1 – Coronavirus in Trumpland

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the with part 2 being “Coronavirus – China v Taiwan” and Part 3 being “Coronavirus – New Zealand v Queensland”.

The US mainstream media, Democrats and left leaning allies are all pushing the narrative that ’s dithering and incompetence has resulted in the coronavirus taking hold and multiplying through America causing more Americans to die than were killed in the Vietnam War. Foreign media, who globally mostly tilt to the left, have gleefully gone along with this. I have already covered how the media have distorted the figures to make COVID-19 in the US look worse than what it is and this is part of the strategy of trying to sheet home as much of the blame of the virus’ spread as possible on Trump. But how complicit is Trump in the spread of the virus through the US? Did his initial ambivalence lead to fatal delays as is alleged?

Trump made some pretty bold overly optimistic comments early on that were soon overtaken by events. But the truth is that his ambivalence was shared by almost all medical experts, media outlets usually hostile to Trump and his political opponents. In fact, it is the conduct of his political opponents (particularly in New York) that did more to spread the virus than anything Trump did or didn’t do. In the same month that Trump’s opponents accuse him of downplaying the significance of the virus, this is what a large number of key participants and Trump critics had to say at the same time about the risks of the virus:

Foremost medical expert

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Dr. Anthony Fauci

Just as Ashley Bloomfield, Director General of Health in NZ, has become the well respected public face of the medical side of the virus response in NZ, so Anthony Fauci has been the most respected member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force and he has featured frequently and prominently in the President’s Press Conferences on virus related issues. Just like President Trump, Dr. Fauci has changed his views on the strength and likely spread of COVID-19 through the US.

21 January – Newsmax

In an interview, he said “this is not a major threat”

February 26, 2020 – CNBC

During an interview with CNBC he said, “Travel restrictions become almost irrelevant because you can’t keep out the entire world” and “When you have a pandemic that involves multiple countries, travel restrictions become almost irrelevant because you can’t keep out the entire world.”

February 25 – Today

In a briefing to USA Today he had this to say, “You need to do nothing different than you’re already doing,”. Other media around the same time reported that Fauci doesn’t want people to worry about coronavirus, the danger of which is “just minuscule.” But he does want them to take precautions against the “influenza outbreak, which is having its second wave.”

February 29 – NBC Today Show

Dr. Fauci claimed there was no need for Americans to “change anything what you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.” “Right now, at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis,” He said in response to a question about changing lifestyle habits. “Right now, the risk is still low, but this could change.”

March 12

By now, like Trump, Fauci’s rhetoric has switched and in contrast to his February 26 remarks, he said that he believed certain travel restrictions have “absolutely” helped with the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus. “I think it absolutely has,” Fauci said. “I believe if we did not do that with China early on …” Fauci also called the travel restriction involving Europe a “prudent choice.”

Prominent Democrats

Former Vice President Joe Biden – Frontrunner for Democrat Nomination for the 2020 Presidential Election

12 March – campaign rally

Biden attacks Trump over the 31 January flight restriction from China calling it racist and xenophobic.

Now with the virus well and truly ensconced in the US, Biden says he now supports President Trump’s decision to stop the flights from China.

Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind. – VT) – 2020 Democrat candidate for President

9th March – Fox News Townhall

At the time, Sanders was the only other remaining major Democratic presidential candidate, and he conspicuously insisted at a Fox News town hall that he wouldn’t consider closing the U.S. border to prevent the spread of coronavirus as well as condemning what he called the president’s xenophobia.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi – US House of Representatives

February 24 – CBS affiliate KPIX San Francisco

Pelosi has been a vehement critic of Trump and his response and yet local San Francisco local TV station KPIX documented Pelosi’s visit to a fortune cookie factory and retailers: “we do want to say to people, ‘Come to Chinatown. Here we are. We’re careful, safe. Come join and  us.” and in another video, Pelosi told reporters, “Everything is fine here”:

New York Democrat Politicians

Given the massive coronavirus numbers in New York (and surrounding states) and how NY’s numbers have dramatically skewered figures for the whole US, it is instructive to look at the complacency bordering on negligence that was displayed by four prominent New York politicians.

New York Governor – Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo has become a darling of the media because of his press conferences and yet he has presided over the worse catastrophe in the US and indeed, NY’s per capita death rate is higher than any country in the world. Blasé attitudes and poor preparation were widespread amongst the leadership of the state and the city of New York. Here’s various comments Cuomo made in the same month he accuses Trump of negligence.

February 10 – Newsday

“We went through this before: Zika virus, Ebola, et cetera. But let’s have some connection to the reality of the situation, catching the flu right now is a much greater risk than anything that has anything to do with coronavirus.”

