News flash from the White House this week: Melania Trump is undertaking a redo of the White House Rose Garden. New plants and flowers. White rose shrubs to replace the old crab apple trees.
“The very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future,” the aloof First Lady said in a statement.
Nice. But with thousands of Americans dying weekly from the worst public-health crisis to hit the country in a century, could she not have picked a more appropriate moment for planting new petunias?
It’s worth pointing out because, as the country reels, the tone-deaf announcement was typical of the absence of empathy from its leadership. No one is expecting her to be another Eleanor Roosevelt, but a show of concern for the plight of others through acts of grace and kindness, through visiting families who lost loved ones, might be in order.
Her husband, the President, exhibits no compassion either. He rants and raves. He plays the blame game. He heads off to the golf course. At a time of nationwide racial discord, he skips the John Lewis memorial events.
Atmospherics are one thing. What is more distressing is the lack of a plan of dramatic action. The resurgence of COVID-19 cases necessitates extraordinary urgent measures. The second wave that experts feared would come in the fall has already arrived. Another in the fall would constitute a third. The economic recession could well worsen. But in the face of the national nightmare, the Trump administration stays the course.
The President did finally urge Americans to wear masks last week and he’s cancelled Republican convention festivities in Florida. He also acknowledged things will get worse instead of better. Good.
But although he promised a new bold strategy, the country still waits. There’s no sign of it – just the same script that helped propel the crisis to where it is.
To wit, Mr. Trump claimed this week that “you can look at large portions of our country – it’s corona-free.” This while government officials released a report showing that outbreaks were so egregious that 21 states were in the “red zone,” 28 states were in the “yellow zone” and only one state, Vermont, was in the “green zone.”
He’s still advising governors, as he did Monday, to reopen their states even though the early reopening strategy was a major cause of the summer surge. He’s still keeping Dr. Anthony Fauci at arm’s length; he’s still claiming he’s done a fine job; he’s still promoting hydroxychloroquine.
The crisis is everybody’s fault except Mr. Trump’s. At one time or another, he’s blamed the Democrats, the governors, the World Health Organization, the protesters, the terrible media, Dr. Fauci, Barack Obama, increased testing or his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The fault obviously lies in a lot more places than the White House. It includes states run by Democrats, for example. But the buck stops with the most powerful man in the country.
It’s not too late, some experts claim, to turn the situation around. Infectious-disease expert Peter Hotez has outlined a national plan to get the country back to normal by October, including universal mask-wearing; keeping bars, restaurants, churches and transit closed; and prohibiting interstate travel.
But Mr. Trump is politically trapped. He can’t impose a national lockdown three months before an election because he’s frightened it will cause the collapse of the economy. Political considerations have trapped him all along.
It’s unlikely his Republican Party would agree to emergency measures even if he was so disposed. That became clearer than ever this week with the release of the Republicans’ coronavirus relief package. It proposes US$16-billion for testing, which is US$59-billion short of what public-health experts at the Rockefeller Foundation recommended. It reduces unemployment benefits from US$600 a week to only US$200 a week. The higher figure helped millions pay their bills and induced consumer spending, which drives the economy. What now?
Maybe Mr. Trump will shock us all and come up with a dramatic new course of action. But no one is betting on it.
His modus operandi, as recounted in a new book by his niece, Mary Trump, and by so many others who have worked closely with him, is an unwillingness to admit error – one that borders on the pathological.
He’s always bulldogged his way forward, no matter what the trauma. As his country stares into the abyss, he will do so again – with a prettier Rose Garden.
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