The world of the autocrat, the deep state, and enemies of the people. It's a petri dish for viruses.
First off, in Trump’s defense, he did not personally kill, handle, dress, put up for sale, or eat the bat virus-infected animal that has us all staying at home and drinking Purell.
Also, to his credit...no, that’s about it.
As for the pandemic itself, although he exacerbated its spread, the first villainy belongs to China, where Wuhan Central Hospital doctors spotted cases of a new pneumonia back in December. When they tried to report it, however, they were thwarted by the very system that had been developed after the SARS outbreak in 2002. The system worked, but fear of government reprisals worked better.
Eventually journalist got wind of the illness and began filing stories, but again the government censors stopped them. It wasn’t until mid-January when Chinese leaders admitted the country had a major problem. A month wasted. According to one expert, a December attempt to control the virus would have prevented 95% of its future spread. Even a week of extra time would have cut the infections in half. You can read all the dispiriting details in an article by Steven Lee Myers in today’s New York Times.
Trump, enamored of strong leaders like Xi, adopted the same regimen: deny there was a problem, then admit it but say it’s not serious, then claim it is bad but it will go away, then concede that something has to be done. It’s the modus operandi of the autocrat, and it may work when you’re bullying people, but not when you’re bullying viruses. They just aren’t that afraid.
The president may have learned a lesson here, albeit too late; but there’s one lesson he hasn’t learned. His often disparaged “deep state” could have prevented this or at least mitigated it sooner. Having experienced people in important positions can save the president from having to know everything, and with someone like Trump who pretends to know everything but comprehends very little, the filling of important positions, especially in health and foreign policy, would have been beneficial.
Twenty years ago an absence of coordination in different government agencies led to our being “surprised” on 9/11. We should not have been, but we all concurred that there had been poor communication and vowed to share intelligence in a more beneficial way. Today we don't even have the people to gather the intelligence, let alone coordinate it. Trump’s farcical fear of some deep state conspiring to overthrow him used to be something we could laugh at. Now, however, with the prospect of another two months of isolation facing us and of a threatened return of the virus next fall, it isn’t quite so amusing.
And as was the case in China, it was the press who tried to sound the warnings and was frustrated at every turn. Trump’s “enemy of the people” could have saved millions of lives if autocrats like Trump and Xi could have stopped yammering enough to listen. And now both men will bask in the glory of having "turned things around," and hope we’ll forget the 563,000 active cases and the 36,000 deaths. Both these numbers will rise dramatically in the weeks to come; both were eminently preventable. No number of breezy press briefings will undo that fact.