Thursday evening brought a pair of stories that are individually jaw-dropping, but taken together this new information seems too large to even comprehend. One of these stories was the revelation that efforts at national testing were suspended because Donald Trump became convinced that deaths were concentrated in states with Democratic governors, and letting Americans in blue states die would be good politics. The second was an investigation into shifting COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Health and Human Services (HHS) actually meant gifting it to a pair of billionaire friends of Trump without following any rules of competitive bidding.
When those two stories are set side by side, they explain how Donald Trump, fresh from the ultimate show of loyalty by the Republican Senate, decided that he would allow tens of thousands of Americans to die for political expediency. Then, when it became clear that his decision to let the pandemic burn out of control began to singe red states as well as blue, Trump brought in some experts to help him cover up a crime against humanity.
When Trump stepped out of the White House on March 13 along with the CEOs of some of America’s largest retailers and pharmacy chains, it got exactly the response that Trump wanted. The media reliably reported on Trump’s latest “pivot,” how he was acting “presidential,” and how he was “finally taking the coronavirus seriously.” Even as the line of CEOs were announcing plans for providing testing facilities in parking lots, and Trump was describing how 1,700 Google engineers were working on a website that would coordinate testing across the country, the numbers on Wall Street were soaring up and up.
Americans would soon be able to go to a single website to locate testing sites and schedule a test at any of thousands of sites conveniently located across the country. The results of these tests would be rapidly provided to them from the same website, and an army of contract tracers would be standing by to help see that those exposed to the virus were isolated. That Rose Garden announcement was coming almost two months after the first case was identified in the United States, and even the CEOs on hand for the event admitted that plans were sketchy. While there were thousands of infections that could have been stopped by appropriate action in January, it seemed that America was finally on its way to a coherent strategy. The six CEOs who came to the microphone that day represented over 32,000 store locations—enough that there could be a testing site for every 10,000 Americans.
But six weeks later, Trump’s promise of a nationwide network of drive-thru testing centers came down to just five locations, all of them soon to be closed as Trump withdrew the last bit of federal funding from testing support. Meanwhile, the promised website never materialized at all. Though Trump had seemed very specific in both his description of the site and the number of engineers involved, all that ever emerged was a small website from Google’s sister company, Verily, providing limited information about a small area around San Francisco Bay. That was it. The big plan that was announced to great acclaim—and soaring stock prices—was totally abandoned.
And now we know why. It wasn’t because Trump grew bored with the pandemic, or simple incompetence prevented the CDC or HHS from moving forward. Instead, Trump specifically halted the program. Those involved, even Jared Kushner, seemed to believe that the plan was ready to roll, just waiting for Trump to give the go-ahead. Except he didn’t. Instead, Trump waited almost six weeks to announce any sort of plan at all, and that plan was: Every state for itself. No federal testing program. No case tracing. No national database of test results or website to direct people to testing locations. Nothing. All because according to a member of Kusher’s planning team: “The political folks believed that because [COVID-19] was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”
Donald Trump made the explicit decision not to address the crisis because he believed allowing blue-state Americans to die would benefit him politically. And if you’re wondering whether the word “genocide” fits, the U.N. certainly thinks so, even before bringing in the fact that COVID-19 deaths have disproportionately hit Black and Latino communities.
Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious, political and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part.
— UN Resolution 96(1), 11 December 1946
Then there’s the second part of this story, where Trump closed down the CDC website that had collected data on disease, hospitalization, and cause of death for 15 years and handed it over to Republican mega-donors. TeleTracking received its specification-free contract to replace the CDC site in April after Trump had made the decision to deliberately halt any national testing effort, but weeks before he revealed that everything he’d said back in March was simply a lie.
Not only does the new system take healthcare information into a private database where only a fraction is reflected back to the public—hospitals that previously reported their data directly to state governments can no longer do so. Instead, all 6,000+ hospitals have to send their data first, and only, to the new site managed by TeleTracking. And now, as many analyses have shown, what’s coming out of the system is completely unreliable. As the COVID-19 Tracking Project reports: “Hospitals—many in regions with major outbreaks—were given two days’ notice to complete these changes, and many have not yet been able to comply fully with the new directive. … the hospitalization data we rely on has degraded significantly in quality since the new reporting directive went into effect.” That hospitalization data is itself an important check on both the effectiveness of testing and the completeness of death reports.
First Trump did the crime. Then he arranged the cover-up. It wasn’t the first time he practiced that two-step, but it’s certainly the most devastating.
If the reports of Trump deciding to abandon American states for a political advantage are true, the question isn’t how Trump compares to George W. Bush or James Buchanon. It’s how he compares to Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.