March 2 – Daily Press briefing
Governor Cuomo declared, “In this situation, the facts defeat fear, because the reality is reassuring. It is deep-breath time.” Discussing the fatality rate, he said, “1.4 percent, that’s extrapolating from China and other countries. 80 percent, it’ll resolve on their own. …. I get the emotion, I understand; I understand the anxiety. I’m a native-born New Yorker, we live with anxiety. But the facts don’t back it up here. . . . What happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries.”

New York City Mayor – Bill de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio was just as lax as Governor Cuomo

2 February – Press release 

“People should be very clear about what this disease is and what it isn’t, and New Yorkers, I always say, are not intimidated easily. New Yorkers should go about our lives, continue doing what we do. . .”

February 13 – MSNBC Morning Joe
He said, “We have an extraordinary public health apparatus here in New York City . . . and what became clear to me was it was really about telling the people of our city, this is something we can handle, but you got to follow some basic rules. . . . This should not stop you from going about your life. It should not stop you from going to Chinatown and going out to eat. I am going to do that today myself.”

March 2 – Twitter

De Blasio encourages New Yorkers to attend a movie.

Also, on the same day at a press conference with Gov. Cuomo he says “We have a lot of information now, information that is actually showing us things that should give us more reason to stay calm and go about our lives”

10 March – MSNBC

In this MSNBC interview, Mayor de Blasio appears very blasé encouraging “life to go on as normal”, “transmission not that easy”, that he’s “not shutting down our schools even if we find a case” and “we cannot shutdown due to undue fear”

March 11 – CNBC
During a press conference, Mayor de Blasio said “telling people to not avoid restaurants, not avoid normal things that people do. . . . If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life.” 

New York City’s Health Commissioner – Dr. Oxiris Barbot 

February 2 – Fox News

 “The risk to New Yorkers for Coronavirus is low, and our preparedness as a city is very high. There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant, and certainly not to miss the parade next Sunday.”

March 1 – Twitter

“Despite this development, New York has remained at low risk for contracting COVID-19, as we confront this emerging outbreak”

March 2 – Twitter

Dr. Barbot tweeted, “As we gear up to celebrate the Lunar New Year in NYC, I want to assure New Yorkers that there is no reason for anyone to change their holiday plans, avoid the subway, or certain parts of the city because of coronavirus.”


March 4 – NYC Health Commission Daily Briefing
Dr. Barbot tells reporters, “There’s no indication that being in a car, being in the subways with someone who’s potentially sick is a risk factor, because, again, it goes back to the issue of casual contact.”

March 9 – Twitter

“Today our city is celebrating the lunar new year parade in Chinatown, beautiful culture tradition with a rich history in our city I want to remind everyone to enjoy the parade and not change any plans due to miss information about spreading coronavirus”

US Senator for New York – Chuck Schumer

And finally, the fourth high profile New York politician to be causal about Chinese New Year and social distancing back when few cases were reported was Senator Chuck Schumer (D – NY), another vehement critic of Trump and his so-called “lost month of February”.

5 February – Twitter

Schumer had this to say in February during Chinese New Year celebrations in New York City, “We love the fact that so many people come from all around the globe and make our city and our country a better place.”

Mainstream Media

Various outlets of the press who are habitually hostile to Trump were similarly indifferent to the impending disaster.

CNN

21 February

CNN were more concerned with racist attacks in the wake of the ban on entry from China

New York Times

February 18

With only 40 cases in NY state, the NYT looks at the mushrooming numbers in Europe and smugly preached and warned about racism and stigmatizing

Washington Post

January 31

In a perspective article, retired Harvard professor David Ropeik downplays the risk of the virus

February 1

The perception that the regular flu was a bigger threat than coronavirus was common back in February.

Vox

January 31

Left leaning Vox sent this tweet 2 days after the announcement of the formation of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force and the ban on foreign nationals coming to the US on flights from China and

Europe

The situation in Europe could easily be the subject of a separate post. Just as many prominent players in the US were complacent and underprepared for what was to come, the same could be said for virtually every European country with the possible exception of Germany.

At the EU level, as late as January 22nd, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the main stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos to deliver a speech about climate change and digitalization and made zero mention of the coronavirus

On January 27, Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, told the broadcaster ZDF in an interview that he saw “low danger” from the coronavirus. “We expect that single cases in different countries can occur,” Wieler said. “The chance for those single cases to then spread is at this point limited.”

At the February 13 meeting in Brussels, the health ministers from EU countries received reassurance about Europe’s capacity to test for the coronavirus — a key requisite for controlling outbreaks. Andrea Ammon, the ECDC director, told them that Europe had adequate lab capacity and that the EU’s containment strategy was working.

