Editorial: America's unserious president

Dispatch Editorial Board
A tweet from President Donald Trump Monday, March 9, 2020

President Donald Trump is an unserious man operating in a serious moment.

State, local and even some federal officials are making every reasonable attempt to respond to the coronavirus, a potentially devastating public outbreak that threatens the lives of countless Americans. 

They're declaring emergencies. They're holding daily briefings. They're closing universities.

Yet Trump's incompetence, conspiratorial musings and persecution complex are undermining those good-faith efforts.

Earlier this month, the growing fears of the cornovirus's spread were a "hoax," Trump declared. It's a scheme crafted by Democrats to "take the president down," his lap dogs whined.

But Trump's stock red herrings are belied by the fact that leaders across the globe have taken drastic steps to curtail the infection's spread. This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of Trump's closest international allies — locked down tourism in his country. And Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte effectively quarantined that nation's entire population. 

Some hoax.

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The coronavirus is, in fact, the first legitimate crisis Trump has faced. Oh, he's been involved in emergencies before, but they were universally of his own making.

His typical pattern of behavior — all in service of his own self aggrandizement — is tired and predictable: He flies in, creates a controversy with his rhetoric, dials back his bombast and declares victory.

But the administration's response to coronavirus is an embarrassment and likely to cost lives. 

Take, for example, South Korea's response. That country quickly ramped up testing, identified hot spots and moved to isolate the spread. Trump's administration has missed its own targets for the number of tests available and, this week, admitted it has no idea idea how many have actually been used.

The lack of information has left public state and local officials, Republican and Democrat alike, flying blind.  All the while, people are dying. 

In Pennsylvania, the number of those infected climbs by the day, and public health officials are honestly and transparently informing the public about the situation. 

Even Vice President Mike Pence, a man with a history of mishandling public health disasters and rejecting Darwinian biology, is trying to present a professional, transparent face to the federal response.

But Trump has sowed confusion and chaos, going so far as to directly contradict his own experts. He was even unwilling to clear up who was head of his coronavirus task force. He was too busy calling Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose state has been the epicenter of the outbreak, "a snake."

Trump's sole concern is the economy, which he sees as the crux of his reelection bid. And he even failed on that front, as his plan to cut payroll taxes landed with a thud in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wears a gas mask March 4, 2020 on the floor of Congress. Days later, he self-quarantined after being exposed to coronavirus.

Trumpism has contaminated the GOP, a once serious party of ideas. Make no mistake, there are serious Republicans throughout working federal government to stem the coronavirus.

But the Trump bloc, one that's made hay delegitimizing scientists and fronts a cynical populist uprising against expertise, has exposed its fundamental intellectual shortcomings.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., curb-stomped irony this week when he self-quarantined after exposure to the coronavirus at CPAC. A week earlier, Gaetz mocked worries about the "hoax" by wearing a gas mask on the House floor.

There are few more dangerous situations than when unserious men do serious work. But that's exactly what Trump and his minions are.

God help us.