One might have thought that a President of the United States who had made and compounded so many errors in his country’s handling of the Covid-19 virus would be swept from power by an angry and frightened electorate. So far, sadly, there are few signs of that happening.
In March, on a visit to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he said: “Within a couple of days, infections are going to be down to close to zero. Like a miracle, it will disappear.” The number of deaths is now is approaching 100,000.
He promised that four million testing kits would be available “within a week.” By mid-May only 3% of Americans had been tested and the number of testing kits was 75,000. Jared Kushner evidently persuaded his father-in-law that mass testing would have a damaging effect on the stock market.
One reason given by scientists for the American failure has been the virtual elimination of the CDC, which led the world in the battles against Sars and Ebola, as a force in the anti-Covid campaign. “The CDC has been missing in action,” according to a former senior White House adviser. “Because of the CDC’s errors, we did not have a true picture of the spread of the disease.”
Trump’s choice as head of the CDC was Robert Redfield, a former Army Colonel who had been leader of the Pentagon’s response to the HIV-Aids epidemic in the 1980s. He branded soldiers who tested positive as moral degenerates and had them dishonourably discharged. Some committed suicide.
He was finally sacked in 1994 after hyping, for several years, a remedy for Aids that turned out to be useless. “Redfield is about the worst person you could think of to be heading the CDC at this time,” according to Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer. “He has let his prejudices interfere with the science.”
When the awful truth about the pandemic finally dawned on Trump, he found a magic bullet for the disease: an anti-malarial drug called hydroxychloroquine. Any medical expert in the Washington bureaucracy who challenged his belief was either silenced or dismissed.
Rick Bright, the scientist in charge of developing a vaccine – clearly a most urgent role – was removed after blocking efforts to promote the President’s favoured drug. “I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government,” he said.
He also claimed that he was pressed to send contracts worth millions of dollars to a company controlled by friend of Kushner. When he refused, he was sacked. As a result, scientists are terrified of saying anything that contradicts Trump. “You’re trying to appease a great force that’s impervious to reason,” said one official.
Despite all this provable nonsense, Americans around Trump, including his acolytes on Fox News, claim to be shocked and mystified that the British continue to attack their President as a dangerous idiot. I was delighted to read an explanation for British attitudes from an advertising copywriter called Nate White that was sent to me by an old college friend:-
“Trumps lacks certain qualifications the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – with all of which, funnily enough, his predecessor, Mr Obama, was generously blessed.”
He also accuses Trump of lacking any real sense of humour. His idea of a joke, he says, is to be nasty. “He also lacks any sense of irony or nuance and has no depth. He is also a bully. Rarely has stupidity been so nasty or nastiness so stupid.”
And yet, he goes on, “the fact that a significant minority of Americans – perhaps a third – look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then say +Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy,+ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to the British people.”
There are signs that older Americans, those most vulnerable to the virus, are becoming disenchanted with Trump, but that younger Americans are flocking to his banner. Meanwhile, it doesn’t help that Joe Biden seems singularly uninspiring as a challenger, having apparently failed to pick up the young radicals who supported Bernie Sanders.
Trump will base his electoral appeal on blaming China for the virus and – if things work out that way – on signs of an economic recovery.
It puzzles and saddens this Britisher that the American public, at a time of grave national crisis, should be invited to choose between an incompetent 74-year-old incumbent and a vapid 78-year-old challenger, both of whom have been plausibly accused of harassing women.
Now Trump has the astonishing arrogance and lack of grace to refuse to unveil a portrait of Barrack Obama in the White House. All one can say is that he isn’t fit to do do that anyway.
ENJOYING OTHERS’ MISFORTUNE
Schadenfreudeis a word I have never properly understood. But I fear I may be guilty of it - enjoying other people’s misfortune - in what I say next.
It has given me some pleasure to witness the damage done by the Covid crisis to two very different people. One is Warren Buffett, the know-all American financier, who has apparently lost 60 billion dollars after lecturing generations of investors on how to be prudent with money.
The other is the mouthy epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College in London, who has been dropped from Sage, the government advisory body on handling the virus, for bringing his mistress to his flat in defiance of the regulations he helped to impose on others.
Ferguson is the man who grossly exaggerated the need to cull millions of cattle in the BSE crisis and who bullied Boris Johnson into the lockdown by threatening 250,000 UK deaths. I’m not sorry that this notorious headline-seeker has been silenced.