April 06, 2020

If Trump wants to be seen as a 'wartime president,' he should start acting like one

Source: USA Today


In the time it takes you to read this, dozens more Americans will probably have been diagnosed with COVID-19. By the time you finish it, there’s a good chance another American will have died from the disease.

Many of those diagnoses will probably come in New York; some in California; others ranging from Louisiana to Florida. While we don’t know everything about this virus just yet, what we do know is that it is spreading exponentially. Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Asian, Latino, you name it — every one of us is in danger. And if we don’t take immediate sweeping action many more Americans could die in a pandemic that’s already been made far worse by a president who has refused to take obvious measures that could be done with the stroke of a pen.

Recently, Donald Trump crowned himself a “wartime president.” If that’s the metaphor he wants to use, then his actions have been tantamount to sending his own troops into battle without body armor or a single weapon.

During public health emergencies, time is the most valuable commodity we have. But while public health experts have been sounding the alarm, Donald Trump has spent much of the past few months denying the gravity of the situation, telling lies and stoking xenophobia, preying on our worst instincts in a way that’s catapulted us ever closer to a worst-case scenario situation when we once upon a time had an opportunity to minimize the risks this pandemic posed to our nation.

So I was pleasantly surprised when it finally seemed as if he was taking the situation seriously in mid-March when he announced he was invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA), giving him the authority to better organize the supply chain and use American manufacturing capacity to speed up production of the lifesaving, coronavirus-fighting medical equipment our hospitals desperately need.

But since then, he’s pivoted so many times, it’s a wonder the whole country doesn’t have whiplash. Not even a day later he reversed course, saying that states were on their own to figure out how to get the resources necessary to slow the outbreak. Then, in a 24-hour span at the end of March, he went from (inaccurately, dangerously) telling Sean Hannity that governors were exaggerating the need for more ventilators to bickering with General Motors (GM) on Twitter to declaring that he was finally authorizing the use of the DPA to require GM to produce ventilators — something the company had already committed to doing hours prior. 

But late last week, USA TODAY reported that the administration has still refused to actually order a single machine to be manufactured under the DPA. Instead of placing the order, Trump has chosen to spend the past week bragging about his TV ratings and the number of people who follow him on Facebook, while Trump aide Peter Navarro says they’re still banking on voluntary updates from GM.

Enough. Lives are on the line. The number of Americans — the number of parents, the number of children — falling gravely ill is only growing while hospital capacity to treat them is diminishing, as there just aren’t enough hospital beds or respirators to care for those in need. Last Friday, there were more than 30,000 new cases on American soil alone, while that same day nurses were forced to use plastic bags as protective gowns and doctors nationwide were preparing to have to make one of the most horrible decisions imaginable: who to treat and who to turn away, with simply too few resources to go around.

Our nation badly needs production to match demand. We need Donald Trump to remember to act like he’s in charge and actually place the orders to ensure our country can not only manufacture the personal protective equipment our front-line workers need, but that those resources will be delivered where they’re needed the most.

The people who are dying in ICUs right now don’t have any more time for the president to waste. The Americans who’ve been infected since you started reading this likely won’t stand a chance if he continues to do the bare minimum.

The good news is we know we can do this, if Trump lets us. After all, we’ve mobilized our country, our companies, our workers before. In yesteryear, our leaders didn’t throw their hands in the air and say they couldn’t produce the technology necessary to beat back the crisis of the day. Past presidents didn’t sit back as governors fought among each other for the same limited stockpile of emergency equipment. And they didn’t wait until the shortage reached “crisis proportions” status to issue empty directives. No, instead, they reoriented the nation’s sense of what was possible, repurposing factories and redoubling efforts to get done what needed to be done. 

What’s worse is that this is an action Donald Trump is clearly willing to take — the Trump administration has invoked the DPA hundreds of thousands of times in the past, including to build up his Space Force — but for some reason, Trump’s choosing not to do so today, in the face of a real crisis. Meanwhile, the only beneficiaries here are the major corporations that have reportedly lobbied White House advisers like Jared Kushner to keep the president from fully green-lighting the DPA because they profit from the states’ bidding wars over respirators and N95 masks — corporations whose deep-pocketed CEOs Trump wants on his side come November’s election. 

So for me, it’s impossible to see Donald Trump as the strong wartime president he claims to be when he refuses to do what’s so obviously needed to help defeat this enemy. Wartime presidents don’t look out over the trenches and deny the war has begun. They don’t spend months refusing to acknowledge the body count because it might spook Wall Street or hurt their poll numbers. And they certainly don’t put profits over people, slow-walking policy that could be the difference between life and death for so many because they want to curry favor with rich donors. 

It’s time for this president to actually lead. It’s time for Trump to stop refusing to take any responsibility and to start embracing “The Buck Stops Here” mentality that defined the commander in chief who signed the Defense Production Act into law in the first place. It’s time for Trump to prove that he will make the kinds of choices that actually help the people he was elected to serve — the people this virus is killing every hour he fails to follow the advice of public health experts and actually do the right thing.

By:  Tammy Duckworth