We are now officially dealing with a pandemic. No one but the president thought a $2.5 billion program would be enough to address the threat. Congress — not only the Democratic House but also the Republican Senate — nearly quadrupled the appropriation, even as health officials around the country are warning about shortages of everything from masks to skilled nursing care.
No one except the president thinks the virus will just fade away with the warm weather. No one except the president disputes the mortality rate of the new coronavirus. The president has a "hunch" that the numbers are wrong. Who needs science when the president has a "hunch" — based on nothing — that the World Health Organization is wrong? No one but the president is claiming that a vaccine is around the corner, or that clinical trials are already beginning.
European leaders are taking the pandemic seriously. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told her fellow citizens that 60 to 70 percent of the German population could end up infected; the government's goal is to slow the spread enough so health care facilities will not be overwhelmed. English and French leaders have offered similar scenarios. In Italy, where hospital conditions in hard-hit Lombardy are already desperate, the association of anesthesiologists and intensive care physicians has recommended that respirators should be prioritized for those with the best chance of survival — meaning young people with no preexisting conditions, rather than those over 65, who are most likely to die.
In America, according to President Donald Trump, what we are facing is not a pandemic but a political "hoax" engineered by Democrats to defeat him.
Tell that to the families of those who have died, and those who are still waiting for tests, and those on cruise ships who have been quarantined in their rooms for weeks, and those still quarantined in military facilities. According to the president, the cruise ship illnesses are not "our fault" and, therefore, should not be included in the count. As if this is the cruise ship's fault. As if the passengers — virtually all of them American — are somehow at fault. As if this is nothing more than a numbers game.
After three years, we should all be used to a president who sees everything that happens in the world only as it impacts him. Everything that goes wrong is the fault of Democrats trying to beat him in November — "fake news" being spread to undermine him. The Democrats, according to the president, are encouraging people to panic, which would hurt the economy, which would — and for him, this is the critical piece — hurt his chances of re-election. It's as if every school that has shut down, every company where travel is banned and whose employees are working from home, every hospital overrun with those seeking tests are all part of a hoax perpetrated by Democrats. As if Democrats in the United States have the power to create a worldwide pandemic.
The president's decision to treat a global pandemic as a Democratic hoax is not only stupid and self-serving but also terribly dangerous. We were not prepared. The president actually fired the team that would have been in place to address a pandemic, and never bothered to replace it. In California, the numbers are still much lower than they would be if tests were more widely available. At the lab of my local hospital, where I went for a blood draw on Tuesday, not a soul was waiting in line in front of me. I was shocked — I had expected crowds and masks and gloves — until the lab technician explained to me that the hospital lab had NO test kits at all; that the only place a person could be tested was the emergency room, and "you certainly don't want to go there." Today, I taught my law school class online, something I have never done before and I expect to be doing for the rest of the term. It is not a political decision; it is a public health imperative.
In times of national crisis, Americans usually come together, as we did after 9/11, as we did after the Challenger crashed with a teacher on board, as we have done under every president except this one. This president is not a unifier, not a scientist, not a calming voice. He is an angry man who can't make a deal with a pandemic and can't find anyone to blame.
From the beginning, the presidency has been Donald Trump's to lose. And for a while, it seemed that a majority of Americans, having come to accept a president who never lets the facts get in the way of his political future, might give him four more years to sing his own praises. No more. Older people — those most likely to die — are also those who vote in the largest numbers. They are afraid, with reason. It's not the Democrats or the press who are doing him in; it's Trump himself, with his ugliest side in plain view, threatening our health because of his selfish preoccupation with himself.
The president is doing everything he can to lose this election. And in that he is likely to succeed. Joe Biden looks better every day. And Donald Trump looks worse.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)