The Trump White House has faced an avalanche of criticism by experts and political figures baffled as to why, even now, the administration is stalling on invoking the powers of the Defense Protection Act to produce urgently-needed medical supplies as hospitals prepare for an inevitable surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker voiced those same concerns this morning on CNN’s State of the Union, telling host Jake Tapper that due to the dire shortages, states were now “competing with each other” for equipment.
Pritzker’s efforts to spur Trump into action did not go unnoticed by the television-addicted Trump. He quickly took to Twitter to tell Pritzker and other governors that it was on each state to fend for itself, so don’t look to his White House for help unless they “fail.”
.@JBPritzker, Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News @CNN & Concast (MSDNC), shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2020
This was somewhat at odds with a tweet from just two hours earlier, when Trump declared he was “Working very well with States and our Nation’s Governors. #TEAMWORK.” What we can take from this, as always, is that Trump’s mood, direction, and policies change with every television segment. The man has no internal narrative other than whether the current voice on the idiot box is praising him or insulting him.
The speculation as to just why Trump, Mike Pence, Jared Kushner and whoever else has been wedged into the decision-making loop have not, even now, invoked the Defense Protection Act to retool factories to make masks and other medical equipment already being rationed in hospitals, even before the main “wave” of coronavirus cases reaches their emergency rooms, continues to run rampant. My own suspicion is that they do not know how. Literally, they do not know how to begin or organize the effort: Which factories can produce what? What supplies do they need to do it? How should the results be distributed?
They are therefore stalling, waiting for someone, somewhere to bring them a plan that they can sign their names to. It’s the legwork that’s killing them; after purging the government of experts, ignoring pandemic response drills and plans, and ridding the administration of anyone who would disagree with Trump’s invented facts and out-of-nowhere pronouncements, there is no team left that can handle the daunting logistics of “wartime” procurement.
A Politico report from earlier this weekend gives ample evidence for that theory. Anonymous officials say Trump’s weird declarations have created an internal “need to make good on half-baked promises,” a clear distraction from more urgent tasks. The “national strategy for obtaining and distributing the necessary supplies” still has not happened yet, reports Politico, months after COVID-19 preparations should have begun. And Trump continues to bluff and bluster, relentlessly, about why he and his staff don’t take more urgent actions to save lives:
“If California can get a mask sooner than we can get it for them, through all of the things we’re able to do, we’ll end up with a big over-supply. At some point, this is going away.”
So. The hell. What? Is the premise that having too many masks on hand would be worse than the current status of not having enough, endangering the very healthcare workers expected to care for victims of the pandemic? That having a warehouse full of government-owned emergency equipment would be worse than Americans dying from a lack of those supplies?
Of course not. He’s an idiot, and he’s simply stalling to avoid doing something that his team cannot figure out how to competently do, no matter how urgent it may be.
The takeaway here is that the federal emergency response measures have, for the most part, collapsed, and Trump is getting increasingly frustrated that his daily lies to the contrary (a hospital ship that isn’t currently available, “millions” of test kits that healthcare workers say have not, now, arrived, etc) are not having the desired effect of shutting his critics up. As a narcissist he is obsessed with securing praise for his supposed genius; as an idiot, he has steadfastly refused to spend the energy needed to even learn the basics of the things he wishes to be declared a genius over.
What is likely to happen next, then, is that Team Trump is going to continue to do next to nothing except for the things that are handed to them on a plate, pre-planned by somebody else. Trump, Pence, Kushner and the rest of the White House team will rely on governors of states like New York, Illinois, and California to “solve” the current crisis of medical preparedness themselves.
Once those states have identified specific needs, like Army-built temporary hospitals or specific factories that can be quickly retooled, the Trump White House may hastily approve those requests—after competent officials have done the legwork, made the specific plans, and need only Trump’s Sharpie signature to enact them.
The federal efforts are, at this point, purely reactive. There was no plan, in January or February. There was no pressure to develop a plan. Those that suggested a plan would be needed were instead ridiculed, their concerns labeled a “hoax”, because an unfit and mentally unwell Donald Trump believed talk of an emerging pandemic was a plot against him, personally. to make him look bad. The states are on their own; Mike Pence and the others are reduced to playing babysitter during each meeting, public and private, encouraging Trump with flattering words so that he will not lose all his remaining marbles and threaten to bomb the virus from orbit.