Updated: Sep 18
By Niva Cohen
In the chaos that the coronavirus has created, it is natural to turn to the government for order and reassurance. However, leaders have great control over how their countries run, but they have little power when it comes to sickness and natural disasters. Yes, they can distribute tests and mandate policies like social distancing, they can try to flatten the curve, but they cannot stop disease from spreading or people from dying. Although it is easy to cast doubt on how governments handled a crisis in hindsight, the Trump Administration reacted appropriately to the pandemic.
In late January, when coronavirus concerns were just beginning to sprout, President Trump announced a travel ban on visitors from China. He was accused of using the epidemic to fulfill xenophobic inclinations. But the ban was a wise decision, rooted in the logic that preventing the sick from entering would limit the virus’ spread. The President made a controversial decision to protect the American people, ignoring objections, because he believed -- rightly so -- that he should limit exposure. Despite this, he was later accused of standing idly by. Even though this action was never going to keep coronavirus from reaching the U.S., it bought the government time and slowed the initial spread, thereby flattening the original curve. Now, looking back, all experts agree that a travel ban was not a drastic or unreasonable move.
Weeks later, the coronavirus was here and panic about public health and the economy started increasing. Despite claims that Trump did not recognize the severity of the situation, he took several measures that showed that the opposite was true. First, the President assembled a team of experts, including Doctors Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, whom he knew had the knowledge to advise the public. Trump delegated to those with subject-matter expertise instead of getting in over his head. Second, with this newly-assembled group, Trump resolved to address the people daily with press-conferences to keep them informed, during which he declared a national emergency. Finally, the President encouraged the sick to try Chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, which helped relieve some patients’ symptoms. A few statements of denial are not reason enough to assume that Trump had not taken the pandemic seriously, because his actions speak louder.
Some Trump critics point to his Tweets and his nonchalant demeanor as a sign that he underestimates the threat of coronavirus, but what they view as downplaying is simply Trump reassuring his citizens that everything is under control. In these circumstances, it is easy, almost instinctual, to get caught up in the panic and hysteria, both of which spread as quickly as the virus itself. By emphasizing that his “people” are doing a “great job,” the President restores citizens’ faith in leadership. Only with this trust will people follow orders of social distancing and hand-washing, because no one obeys instructions they do not understand from people whom they do not respect. Therefore, if the President in any way can minimize the danger of the coronavirus, it will ultimately help flatten the curve by forming a connection between the public and the experts.
Searching for something palpable for which to blame the Trump Administration, many fasten onto limited testing capability. But the administration is not to blame for testing failures, at least not directly. The CDC insisted on using its own tests instead of those that other countries had developed, but its test kit was defective at first. Trying to correct the CDC’s mistake, Trump responsibly promised citizens greater test distribution in the future, and he worked with a private company in hopes of fulfilling that goal. The President was not at fault for the short supply of tests, but he tried to fix it, nonetheless.
Trump, well aware of the strain this puts on the lower and middle classes, has discouraged insurance companies from charging copayments for testing and signed a bill offering relief to the working class. These policies are especially notable because they contradict Trump’s political ideology of limiting the government’s social safety net. If the President can embrace beliefs but defy them in times of need, he proves that he is committed not to an agenda but to the American people.
In the past few months, Donald Trump may have exaggerated the control that he had over the coronavirus, but this is a meaningless sin when compared to all the right decisions he made. It is inconsistent to esteem Dr. Fauci and appreciate his advice while condemning the President for his handling of the situation, because Fauci only has access to the public because Trump gave it to him. When assessing a leader’s actions, one must consider his whole administration; regardless of the President’s words, he has hired a group with the expertise to inform, to educate, to research, and to defeat this evil sickness. There is nothing more a president can do.