We Knew It All Along

Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of our President.  When the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic arrived at our national door step I took it upon myself to be quiet. I would give him a chance to deal with this crisis.  I would refrain from taking potshots at every mistake he makes.  It is a new situation that requires new solutions to beat it.  Some will work, some will not. I did not want to get too caught up in the day to day developments.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and truly hoped that he would rise to the occasion, pull the country together in a common effort and actually lead from the front.

Boy!  Was I wrong.

Mr. Trump proves daily what many of us knew and others suspected.  He is in way over his head with no real idea of what to do as a president facing a crisis.  Great at rabble rousing campaign rallies, bad at leadership.  Textbook bad, in fact.

The president is not responsible for COVID-19 coming to the U.S.  It is his response to the crisis that demonstrates his total inability to deal with facts and to put together a coherent plan of action.

The examples are many but let’s start with the most obvious.  Mr. Trump unilaterally calls himself a “War Time President.”  In that respect he signed an Executive Order (EO) under the 1950 Defense Production Act (DPA) that can be used to direct industries in the United States to manufacture and produce materials or equipment necessary to meet our national security requirements.  So far, he has failed to do so for a variety of reasons.  As I write this, his Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Pete Gaynor claims that it will be used to procure test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers.  Then he said it will not be.  The president said it would be before he claimed that it was not needed.  Both say that they really do not need to use the DPA because the EO gives them “leverage” and therefore companies are voluntarily beginning to switch their production lines to meet the need.

Besides the obvious “who’s on first” confusion within the ranks of the nation’s leaders, there are practical problems with that approach.  Instead of a comprehensive nation-wide plan for procurement and distribution — which the federal government, especially the military, excels at doing — they are having the states individually buy their own equipment.  This creates unhelpful competition, excessive prices,  and a survival of the fittest narrative as each state competes one against another to get badly needed ventilators, PPE and test kits.

Put another way, we do not have individual Air Force squadrons go to Boeing or Lockheed and procure aircraft on their own.  Marine Corps battalions do not go to weapons manufacturers and buy their weapons and ammunition on their own.

States. like squadrons and battalions, are at the point of attack and know the best tactics to fight the enemy in front of them but the strategy comes from the top.  Likewise, the military departments through the Department of Defense are tasked with raising, training and equipping the force as a whole.  Without coordination and the prudent deployment of assets where needed, the amount of confusion, disarray and waste rises to levels that are detrimental to the overall goal.  And people die.

There is also a business reason for needing to implement the DPA.  If I am GM or 3M or any other manufacturer that wants to help out with producing ventilators, for example, I will put a lot of money into converting my production lines, finding the labor to run the machines, raw materials, etc.  I need to know that there will be a market for my 10,000 ventilators with an average cost of $25,000 a few months from now when we’re cranking them out.  Only the federal government can guarantee that those costs are covered.

Mr. Trump, for whatever reason, refuses to do what is right.  He does give us clues as to why.  In discussing the DPA he talks about it as “nationalizing” U.S. industries and says that such a move is “socialism.”  As he said on Sunday, “Call a person over in Venezuela.  Ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out?  Not too well.”  The DPA nationalizes nothing.  It is not socialism.  The companies revert to their previous undertakings when the crisis is over or the need is met.  Think Detroit automakers turning out tanks during WWII.  Either Mr. Trump’s advisers are woefully ignorant of the law or the president is.

I have a different explanation.  It is all about Mr. Trump’s re-election bid.  If he centralizes the response to the pandemic under his leadership, and it fails, he will have to shoulder the blame.  This way, he can point the finger at mayors and governors for, as he’s already said, “not doing their job.”  Remember, this is the man that when asked about his responsibility as president replied, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”  War time president indeed.

Also connected to his re-election is the fact that one of his campaign themes is to call all the Democrats socialists.  If he actually (cough, cough) believes that using the DPA constitutes socialism, then he cannot use that accusation against Democrats in the election.

“America First” actually means “Trump First.”

And now this.

He is so concerned about his re-election chances being hindered by the state of the economy as we battle for our families and friends lives, that he announced today that the country will be back to business as usual by Easter, 12 April.  He is ignoring the best advice of 99 percent of health care professionals in this and many other countries.  No one knows how this is going to turn out but there is near unanimous agreement that for the U.S. and other nations, the worst is yet to come.  Think about the circumstances right now in Italy, Spain and other first world nations.  I am not even sure what business as usual will look like in three weeks.

His argument, first espoused by Fox News talking heads, is that the “cure is worse than the disease.”  Rather than suffer some — maybe even a lot — of pain up front to get this under control, he is willing to open the country up to the potential for continuing waves of deadly disease.  Many people when first diagnosed with cancer feel fine.  Chemotherapy and other treatments are not at all fun and can be quite painful.  In the beginning, it is worse than the disease.  However, people understand that in the long run they will be better off with a much higher chance of survival if they submit to the treatment.  Seems pretty basic.  But perhaps it is too much for Mr. Trump to grasp.

With his constant comparisons to the flu and car crashes that kill tens of thousands of people a year but we don’t shut down for them, it is apparent that he does not at all realize what he and we are dealing with today.  Besides the fact that COVID-19 has a much higher rate of transmission, and a higher death rate for those that contract it than does the flu, it impacts all other health care areas.  As a country we do not have thousands of intensive care beds, nurses, doctors and technicians standing around waiting for a pandemic.  The surge capacity is very, very limited in civilian hospitals.  To take on the COVID-19 patients means that someone with a heart attack, or in a car crash or some other emergency may not get the level of care that they otherwise would have gotten.  Those deaths are not attributed to the pandemic but are very real issues of collateral damage.  Some of those people would not have died under normal circumstances.

Life is hard.  Dealing with a crisis is hard.  Dealing with COVID-19 is hard.  But it is harder when you don’t have a clue.  Or worse.  You don’t care to have a clue.