Monday, January 27, 2020


Joe Biden has published a USA Today op-ed warning us that Donald Trump is not the leader we want to deal with a dangerous disease outbreak.
The possibility of a pandemic is a challenge President Donald Trump is unqualified to handle as president. I remember how Trump sought to stoke fear and stigma during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. He called President Barack Obama a “dope” and “incompetent” and railed against the evidence-based response our administration put in place — which quelled the crisis and saved hundreds of thousands of lives — in favor of reactionary travel bans that would only have made things worse. He advocated abandoning exposed and infected American citizens rather than bringing them home for treatment. Trump’s demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.
It's regrettable that Trump is president for the coronavirus outbreak, but he might not be as bad as Biden would lead you to imagine. It's true that, like so many other areas of government, the federal public health infrastructure is understaffed and not securely budgeted:
Trump has rolled back much of the progress President Obama and I made to strengthen global health security. He proposed draconian cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for International Development — the very agencies we need to fight this outbreak and prevent future ones.

He dismissed the top White House official in charge of global health security and dismantled the entire team. And he has treated with utmost contempt institutions that facilitate international cooperation, thus undermining the global efforts that keep us safe from pandemics and biological attacks.
That's bad. But Trump's approach to coronavirus might not be marked by the same bigotry and know-nothingism as his response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak was -- for a couple of reasons, neither of which is admirable.

First, Trump is less likely to demagogue this outbreak because he's the president, not a Democrat. There was hysteria surrounding the Ebola outbreak, primarily because it came right before midterm elections. Trump wasn't the only Republican using the outbreak to bash the opposition party -- as The New York Times reported at the time, the GOP party line was that Obama and the Democrats would get Americans killed.
With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are — from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous — central in their attacks against Democrats....

Hear it on cable television and talk radio, where pundits and politicians play scientists speculating on whether Ebola will mutate into an airborne virus that kills millions....

Republicans like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — all possible 2016 presidential candidates — have accused Mr. Obama of leaving Americans vulnerable to the Ebola epidemic. Conservative media like the Drudge Report have created crude puns to rhyme the president’s last name with the virus. The Daily Caller has christened him “President Ebola.”
Recall that an asymptomatic nurse who'd worked with Ebola patients was ordered quarantined in an unheated tent by then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, until the ACLU helped her obtain her freedom. (She had not contracted the disease, and health experts said it was inappropriate to quarantine her.)

So Trump isn't demagoguing this outbreak the way he demagogued that one because there isn't a partisan advantage to doing so.

He's also not mounting a response to the current outbreak driven that's by rage and prejudice because, I assume, he has less contempt for Asians than he does for Muslims and blacks. I can't prove this, but it would be typical for a man of his age and prejudices not to have a visceral hatred of East Asians. I'm sure he has contempt for them -- he's been known to mock the way Asians speak English -- but I'm guessing he thinks Asians are very smart and good with numbers. I'm also guessing that while he can't imagine that their countries are as advanced as ours, he probably doesn't believe they're shitholes, which is how he envisions the nations of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

I can't prove any of this, but decades of living among white bigots in the Northeast tells me it's a reasonable educated guess. If I'm right, he won't treat China the way he treats Puerto Rico. And no, he doesn't deserve credit for having some limitations to his bigotry.

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