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July 30, 2020

Dereliction of duty

Opinion

July 30, 2020

Five months into the coronavirus pandemic, the US continues to be one of the worst affected countries.

With five percent of the world's population, it has 25 percent of all coronavirus deaths. There is still a battle raging in the country as to whether this is a real threat, or not. Or whether face masks really help or not. And even whether the reported numbers of infections and fatalities mean anything.

One would think dead bodies piling up, and ICU wards filled beyond capacity wouldn't be a matter of debate. Yet this is where America stands today. Over four million confirmed infections, deaths closing in on 150,000, and no end in sight.

Amidst all of this, President Trump claims the only reason the US has so many cases is because it is testing more than any other country. Not true, of course. Blaming cases on testing is like saying that if we never checked our temperature, we would never have a fever.

After months of denial, the president appears to be realizing that he cannot ignore facts anymore. The pain is too deep and widespread. On July 23, Trump restarted his coronavirus briefings on national TV. He admitted “things may get worse, before they get better.” Perhaps he was finally listening to medical scientists and public health experts. Not really. His focus has always solely been on his own reelection campaign.

When he thought coronavirus briefings were good for his political image, he held hours-long briefings on live television. When his nonsensical presentations, such as claiming that disinfectant cleaners could wipe out the virus in a minute, started to hurt his political standing he abruptly canceled them.

So, what exactly caused Trump to face up to reality? The Democratic Party has chosen a moderate candidate in Joe Biden. And in almost all polls, Biden is ahead of Trump by 10 to 15 points. This got Trump's attention like nothing else could.

The US has just experienced several days in a row of over 1000 daily deaths. Anyone with the slightest bit of common sense and empathy for people would have understood the stakes involved, but not Trump. Throughout this pandemic he has continued to deny the threat, and overtly encourage risky behaviour. He refused to put on a mask until recently, and in the process made himself into the worst possible role model for the country.

Just recently he abruptly canceled plans to hold the Republican Party convention in Florida, claiming the need for safety of attendees, as if this was new news. He was likely more concerned people would not show up. After all, Florida is one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.

Over the past several months, Trump has made many U-turns in his portrayal of the pandemic. Each one based on his assessment of the political impact for him personally. Sadly, in the process, he has created massive confusion in the country. Trump couldn't understand the simple fact that the economic crisis cannot be overcome until the health crisis is under control.

By now the world has seen many examples of countries successfully overcoming this health crisis. The single biggest commonality between them has been sensible, and consistent leaders who listened to scientists and firmly guided their countrymen and women.

Sadly, the US has been sorely missing such leadership. As a result, chances are the country will continue to grapple with this pandemic and its aftermath till the end of this year, and beyond. Thankfully, there is a good possibility there may be new leadership by then. However, recovery will be a massive uphill task.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

Website: www.sqshareef.com/blogs