In the end, only Germany seems to have been somewhat prepared because of its decentralized private sector driven testing regime, well-funded hospital system, more robust track and trace systems and Teutonic discipline in adhering to social distancing. Almost all the rest of Europe, their leaders regardless of political party were caught napping and the lack of preparedness led to huge per capita deaths. Britain dithered with its lock down, never controlled its border by testing or quarantining travelers from earlier infected countries like Italy and China and its centralized bureaucratic Public Health England meant testing took a long time to increase. Switzerland didn’t close its border with heavily infected northern Italy until too late, France never closed its borders with heavily infected Spain and Italy and infected foreigners kept coming in. France was woefully under prepared with inadequate numbers of masks and PPE. Belgium was even harder hit. The Netherlands was slow to implement social distancing. What happened to Italy and Spain could be the subject of its own post.

Conclusion

Whilst early on Trump fell into the same dismissive trap that many experts, politicians in the opposing political party and many leaders across the world, he had some institutional barriers of his own to overcome. Both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were incredibly rule bound and thus very slow in approving new lab for testing and the lack of testing in the US in the early days of the virus was a factor in the growth and spread in the US. The MSM have been careful to avoid much mention of the fact that the Obama Administration had 7 years to replenish the 100 million N95 masks used up during the H1N1 or swine flu pandemic in 2009 which was a lot longer than the 3 years the Trump Administration had also waited. This made it difficult for the Federal government to support equipment needed in the states that had early large outbreaks such as California, Washington then New York and Michigan. Trump is to be commended for rallying private sector support for more masks, PPE and ventilator production and that, along with some selective use of his requisition powers under the Defense Production Act, saw production of these items to a level sufficient to cover the actual volume of patients admitted to hospitals and to ICUs. Such delays, deficiencies in testing, slow border closures, ineffective quarantining and slow production of PPE, masks and ventilators was a global problem and many countries with leaders of all political stripes were guilty of the same gaps in preparation and incorrect perceptions that Trump was guilty of.

It has been instructive to watch how the NZ media handle Jacinda Ardern versus how the US media handle Donald Trump. Let’s set aside some clear differences such as Trump’s more adversarial and at times bombastic style and Ardern’s rather more smooth, articulate and warm persona, there is really no getting away from the impact of the political leanings of each leader versus the leanings of the media covering them. Trump is a maverick who was not expected to win and has stepped on many establishment toes and whose decidedly more conservative policies run counter to the left leaning orientation of the MSM. Trump has responded to press opposition with unabashed reciprocal warfare and so both sides of this ‘conflict’ had battle lines drawn before the virus struck. It is increasingly clear that most of the US media are hell bent on defeating Trump and so the arrival of the virus with its game changing effect on society and the economy, rips out from underneath Trump one of his key electoral advantages, that of the previously strong and booming US economy that his policies have contributed towards. Sensing their opportunity to fatally wound Trump in the run-up to the November Presidential election, the MSM have taken the most negative and adversarial approach to anything Trump and his administration says or does concerning COVID-19.

Ardern faces the exact opposite situation. As a young, photogenic and charismatic progressive woman who already burnished her considerable PR skills with her response to the 15 March 2019 Christchurch Mosque shootings, she was already the subject of warm fuzzy global media attention. After the harsh lockdown and the subsequent low number of deaths (more on this in Part 3) and with her political leanings and persona in lock step with almost all the media, Ardern faces a deferential, polite and even at times supine press corps in NZ bolstered by numerous puff pieces from her left leaning fan bois and girls across the globe. While Congressional Democrats have politicised almost everything they could around this virus and used their power to obstruct and cause maximum embarrassment for Trump to further the chances of Joe Biden in beating Trump, it has been the opposite in New Zealand which also faces an imminent election and yet the body politic there seems to deal so much better in national emergencies with Simon Bridges and National giving Ardern and the coalition government a good degree of bi-partisan support on the decided upon course of action in much the same way the Labour opposition did with John Key’s National led government during the Pike River mine disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes. Much of the negative commentary of Trump needs to be seen through this almost hostile partisan lens that the media have fueled and hopefully the core Democrat message that Trump dithered and people died is counterbalanced by the knowledge that many of his advisers and opponents were equally at sea but that the such inaction on the part of key New York politicians played a part in the virus taking hold and spreading so deep and fast in New York and, contrary to media reporting, that outcome cannot be solely sheeted home to Trump – many of his loudest opponents can have much more blame apportioned to them than ever to Trump. It is sad that the desire to defeat Trump trumps even an international tragedy as huge and consequential as the coronavirus and New Zealanders, regardless of the eventual merits and long term economic impact of NZ’s policy response, at least the people, the politicians and the media there are somewhat united behind a common goal.

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