Lack of Leadership In A Time Of Global Crisis

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in 2017, he has consistently downplayed existential threats towards both national and global security. In the fall of 2019, Trump nearly pushed the United States into another long term and seemingly endless war in the Middle East, after failing to provide any justification or pretext for his ordering of an airstrike which killed top Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani. Trump has also called the Russia hacking of the 2016 election “a hoax” and evidence of “fake news.” Incredibly, Trump has even claimed to have fallen “in love” with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who commits human rights violations on a daily basis and currently has nuclear warheads aimed directly at the United States and its allies. 

However, Trump’s press conference on Monday, March 16 was truly unprecedented, as he directly acknowledged the severity of an impending crisis. Speaking with regard to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), Trump issued new guidelines for a 15-day plan “to try to flatten the curve of new infections to alleviate a feared surge of sick patients that could overwhelm the health system,” according to CNN. This specifically included urging the American public “to avoid discretionary travel and social gatherings of more than 10 people.” Trump further commented that “each and every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus.” 

Despite this sense of urgency, it is nevertheless in stark contrast to remarks the President made days prior, in which he compared the coronavirus to the flu and claimed that the outbreak was already contained. This, however, couldn’t have been further from the truth, as between March 10-16, more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the United States, leaving state and local officials scrambling to protect their constituents. As of Friday, March 20, over 15,000 people in the United States have been tested positive for coronavirus, in addition to over 200 confirmed deaths. Many state governors have issued mandates closing restaurants, bars, parks, and other areas of public gathering. This era of uncertainty has decimated the American workforce, and with the DOW dropping almost 3,000 points on March 16, it seems that a recession could very well be on the horizon. Many colleges and universities across the country have closed their campuses over fears that large quantities of students could be an easy way to further spread the coronavirus. Additionally, several professional sports leagues like the NBA, NHL, and MLB have postponed their seasons after multiple athletes tested positive for the virus. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a coronavirus is “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases,” such as MERS and SARS. COVID-19 is a novel “strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.” Common symptoms of the disease include but are not limited to “fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties,” with more severe cases leading to “pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.” People over the age of 60 and those who suffer from medical conditions which may compromise their immune system are most at risk and should take proper precautions, such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. These habits should also be practiced by younger individuals, who can still spread the virus along to others, even if they do not experience any life-threatening symptoms. 

The disease was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan by Dr. Li Wenliang, who warned that it could lead to a viral outbreak. However, the Chinese government, fearing that news of a deadly coronavirus would threaten their political security and grasp of power, forced Dr. Li into silence and told him not to spread “false statements” and lies. As a result, COVID-19 spread quickly across China and into neighboring countries. Overseas air travel brought the virus to far away continents, leaving world leaders in a desperate struggle to protect their citizens. Within the last week, China has reported that as a result of “shutting down cities, travel networks and entire regions-and even the internet,” the rate of infection has declined substantially. Media organizations such as the Guardian have even suggested that it may be necessary for Western nations “to behave more like China,” as they seek to contain the spread of the virus. Xi Jinping has soaked in these comments and welcomed such praise from the international community, as fewer cases continue to be confirmed in China. But at the moment, it is unclear whether or not these reassuring reports can actually be trusted, as the Chinese government is notorious for obscuring and fixing free speech. But regardless of whether or not such information is true, Beijing’s negligence and authoritarian rule undeniably allowed COVID-19 to spread rampant around the world, exposing billions of people to a potentially deadly disease as a result. 

According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, the spread of the coronavirus has become exponential. As of March 20, over 260,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and while 87,000 have successfully recovered, over 11,000 have died. Over the past month, the Trump administration has slowly come to terms with the devastating consequences this pandemic could have both on the United States and the entire world. Trump’s first step involved placing travel restrictions on people coming to the United States from China, which he revealed during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity. Trump claimed that “we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus.” While Trump wasn’t necessarily wrong, as limiting all air travel during a pandemic is a rather good solution, he nevertheless labeled and blamed the Chinese people for the outbreak by using divisive and hateful rhetoric. This includes referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” during multiple press conferences, which has inspired racism and xenophobia against the Asian community, which is especially visible on social media. Instead of specifically calling out Xi Jinping, who’s carelessness and disregard for public safety allowed a localized virus to spread exponentially around the world, Trump has chosen to blame an entire ethnic group. In fact, this is a rather conventional approach by Trump, who has previously issued a travel ban against people from predominantly muslim countries as a mechanism to safeguard the United States from terrorism. 

Trump’s flawed leadership was additionally pronounced during a Tuesday press conference when he claimed his administration “were very prepared” to combat the coronavirus. This, however, is a completely inaccurate and false statement, described by CNN’s Daniel Dale as “[bordering] on nonsensical.” Since COVID-19 began spreading at an alarming rate across the United States, the country has had a noticeable and undeniable lack of test kits. This may seem surprising, considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) “shipped hundreds of thousands of tests to countries around the world.” Why then, as many civilians and lawmakers have asked, are test kits so hard to come by in the most powerful and economically developed country in the world? Tragically, this is a rather self inflicted wound. In January, WHO provided “a protocol from German researchers with the instructions necessary for any country to manufacture coronavirus tests.” However, American officials choose only to use tests designed by the CDC, rather than “relying on any protocols published by the WHO.” Unfortunately, delays and manufacturing defects have limited the number of American tests made available to the public, making it extremely difficult for symptomatic peoples to get an official diagnosis. As a result, it is incredibly likely that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States are vastly under-proportioned.

Furthermore, hospitals appear to be lacking fundamental supplies and resources to combat a pandemic. According to CNN, health care workers have pleaded to the Trump administration for assistance, claiming they are quickly “running out of surgical masks and fear there won’t be enough ventilators to treat patients who contract the disease.” Despite this, Trump has suggested that such decision making “is really for the local governments, governors and people within the state,” and therefore, not up to his administration. The President has also deflected any criticism he has faced for his handling of the crisis, stating “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Rather, Trump has blamed “rules, regulations and specifications,” imposed by President Obama for hampering his ability to combat COVID-19. However, such obstacles would never have barred Trump from declaring a national emergency as late as March 13. By then, the coronavirus had spread to nearly every state in the union, and the entire world was in full panic. According to a spokesperson from the Department of Defense, federal organizations were unable “to take more aggressive steps such as providing medical equipment, putting field hospitals on alert and making preparations to dispatch the military’s twin hospital ships to virus hotspots,” until a national emergency was declared. It was not until the economy was on the verge of collapse and grocery stores across the country became sights of chaos with civilians hoarding food and basic household supplies did the President make any substantial action. 

Fear and uncertainty have clouded the foreseeable future throughout much of the world. Nobody knows for sure when the infection and death rates will begin to decline, or how long it will take life to return to a sense of normalcy. But nevertheless, there are lessons which humanity as a whole can take from this unprecedented experience, including the cost of poor leadership. Hopefully, future generations will look back on this moment in history and see the necessity to lead with dignity, honour, and transparency. Little can be done now to make up for Trump’s failures amidst this pandemic, but when the next disaster strikes the United States, America can and will be better prepared. 

Peter Koenigsbauer

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