A few days ago, I watched on CNN a show devoted to the “Spanish flu”. To my astonishment, I discovered that this flu, a coronavirus, had originated in the US, spreading in the army training camps for soldiers on their way to fight in the World War I.
It was these American soldiers that brought the flu to the front where inevitably, it had been transmitted to the fighting forces of both sides who in turn spread it to the civilian populations. Because of the war, in order not to demoralize troops or giving clues to the enemy the ravages of the pandemic were kept quiet. However, in Spain, which was not engaged in the war, there was no censure and when the king himself became contaminated, it became officially known as the “Spanish flu”. Any connection with the term “Chinese flu” is of course purely coincidental! What should concern the “Outgoing President”, Mr. Donald Trump, is that, according to the CDC, the total US Spanish flu deaths over two years amounted to 675,000. In 2020, the first US death reported was on the 29th of February which means that in the last 8 months under his tenure, the total of Covid-19 related deaths will exceed half that figure. What the total toll will be remains to be seen.
From early February until a few days before the election, Trump publicly declared more than 40 times that the virus would disappear. On February 10th when there were only 12 reported cases in the US it would have been easy to establish at the federal level some guidelines for testing tracing and isolating the very small number of people that could have been in contact with the identified cases. This should be the type of leadership from the top that could have been formatted at the federal level and then implemented at the State level. But even though, at the very end of January, the President had been warned during discussions with his cabinet that this was a dangerous virus and that it could have a dramatic impact on the economy, he chose, probably in his desire to bolster the stock market and his re-election prospects, to ignore the advice. Once he had gone for that mistaken option, his ego that never allows him to admit an error, had condemned him to the path of denial and doomed the American people in the process. Worse, to justify himself, he politicised the virus by likening it to a plague that was hitting Democratic states. Of course, it was obvious that in the absence of federal direction and support, the populous ocean bordering states regardless of their political affiliations would be the first to be massively hit. Not content with demonizing the helpless governors who had to secure, without federal coordination, PPE, and other emergency equipment, the “great leader” mocked the concepts of lock down, of mask-wearing and of social distancing.
In his quest for visibility, he used the coronavirus task force that was meant to work independently from politics as a vehicle to organize daily conferences where he promoted his illusional sense of leadership. As the scientists dared voice gentle contradictions, the President side stepped them. Then, free from any restraint, he started making so many grotesques unscientific suggestions that he was advised to suspend these useless appearances. The more the time went on, the more he discouraged the lessons from science whether, it related to testing, social distancing, or the wearing of masks. Having irretrievably lost the major urban centers it was time to join his credulous faithful core in surrealistic rallies where, until the election, he could persist in uttering his mythical predictions and gorge his faithful with exaggerated tallies of his accomplishments
His policies of denial of the seriousness of the virus, the persistent mocking of his political opponents and his rejection for science has unfortunately resulted in his supporters based in the southern and Midwest states to become the most affected victims of this pandemic. Of the 51 states 23 are controlled by Republican Governors and as of December 21st, when they were last ranked, 22 of those are amongst the 31 states with a higher rate than the weighted average of 54,848 cases per million population. Only one State, West Virginia, has a rate of infection of 40,921 cases which is below the national average. It is not vastly different from Maryland (41,860) or even New York (46,107) that Trump so mocked. What he has achieved, with his bravado, his mocking and a total disregard to science is to inflict disproportionate pain on those States where his support is strong. They were caught by surprise and ill equipped to face the threat. History will give Trump an “F” in taking steps to stem the pandemic.
Not withstanding his recent bragging that his administration achieved in record breaking time the development of vaccines, Trump was known through his 2016 pre-election tweets and other media declarations to have been very anti-vaccine. It was only when he became aware that the only way to achieve herd immunity was through a massive vaccination campaign, that he espoused the concept. On May 15th, using his undoubted “media showman” gifts, he launched with great fanfare Operation Warp Speed, a Public – Private Partnership whose objective was to accelerate the testing, supply, development, and distribution of not only safe and effective vaccines but also therapeutics, and diagnostics to counter Covid-19 by January 2021. He described it as a monumental undertaking comparable to the WW2 Manhattan Project that at the time cost about USD 2 Billion representing 1.5 % of the 1944 US GDP. An equivalent GDP share today would have been around USD 325 billion. When the total tally of the US financial support is tallied it will be in the USD 10 to 20 billion and depending on whether the cost of the pre-purchased usable vaccines is counted or not. It should also be said that most western governments had already expanded vast sums to pre-purchase vaccines regardless of whether they would be effective or not. The totalitarian regimes of Russia and China had also expended vast sums in the development of such vaccines. However, it is fair to say that Trump’s actions accelerated the vaccine development timeline in the US.
The first vaccines have fortunately now become available a couple of weeks ahead of the original schedule and the first vaccinations are taking place. However, the trillions spent on subsidising a stricken society could have been greatly reduced if prophylactic measures had been put in place as soon as the disastrous Chinese fatalities became evident. The failure in identifying the correct priorities will become the textbook case as how not to tackle a pandemic. No doubt, as had been foreseen by Bill Gates, other pandemics will spring at the most unexpected moment. At that time, the great debate as whether to restrict personal freedoms by imposing social distancing, the mask wearing, and early lockdown of areas afflicted by infection clusters of or to allow a free economic and social activity will rage again. Hopefully, we will have learnt from this President wreck less mistakes!
Another serious question lingers: Whereas Trump’s successor and his predecessors in the White House have embraced the idea of being vaccinated publicly, Trump not only refused to do so himself, but also discouraged many of his entourage from doing so. Is this another political calculation to maintain the support of his core electoral base the majority of whom are either vaccine skeptics or Covid-1 deniers? If one projects forward one can see that, unless the share of vaccinated people is above 70-75% of the total population, immunity will not be achieved and the virus will survive and attack the remaining non vaccinated population, the majority of whom will be his core supporters. One of his trusted Republican Senators should tell him: “It is time to reverse your stand before it is too late: Get the shot publicly and encourage vaccination amongst your crowd. Otherwise, you will be remembered as the “Egocentric President” who transformed the Republican party into a sectarian extremist group devoid of statesmanship and in the process destroyed the balancing democratic system that had propelled the US to the world moral leadership”
1 January 2021
Read also: Warp Speed?