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Donald Trump’s Blame Game

March 31, 2020
Donald Trump’s Blame Game
(design: Hannah Yoest / photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

1. He Did This

Yesterday the death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed the death toll from 9/11. I wrote about it here.

That piece sparked an email exchange last night with a buddy of mine. He’s super smart. Works in the health sector. Is not a Trump guy by any means. His argument to me was that the failings in the executive branch were less the fault of Trump, personally, than failures of the health agency bureaucracy generally.

I don’t buy that, for two reasons:

First, if you’re the president and, by early February, the coronavirus isn’t top of mind for you, then you’re too stupid to hold the office.

And if a possible global pandemic is top of mind for you, then your #1 and #1(a) priorities have to be riding herd on the rapid development / procurement of tests and the stockpiling of critical medical supplies. If you fail to do this, then you’re too incompetent to hold office.

But those are the real-world reasons why I think it is entirely fair to hold Trump accountable for the executive branch’s failure to properly prepare to manage the coronavirus during the critical period between its emergence in China and its arrival in America.

There’s another reason: Trump himself told us that the president is accountable for bad things that happen on his watch.

At a Republican debate on February 13, 2016, Trump got into an exchange with Jeb Bush in which he argued that President George W. Bush should have been impeached for the Iraq war and was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Here’s the transcript:

BUSH: And while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I’m proud of what he did.And he has had the gall to go after my brother.

TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that.

BUSH: He has had the gall to go after my mother. Hold on. Let me finish. He has had the gall to go after my mother.

TRUMP: That’s not keeping us safe. . . .

RUBIO: I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore.

And you can—I think you can look back in hindsight and say a couple of things, but he kept us safe. And not only did he keep us safe, but no matter what you want to say about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was in violation of U.N. resolutions, in open violation, and the world wouldn’t do anything about it, and George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do.

And again, he kept us safe, and I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.

TRUMP: How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center—the World—excuse me. I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.

RUBIO: The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.

TRUMP: And George Bush—by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.

So those are the rules of engagement, as laid out by Donald Trump himself.

And if you want further evidence, last week a reader sent me a picture of a piece of mail he received from the CDC. Take a look:

You like that? When the CDC screws up, Trump has nothing to do with it. Not his fault! When the CDC successfully sends out guidelines, they’ve literally got “President Trump’s” personal brand on them.

He can’t have it both ways.

He did this.

2. Masks

Once we get to a point where the rate of increase is slowing, the next big debate we’re going to have in America is about masks.

Because there is a good chance that we are headed to a period in American life where many—most?—people will wear masks in public as a matter of course.

There’s a lot to chew on here, starting with the question of efficacy. (TL;DR: They probably help.)

But one of the interesting side questions is why the WHO is so squirrelly on the mask question.

In Stratechery, Ben Thompson has an interesting piece on WHO’s . . . complicated . . . relationship with China and why that’s made WHO unreliable on the mask question:

[A]t every step of this outbreak the WHO has sought to praise and accommodate China, despite the fact that news about the initial outbreak was forcibly suppressed, the fact that China violated WHO guidelines with the severity of its quarantines (which to be clear, appear to have been effective), the fact that China hid the transmission rate amongst health care workers from the WHO until February 14 and waited weeks to even allow the WHO into the country, and only then on carefully scripted and chaperoned tours.

Those tours — which again, took weeks to negotiate, even as the coronavirus was spreading all over the globe — resulted in this report. It is, indeed, exceptionally effusive of the Chinese response, and contains no mention of China’s cover-up of human-to-human transmission in particular, which led to this tweet from the WHO.

This was particularly unfortunate given that Taiwan had told the WHO on December 31 that there was human-to-human transmission.

What it all boils down to is this: China had a vested interest in insisting that asymptomatic transmission was not possible. So WHO went along with this assertion, despite much evidence to the contrary. And if WHO is going to say that asymptomatic transmission isn’t possible, then the case for wearing masks is significantly weakened.

So in sum: The current mask guidelines are driven in large part not by evidence, but by one international organization’s eagerness not to upset the Chinese government.

If you want to see how utterly ridiculous the WHO’s deference is to China, go look at this video exchange where WHO advisor Bruce Aylward is interviewed by a Hong Kong media outlet. It’s one of the most stunning pieces of obfuscation I’ve ever seen.

3. Tiger King

On my other podcast we talked about the Netflix docuseries Tiger King. It’s wild. Here’s an early piece about the real villain of the piece, Carole Baskin:

Carole Baskin would like to forget that she once bred exotic big cats and sold them as house pets.

She would like everyone else to forget that her husband disappeared mysteriously 10 years ago, leaving her a rich woman.

She would rather that everyone thought of her the way she sees herself: a crusader for animal rights who believes no one should own a wild cat. Not a zoo. Not a sanctuary. Not even herself.

But to many who live and breathe exotic animals, Baskin is a hypocrite.

They point out that her own 40-acre Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Hillsborough County has 137 tigers, lions, leopards, lynx and other big cats. Her own “private collection,” they call it.

They heckle her at state wildlife meetings. They picket her fundraising Fur Balls. And they speculate on what happened to her late husband, Don Lewis, calling police with tips.

“Did you feed him to the tigers?” someone once asked Baskin at the grocery store. Her own stepdaughter wanted police to test the meat grinder at the sanctuary for her missing father’s DNA.

Baskin says she has no idea what happened to Lewis and she had nothing to do with it. She is simply focused on her mission to outlaw private ownership of big cats and arrive at a day when there is no longer a need to shelter them.

Read the whole thing

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.