I got an email the other from an old friend of my bother’s, a big conservative and fanatical Trump supporter. He doesn’t usually include me in his email circulars, because he knows what my position is. But I thought, okay, WTF, let’s see what provocative thing Billy sent around today. Because Billy (that’s his name) loves to be provocative.
It turned out that what Billy sent around is an opinion piece from Fox News by Gordon G. Chang arguing that President Trump was “right to stop funding World Health Organization over its botched coronavirus response.” Mr. Chang, it turns out, is an longtime anti-Sino commentator who has been predicting the collapse of the Communist Chinese government since 2001 (see his book The Coming Collapse of China).
In any case, his argument can be summarized as follows:
|First, the World Health Organization disseminated China’s false narrative that the virus was not transmissible person-to-person.|
Second, the WHO supported the Chinese government’s attempt to prevent the imposition of travel bans and quarantines on travelers from China. It was these travelers who turned an epidemic in central China into a global pandemic.
Third, the WHO publicly backed the reliability of Beijing’s statistics.
Fourth, the WHO unreasonably delayed declaring the coronavirus epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” until Jan. 30.
Now there is little doubt that the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was not the World Health Organization’s proudest moment. In a reasonably fair article from the Atlantic, the author (Kathy Gilsinan) takes the WHO to task for not doing more to independently verify the information that was first being released from the Chinese government. It’s a fair criticism. But what Trump and his minions want to do is shift the blame from Trump’s inadequate response to the pandemic to the WHO. That much is clear.1 So, to look quickly at the Trump administration’s record:
- On January 13, 2017, the Obama administration runs an exercise for pandemic preparedness with the incoming Trump transition team.
- On February 9, 2018, President Trump signs a budget that cuts $1.35 billion in funding for Prevention and Public Health Fund at the CDC.
- On May 8, 2018, National Security adviser John Bolton disbanded the White House National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense for no apparent reason, even though the Administration had previously received a 103 page Pentagon-authored report on the high likelihood of coronavirus outbreak in the near future.2
- On January 3, 2020 Chinese colleagues alert the CDC Director about the novel virus.
- On January 16 the administration announces that it will screen passengers from Wuhan.
- On January 18 HHS Secretary Azar (who had been alerted to the outbreak at the beginning of January) is finally able to talk to Trump about the coronavirus. (The president reportedly wants to talk about political fallout from administration’s flavored vape ban).
- On January 21 the CDC confirms that a man from the Seattle area as the first U.S. patient.
- On January 22 President Trump states that the United States has the pandemic “totally under control.”
- January 24, President Trump publicly thanks Chinese President Xi for his “transparency and effort” in tackling the coronavirus.
- On January 29, the administration finally creates a Coronavirus Taskforce.
- On January 30, President Trump states that the U.S. has the virus “under control” and hosts a campaign rally in Iowa.
- On January 31, Trump blocks travel from China.
- From Feb 10 to Feb 28 Trump hosts five rallies across the United States, each attracting thousands of attendees.
- In February of 2019 the CDC rolls out American-made testing equipment with faulty negative controls, even though there was good testing equipment to be had manufactured by other countries.3
- On February 23, 2020 trade adviser Peter Navarro warns Trump that the virus “could infect as many as 100 million Americans,” and “inflict trillions of dollars in economic damage.”
- On February 24 Trump gives false assurance that the stock market is “starting to look very good” and the coronavirus is “very much under control.”
- On February 26 Vice President Pence is placed at the head of the Coronavirus Task Force.
- On February 27, HHS Secretary Alex Azar tells lawmakers that it’s unlikely that large numbers of Americans will need to be hospitalized.
- On March 3 Vice President Pence announces that the CDC will finally lift federal restrictions on testing for the coronavirus.
- On March 6 President Trump falsely claims that any American who wants a Covid-19 test can get a test.
- On March 11 Trump bans travel from Europe.
- On March 13 Trump declares a national emergency.
- On March 16 Trump announces social distancing guidelines to be in place for two-weeks.
- On March 17 the Trump administration announces strict southern border controls and Trump falsely states that he felt like the crisis was a pandemic “long before it was called a pandemic.”
- On March 18 Trump signs an Executive Order allowing for use of the Defense Production Act, but later suggests that the administration will not use the Act.
- On March 19 Trump states that the responsibility of supplying personal protective equipment to medical professionals lies with state governors, not the federal government.
- On March 24 Trump announces he wants to re-open the country by Easter (April 12).
- On March 27 Trump signs the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act, providing $2.2 trillion emergency relief.
- On March 29 Trump falsely claims that he inherited “obsolete” and “broken” tests from the Obama administration.
- On April 2 Jared Kushner says that the national stockpile of emergency medical equipment is “not for the states.”
- On April 4 and 5 Trump says in two successive press briefings over the weekend that US citizens should try an unproven anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, in which his family has a financial interest.
- On April 7 Trump removes Department of Defense Inspector General who was in charge of overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.
- On April 8 Trump threatens to withhold money from the WHO.
- On April 13 Trump claims “total authority” on re-opening the country, superior to that of the Governors.
The Trump administration’s record is not all bad, but what the timeline clearly demonstrates is that it’s inconsistent, haphazard, and all over the map. Their haphazard response is not the fault of China or the World Health Organization. Certainly getting good information out of China and the WHO would have given the United States more advance warning, but the Trump administration had plenty of advance warning as it was. They simply squandered it.
In this blog, part of what I have tried to ferret out is propaganda, and blaming China and the WHO for the Administration’s haphazard response is clearly propaganda. It’s clever propaganda because there are elements of truth in the claims, but at bottom, the claim is a misdirection play. And a lot of Fox News consumers are going to be led down this false pathway and away from the Trump administration’s own culpability.
- Keep in mind that at the end of December 2019 reports began filtering out that China was investigating a dangerous coronavirus emerging from the city of Wuhan. Specifically, the Chinese government tried to censor Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital, who was one of the first to blow the whistle on the emerging coronavirus. On December 30, 2019 Dr. Wenliang alerted more than 100 of his colleagues in a widely circulated post on social media. Thereafter, on January 3 2020, he was told to sign an official confession and admonition letter promising to cease spreading false rumors regarding the coronavirus. After Wenliang eventually passed away from the virus on February 7, the Chinese reversed course and lionized him. American authorities were aware of this at the time.
- The Trump administration also made substantial cuts in Center for Disease Control Funding in its first few years in office, especially in the portion of the budget that dealt with global disease outbreaks.
- To be fair, that is more the fault of the CDC then the Trump administration, but the Trump administration could have made the decision to seek testing equipment from other providers.