EDITORIAL: ‘Wartime president’ targets wrong enemy

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As he leads the belated, disorganized and still far from effective charge against the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump fancies himself a wartime president.

Trouble is, he keeps targeting the wrong enemies.

While the viral scourge continues to sweep the nation, where it has sickened more than 300,000 and killed 8,400 — including some 10,000 cases and 135 fatalities in Pennsylvania — the president sets his sights not on the disease but on facts, critics and journalists.

The latest example came Friday.

Presidential advisor, son-in-law and national security risk Jared Kushner was among the White House officials who briefed the nation Thursday on the federal response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

More:U.S. ‘wasted’ months before preparing for virus pandemic

More:U.S. warship captain aims to isolate crew, take carrier out of service

More:A record 6.6 million seek U.S. jobless aid as layoffs mount

Among his ill-advised and unproductive comments were a swipe at state governors who — inexplicably and greedily, to his way of thinking — have turned to the federal government to help secure badly needed pharmaceutical and medical supplies.

“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use."

This assertion raised questions, given that the government’s Strategic National Stockpile website itself said otherwise:

“Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out. When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”

Or, at least, that’s what it said Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, those sentences had been expunged in favor of a more Kushneresque explanation:

“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”

If only the administration were as quick to respond to the pandemic itself as it is in trying to whitewash its missteps.

Of course, this isn’t the first time facts have been altered to adhere to a Trumpian alternate reality, from scrubbed government websites to Sharpie-altered hurricane maps.

But subverting important public health information during the ongoing outbreak — whether to obscure the administration’s feeble response or to cover for inaccurate statements — is a downright dangerous.

So are efforts to muffle calls for assistance.

Navy Capt. Brett Crozier sent out an emailed SOS to his chain of command last week when the coronavirus began sweeping though his ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

“We are not at war,” Crozier wrote, urging that the aircraft carrier be evacuated after some 100 cases were reported amid his 5,000-member crew. “Sailors do not need to die.”

He was hailed as a hero by retired Navy officers and his own crew. He was also relieved of duty one day after word of his plea become public.

We can think of plenty of nominees for dismissal among government workers in the wake of the botched coronavirus response. Capt. Crozier wouldn’t have been on the list.

But this is our “wartime president:” A leader blinded by vanity, bloated by enablers and blemished by a shortage of the intelligence, empathy and organizational skills needed to confront a challenge of the magnitude that he, and his country, now face.

Americans are fighting for their lives. But the president continues to fight with the truth, whether it comes to him in the form of concerned military officers, honest journalists or simple reality. It may well make for a losing battle for all of us.