I believe that the president tried last night, but because he cannot grasp what is happening, can't provide the leadership that comes with the office.
During his address he seemed to view the virus as an economic crisis first, thus all the palaver about the strength of our economy and the people working, etc. It was stump speech material, somewhat akin to reminding a hurricane ravaged community that the rain filled its reservoirs. Investors all over the world understood, and NYSE triggered the circuit breaker again this morning.
Trump's second blunder last night was painting the corona virus as an invader from another country. It did start in China, of course, and grew exponentially in Wuhan; but if he had an understanding of the word pandemic, he would know that closing the borders is futile at this point. The disease is already here and the actions against it must take place here, and not at airports but at hospitals and walk-in medical facilities and anywhere else virus testing can be done.
His third blunder was giving the speech in the first place. Americans needed someone to reassure them that all the power of American scientific expertise was being marshaled to mitigate and eventually halt this virus. Instead we got a robotic, wooden, and detached reading from a teleprompter. (All presidents employ teleprompters; not all presidents lack all emotion.) If he had simply sat there and screamed "We're all gonna die!" the attempt would at least be recognized as an honest display of emotions.
His fourth was his usual modus operandi—avoiding responsibility. He blamed China; he blamed the EU—neither had closed its borders, he said. But he never blamed his own administration for having shuttered the White House National Security Council's entire global health security unit. Late last week when a reporter questioned him on this, Trump said, "You never really know when something like this is going to strike and what it's going to be." By his logic, the military should be disbanded during peacetime and people should buy insurance on an hour-by-hour need. An earlier Trump explanation was more truthful: "I'm a business person. I don't like having thousands of people around when you don't need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly."
But he couldn't, and he doesn't know where to look. People voted for Trump so that he'd run the country like a business. Yes, into the ground and/or bankruptcy court, like most of his businesses.
Finally this from Politico:
On Saturday Jan. 11 — a month and a half before the first Covid-19 case not linked to travel was diagnosed in the United States — Chinese scientists posted the genome of the mysterious new virus, and within a week virologists in Berlin had produced the first diagnostic test for the disease. Soon after, researchers in other nations rolled out their own tests, too, sometimes with different genetic targets. By the end of February, the World Health Organization had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries. The United States was not among them.
I'll admit that his task last night was difficult, but he could have simplified it by sticking with the science and avoiding the bravado and recriminations. And of course, there was the big lie about the only topic that mattered:
"Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We are moving very quickly."
We are not. We are last in the world in testing capability. And though I did read a letter to the editor in this morning's Courant downplaying the significance of testing, the writer's example of a healthy person being contaminated on his way out the doctor's office does not convince me. Most healthy people will not whimsically drop by their doctor's for testing. I'm referring to sick people who need the diagnosis confirmed. That's nigh on to impossible in the United States, and the improvement is glacially slow.
Trump is amoral enough to believe he has done the best he can and that he is blameless. Trying to convince him otherwise is a fool's errand. But these days he's dealing with facts that are not "alternate" and stories that are not "fake." The job of president of powerful nation has always been too big for him; now it overwhelms him. You could see it last night: not even a large-screen television could mask his negligibility when he tried to be something he isn't: a president.