Dan Benbow has written the most important article (so far) about the coronavirus crisis. Read it at Raw Story or Salon.
He has done a mind-boggling amount of research — collecting, assembling, and organizing information from hundreds of articles into a devastating 20,100-word timeline exposing Donald Trump's numerous failures in the ten weeks between January 3 and March 13, 2020.
Information about the threat posed by the virus had been initially relayed to Trump by US intelligence agencies in mid-November 2019, but the administration claims it first heard about the virus on January 3, 2020, the date the virus was first mentioned in Trump's Daily Brief.
That claim is very probably a lie, but even if it is true, it still lays bare Trump's negligence in refusing to take the threat seriously for more than two months (he received numerous additional memos, all of which he ignored) while the "Invisible Enemy" (his pet name for the virus) invaded America. March 13 was when Trump reluctantly declared a national emergency and famously declared, when asked about the country's lack of preparedness: "I don't take responsibility at all."
Trump has been able to maintain 40% approval ratings by riding his predecessor's economic coattails and effectively manipulating the lizard brains of white Republicans, but even before the coronavirus hit, Trump was considered one of the worst presidents in the two surveys of scholars done in 2018. ...In 2018, Trump passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the biggest corporations and wealthiest Americans while also:
With two thousand Americans dying every day and reported cases in the States increasing by a hundred thousand each week, we are only now beginning to grasp the depths of human misery unleashed by Trump's inattention to the coronavirus for those ten long weeks. ...
It was common knowledge before Trump took office that an infectious outbreak of some kind was likely to occur during his presidency; there were concerns that he wasn't up to the task because of his ignorance of the subject and indifference to getting up to speed with this crucial part of his job.
(A) cutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget by 80%, which forced the global health section to reduce its staff from 49 to 10;The Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out a threat assessment warning in January 2019 that "the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy [and] strain international resources...."
(B) made steep cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund ("the core of public health programs" according to former CDC head Tom Frieden);
(C) fired Homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert, who "had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks";
(D) pushed Congress to cut funding for disease security programs;
(E) cut $15 billion from national health spending;
(F) cut the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS;
(G) eliminated the government's $30 million Complex Crises Fund; and
(H) disbanded the Office of Global Security, a comprehensive crisis response team.
In September 2019, the Trump administration ended PREDICT, a "pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists ... to detect and respond to such a threat." ... The group had detected about 1,200 viruses that could spread from wild animals to humans, signaling pandemic potential. More than 160 of them were novel coronaviruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 [which is what the world is dealing with right now].
On November 18, 2019, "an independent, bipartisan panel formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that lack of preparedness was so acute in the Trump administration that the 'United States must either pay now and gain protection and security or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs.'" In response, the Trump administration proposed a 20% cut to the CDC budget in its 2020 fiscal proposal.
The American public first learned about the virus on January 8. Azar wasn't able to get Trump to focus on the coronavirus until January 18, fifteen days after the administration claims it had been notified (but actually probably two months after learning of the virus).
The Washington Post reported: "When [Azar] reached Trump by phone, the president interjected to ask about [a proposed ban on] vaping and when flavored vaping products would be back on the market."
Speaking to Fox's Sean Hannity on February 2, Trump said, "We pretty much shut it down coming from China." In fact, as Ron Klain would mention to Congress a few days later, over 100,000 people* had come to the States from China in the month before the ban, so "the horse is already out of the barn." (* The Washington Post put this number even higher, at 300,000)On February 28, more than three months after the administration reportedly first learned of the dangerous virus, the US had done fewer than 500 tests ... On March 2, a doctor at New York-Presbyterian said the hospital had zero test kits.
Trump would go on to brag repeatedly about the China ban as an example of a gutsy leadership move, but he wouldn't restrict travel from Europe, which would provide the bulk of New York's cases, for six more weeks.
In a February 3 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Laurie Garrett explained that John Bolton's dissolution of the pandemic response office was done out of spite: "[I]t was a big mistake by the Trump administration to obliterate the entire infrastructure of pandemic response that the Obama administration had created. Why did he do it? Well, it certainly wasn't about the money, because it wasn't a heavily-funded program. It was certainly because it was Obama's program." ...
On February 5, Democratic senators met with administration officials and proposed emergency funding "for essential preventative measures, including hiring local screening and testing staff, researching a vaccine and treatments and the stockpiling of needed medical supplies." HHS secretary Azar declined the funding, claiming it wasn't needed. ...
On February 6, the CDC shipped out 90 test kits. The World Health Organization shipped out 250,000.
On February 7, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about "the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies . . .including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials"—to China. (These shipments represented just a fraction of the vital medical supplies, now desperately needed inside our borders, which were exported from the U.S. in January-March due to the Trump administration's failure to plan ahead and ban exports, as Germany, South Korea, and twenty-two others countries did).
On February 9, "a group of governors in town for a black-tie gala at the White House secured a private meeting with [Dr. Anthony] Fauci and [CDC head Robert] Redfield. The briefing rattled many of the governors, bearing little resemblance to the words of the president." ...
On February 12, the New York Times reported that Trump's CDC had sent state labs flawed test kits, further slowing down the testing process. ...
