probably not the most serious example — of the lethal dangers flowing from Trump’s rejection of inconvenient science. That distinction rests with the other catastrophe Trump calls a “hoax,” climate change. But in either crisis, the worst is yet to come.
Perhaps my granddaughter’s school will cancel their trip. But Covid-19 is already here at home, and it’s not about to disappear just because Trump pretends everything will be “just fine.” She and all of us remain at risk wherever we may be.
Trump says that by April, “when it gets a little warmer,” the virus “miraculously goes away.” Waiting for a miracle when faced with a pandemic is not leadership — it’s insanity. But as long as Trump is in charge, praying for miracles might be the best we can hope for.
*Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney and author of Mississippi Reckoning, a thriller and historical novel about the death penalty and the civil rights movement. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.