According to my Twitter feed, many people who watched Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech on the coronavirus outbreak thought he looked, well, sick. I can’t say that it ever crossed my mind.
Yes, he struggled reading from the prompter. Yes, his command on the topic looked shaky. Yes, several of his major proposals were walked back by the White House within a half hour of the speech. And, yes, the speech was heavy on blaming a “foreign” virus, as if a virus has a nationality or is spread by gangs of “illegal” people. And, yes, he was entirely dishonest about the failure of his administration to produce and distribute tests for the virus.
In other words, he was very much like every-day Donald Trump, the president who has stood next to people who have been infected, but who says he won’t get tested. If he looked sick, it was probably because he was sick about having to make the speech, which was, obviously, a rebuke of pretty much everything he has been saying for the last month or so. Or as he said earlier this week: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
The speech maybe could have gone this way: OK, I was wrong, wrong, wrong, but there’s still stuff we can do now that I’ve finally figured out the doctors and scientists may know a hell of lot more about this (and about nearly everything else) than I do, despite the fact that my uncle was a genius MIT professor. So let’s ban everyone from Europe except for those countries where I have golf courses. (By the way, I don’t think his golf courses had anything to do with it. Why he excluded Britain and Ireland remains, for many people, a mystery.) And I’m sure there’s other stuff we can do, but I’m out of ideas.
Trump’s speech — which either skipped or downplayed most of what the country actually needs to hear — was overwhelmed by the concurrent news that the NBA has called off the rest of the regular season, the NCAA March Madness has turned into a games-with-no-fans March Sadness, and Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, of all people, have tested positive. Fortunately for Hanks and Wilson, they were in Australia where tests are readily available.
Now, the NCAA has taken it several steps further — canceling the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and all of its spring tournaments. Now, Major League Baseball has canceled the rest of spring training and moved back the season openers for at least two weeks. Now, the NHL has suspended its season. Now, Broadway has closed. Now, Disney has shut down its amusement parks. More and more companies are telling their employees to work from home. More and more universities — including CU, DU and CSU — are sending their students home. We’ll see an increasing number of public schools closing, meaning, in many cases, that at-risk elderly grandparents will be called in to take care of the kids. And what of those kids who rely on free or reduced-cost lunches?
This is how critical the situation is. The U.S. Senate has just canceled its week-long recess to stay in town, maybe even long enough to get some emergency coronavirus legislation passed. I mean, according to Axios, Congress’ in-house doctor told Capitol Hill staffers that he expects 70-150 million people in the U.S. to contract the virus. Try to wrap your head around that.
On the other hand, it may not be long before the Colorado legislature gets some critical legislation out of the way and closes up shop, and reopens maybe this summer. That would be an entirely reasonable thing to do.
Trump made the case that America has the best scientists — undoubtedly true; many of them foreign born — and is best equipped to take on a major medical crisis. And yet, he lied, again and again, about the numbers of tests that are available to the American public and, by continuing the lie, gave us no hint as to how to rectify the situation.
The truth is, people like me — with no real knowledge of the virus or how it works or what the best steps are in making ourselves safer — shouldn’t need to be writing columns like this. We should be listening to the scientists. Here’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served six presidents on these issues, told Congress — that the lack of available testing is a major failure by the United States. And that the situation will get worse, probably far worse, before it gets better.
But it’s not only a failure. It’s an unforgivable failure — and a failure, which is why I’m writing, at the hands of our so-called leaders. According to the latest information from the CDC, 11,000 tests have been conducted in a country of 320 million people. South Korea, in contrast, has been testing more than 10,000 a day. No one has any real idea how many people in the United States have the virus.
If you’re not worried about this, you either watch too much FoxNews (or not enough of it, at least when Tucker Carlson is on) or you believe, like Trump, than you know more than the scientists.
Angela Merkel, who came to politics as a scientist and not as a reality-TV-show host, has warned that 60 to 70 percent of the German population could contract coronavirus. As in Italy, we have to worry about hospitals being overwhelmed — not just by a lack of ventilators, but by a lack of beds. We can handle that in America. It’s not too late, we’re told, to reduce the risk factors facing the country. We just have to do it.
I make it a policy to limit praise for politicians doing the job in the way they’re supposed to do it. I mean, come on. But I watched Jared Polis’ news conference Wednesday afternoon, just hours before Trump’s speech, and that’s what he did — his job. Polis was clearly fluent in the science of coronavirus. He was clearly fluent in the latest recommendations from the medical and scientific community in how to limit the spread of the virus. He said things would get worse before they get better — and possibly much worse. He told us where the hot spots were in Colorado. He praised the universities who were shutting down. He told us his plan — subject to change — for public schools where the virus shows up. The state had set up a drive-through testing site, which, it turned out, was overwhelmed by the second day. Polis said what we desperately need in Colorado is more testing kits, as we do across America.
It was reassuring that, at minimum, he was on the case. And Trump’s speech? Here was the market’s answer: the worst single day for the U.S. stock market since Black Monday in 1987.