Some pieces don’t warrant much in terms of extensive commentary. The title of conservative writer David Frum’s article—“This Is Trump’s Fault”—newly published in the Atlantic, is self-explanatory, as are the facts he cites.
Trump now fancies himself a “wartime president.” How is his war going? By the end of March, the coronavirus had killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. By the first weekend in April, the virus had killed more Americans than any single battle of the Civil War. By Easter, it may have killed more Americans than the Korean War. On the present trajectory, it will kill, by late April, more Americans than Vietnam. Having earlier promised that casualties could be held near zero, Trump now claims he will have done a “very good job” if the toll is held below 200,000 dead.
So much for the “war.” Frum believes Trump’s immortal phrase, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” should be engraved as the epitaph of his presidency, which we can only hope will happen soon.
Frum swiftly lists the ways that yes, this is Trump’s fault.
That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault too.
Even the behavior of Trump’s collaborators on Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media are ultimately traceable back to one, and only one, person.
The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.
Trump has fired the inspector general he placed in charge of the pandemic response just days ago, so perhaps Frum already needs to update this.
Frum retraces the now-familiar litany of arrogant delaying, deflecting, and defending that characterized the administration’s nonresponse to the crisis for nearly two months. All of it tracing in a direct line back to the narcissistic sociopath who occupies the Oval Office.
It didn’t have to be this way. If somebody else had been president of the United States in December 2019—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Mike Pence, really almost anybody else—the United States would still have been afflicted by the coronavirus. But it would have been better prepared, and better able to respond.Through the early weeks of the pandemic, when so much death and suffering could still have been prevented or mitigated, Trump joined passivity to fantasy.
The fantasy was that the pandemic would burn itself out, or magically “go away” by now. The reality is that giving credence to those fantasies, and giving Americans such false hope, would not even have occurred to a real president tasked with protecting Americans. They only apply to someone pretending to be president who is actually more concerned with covering his own ass, even if only temporarily.
But being a real president is something someone like Donald Trump simply was not equipped to handle. He doesn’t have the capacity, the intelligence, or the empathy necessary for that. All he could muster were racist appeals to the worst Americans he could find—and they’re still out there, cheering him on at his rallies. Or they used to be. Now they’re home, wondering whether that hacking and coughing by their child, spouse, or parent is just a cold, or something far worse.
They were the ones to whom he feigned allegiance, but in the end it has always been about him. And that is not nearly enough to do the job, especially in a crisis like this one.
He has never tried to be president of the whole United States, but at most 46 percent of it, to the extent that serving even the 46 percent has been consistent with his supreme concerns: stealing, loafing, and whining. Now he is not even serving the 46 percent. The people most victimized by his lies and fantasies are the people who trusted him, the more conservative Americans who harmed themselves to prove their loyalty to Trump. An Arkansas pastor told The Washington Post of congregants “ready to lick the floor” to support the president’s claim that there is nothing to worry about. On March 15, the Trump-loyal governor of Oklahoma tweeted a since-deleted photo of himself and his children at a crowded restaurant buffet. “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at the @CollectiveOKC. It’s packed tonight!” Those who took their cues from Trump and the media who propagandized for him, and all Americans, will suffer for it.
In 2016, a failed and obsolete electoral college system put the worst possible human being in charge of our lives, at the worst possible time in history, and now the entire nation is paying the price for it.