Throughout Benbow's article, phrases such as these pop up:
wheeled out the false assertion
continual lies and distortions
undeterred by scientific facts
continued to give false assurances
continued to compare coronavirus to the flu, though the virus has approximately 20 times the mortality rate
continued to play pretend
put thousands of his supporters at risk of exposure
lies and blame shifting
offered false assurances and minimized the scope of the public health disaster
continued to lie about test kits
expressed concern that [adding] to the number of confirmed cases would make him look bad
wants the US numbers kept as low as possible
lack of policy engagement
the virus spread undetected, testing continued to move at a glacial pace
kept busy attacking imagined foes on Twitter
tweeted his mistaken talking point
seven weeks after the first case was discovered in the US, just over 5,000 people had been tested
continued to blame his predecessor
woefully unprepared to provide tests
again minimized the threat
cast blame on China and Europe for having the disease before the US
gave confusing information while ad-libbing that contradicted administration policy
again lied about the slow pace of testing
consistently self-serving narrative
"I don't take responsibility at all"
again ducked responsibility
indifference to the crisis had forced city and state leaders to step up before a coordinated federal response had taken shape
over 100 self-congratulatory remarks in press briefings
indifference to the virus for ten weeks
minimized and dismissed the seriousness of the virus with a steady stream of propaganda
the administration's negligence to help prepare states and localities
assuaging gullible and uninformed Americans
actively competing with states for equipment, robbing states of supplies in order to build up national reserves
continued to blame his predecessors
failed to think ahead and was refusing to invoke the Defense Production Act—while stealing supplies from states to stock the national reserves
failing to provide clear guidance to hospitals as to how to cope
using Twitter to attack public officials
added to the chaos and suffering he'd already caused
minimized the scope of the pandemic by mentioning the number of fatal auto accidents
claimed that there would be more suicides from social isolation than deaths from the virus
offered no factual rebuttal
short-sightedness robbed crisis management officials of information that could have helped them from the outset
ignored the playbook ... thereby enabling the catastrophe that was unfolding in New York City and other parts of the country
miscommunications with state health officials ... and failures to gather accurate data
minimizing of the crisis
allowing the president's inaccurate and often unscientific statements to confuse millions of viewers with poor critical-thinking skills
reported cases then spiraled from 7,800 to 53,268 in only one week
the ventilator request was too little, too late, and didn't extend to any other badly-needed medical supplies or personal protective equipment
ventilators won't be ready anytime soon
refused to issue a national shelter-in-place order
From mid-January until Feb. 28, fewer than 4,000 tests from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used out of more than 160,000 produced. ...
Trump's response to [Illinois governor J.B.] Pritzker's criticism of the grossly inadequate federal response, in the middle of a pandemic he had made infinitely worse than it needed to be, was to spend his precious time trolling Pritzker on Twitter. ...
Michael Poznansky of the Washington Post reported [on March 23] that the administration had had access to "repeated" intelligence warnings since the beginnings of the virus, but it was unclear if Trump was aware of the information in real time because "Trump reportedly does not read intelligence assessments, does not ask probing questions of his intelligence advisers, and does not schedule intelligence briefings nearly as often as his predecessors." ...
Bridling, as he always does, at criticism—even when it is well-deserved—Trump falsely accused Cuomo of creating death panels during a Fox News virtual town hall that day and continued to refuse to activate the Defense Production Act. This was of a piece with the administration's pattern of delay and obfuscation ...
Had the administration called on its potential industrial power in January, when they knew about the virus's destructive power overseas, or even early February, when Democratic senators proposed emergency funding, hospitals could have had sufficient stocks of equipment when the first big wave of cases came in, but due to administration delays, the proposed partnership between GE and General Motors wouldn't produce equipment until June. The administration's promise to send out 60,000 test kits fell well short of the "tens of millions needed."
Even as the administration failed to get ventilators out (despite having an awareness of ventilator shortages in Chinese hospitals two months earlier), even as public health officials recommended a shutdown of up to "a year or more," even as the spokesperson for the World Health Organization had said that very day that the U.S. could be the next epicenter of the coronavirus, Trump told Fox viewers that he wanted the country to be "opened up and just raring to go by Easter." ...
One New York nurse who died from COVID-19 worked on a unit where clinicians had to wear garbage bags due to a shortage of PPE .
That evening, it was reported that 3.3 million Americans had applied for unemployment, a record number, and Trump told Sean Hannity "I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they'll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'" (The New York Times would report the next day that the state of New York was so short of ventilators that patients were actually sharing ventilators) ...
Stories detailing Trump's denial about the scope of the crisis continued on Friday, March 27. Aaron Blake and William Wan of The Washington Post reported that Trump's steady stream of public lies and misstatements had been taken at face value by many of his supporters and other low-information voters, contributing to most Republican governors refusing to order shelter-in-place edicts, thereby endangering public safety. ... As was pointed out, the cities that lifted shelter-in-place orders too soon during the 1918 Spanish flu paid a steep price. ...
In the months to come, human desperation and misery is sure to skyrocket in the United States as the informed-and-sensible quarantined suffer separation anxiety from family and friends and livelihoods, as every trip out of the house to get basic provisions carries the risk of contracting the virus, as record levels of unemployment continue and millions are unable to meet basic financial needs, as hospitals overflow, as cities and states continue to be forced to compete against each other and get gouged by private companies due to the Trump administration's delays in ramping up medical supply production, as upward of a million Americans get sick and one to two hundred thousand or more die horrible and premature deaths. ...
But it didn't have to be this way. Had the Trump administration heeded advice from the outgoing Obama administration, or kept a competent disaster management team in place, or acted aggressively from the moment they were notified of the virus on January 3 [or, reportedly, mid-November 2019], or recommended social distancing sooner, or maintained consistent and transparent messaging, or used the formidable resources of the federal government early and often, we would be looking at a radically better future.
Asked by NPR's Terry Gross what went wrong with the test kits, Politico reporter Dan Diamond quoted a Trump administration official:
"Terry, the question might not be what went wrong; it's what went right?"