June 23, 2020 – As states across the country fight to prevent a resurgence of the virus, which has already taken more than 120,000 lives, countries around the world provide examples of safe and effective re-opening policy. In these countries, successful re-openings were made possible by leaders who developed policy informed by scientific expertise, communicated clearly and consistently to local authorities and citizens, and put the national interest over their own.
In all of these respects, President Trump has failed categorically. He has put the United States months behind many other countries that, thanks to their strategic re-opening, have seen far fewer deaths and cases — to the point that they are now able to safely bring students back to schools, return to sporting events, and even welcome foreign tourists. Trump broadcast an element of these failings last weekend, when he told Tulsa rallygoers that he ordered his administration to “slow the testing down” — again confirming that he placed his own political interests ahead of all else, even America’s public health.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was able to eliminate all cases of COVID-19 by designing a re-opening policy guided entirely by scientific consensus, not politics. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Trump administration has provided vague and even censored guidelines to states on metrics and timelines in an effort to rush the re-opening process.
- Throughout the pandemic, Trump’s rejection of science consistently hamstrung the re-opening. He misleadingly promised a vaccine, falsely claimed the virus would “go away” in April as temperatures rose, boasted the virus would disappear “like a miracle,” compared it to the flu, pressured the FDA to clear unproven treatments, touted the drug hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” (it was later found to generate no benefits for patients), and even sank to suggesting the injection of household disinfectants into the body.
- In a televised town hall in March, Trump lobbied to relax social distancing in the hopes of seeing “packed churches” on Easter Sunday, despite Dr. Fauci advising against “arbitrarily” picking a date to re-open the country. In early May, with the virus continuing to claim thousands of American lives, Trump all but declared victory in a push to re-open and only reversed a decision to wind-down the coronavirus task force after serious pushback.
- In May, the White House forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to unpublish and scale-back its recommendations to businesses on how to safely re-open, calling the guidelines, written by some of the world’s foremost infectious diseases experts, “too prescriptive.”
- One CDC scientist told reporters that an administration official had warned that the agency’s re-opening guidelines “would never see the light of day.”
- Now with rising positivity rates in almost half the country, experts fear a resurgence of the virus is upon us as a result of the administration’s haphazard, anti-science approach.
In Germany, state and regional leaders have coordinated closely with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the broader federal government at every step of the re-opening process. By contrast, Trump’s decision to take a “not-my-problem” approach to re-opening has left governors and mayors scrambling to figure out who has authority over what domain and how to secure the resources necessary to reopen.
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- In April, Trump declared to governors that he had “ultimate authority” to decide when states could re-open. Just a few days later, Trump reversed his decision, saying each state would have to make the call on when and how to re-open — only to then encourage protests against Democratic Governors in a series of tweets the following day.
- To “assist” governors with re-opening, Trump provided a scant 18-page PowerPoint presentation, later telling governors that it would be up to states to secure the requisite COVID tests and PPE needed for them to reach the White House’s own targets. The administration went so far as to falsely claim that the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies and PPE was not meant to be sent to states in need.
- In late April, Trump threatened to cut federal Coronavirus relief funding to state and local governments that didn’t agree with his immigration policies.
- In late May, the President warned governors that he would “step-in” if he disagreed with their state’s pace or strategy of re-opening, yet still insisted that the consequences of re-opening too quickly would be on them, not him.
French President Macron has called mask-wearing “an act of national pride,” while leaders from Japan to Germany have made the tough but correct decision to cancel iconic gatherings like the Olympics and Oktoberfest in the interest of public safety. Meanwhile, Trump has refused expert advice on holding large events and mask-wearing, refusing to do the latter even when interacting with 96-year-old WWII veterans or while touring a COVID test facility.
- In May, Trump insisted that all 1,100 West Point cadets return to campus so that he could deliver a televised graduation speech in-person the following month. Fifteen cadets later tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return to campus.
- Trump last weekend held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a state where infections are rising at record-high rates. Rather than postpone the gathering, as local officials urged him to do, the campaign forced attendees to sign a risk-waiver in case they contract COVID-19 as a result of attending — even as the Trump campaign announced an outbreak within its own staff attending the rally.
- Trump today is again convening a gathering in a state experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases — this time, later tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump is pushing forward with the event over the objections of the mayor and local officials, despite the fact that at least eight of his campaign staff have tested positive for COVID-19, and without taking the necessary health precautions, which a spokesperson for the event deemed would be a “game-time decision.”
- Trump is now calling for a 50,000-person Republican National Convention as positive COVID rates in some 21 states are increasing and despite an explicit recommendation from Dr. Anthony Faucci that such a gathering would be both “risky” and dangerous.
- This week, Vice President Pence penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming the media for “overblowing” the recent spike in hospitalizations, declaring “there’s no such thing as a second wave.”
E.U. May Exclude U.S. as It Reopens Borders, Citing Failures on Virus, The New York Times, 06/23/20.
“In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm,” Washington Post, 06/22/20.
“How the U.S. and Italy traded places on coronavirus,” Politico, 06/22/20.
“Greece Will Welcome Tourists Back, But Not Americans,” Forbes, 05/29/20.
“As 100,000 die, the virus lays bare America’s brutal fault lines – race, gender, poverty and broken politics,” The Guardian, 05/28/20.
New Zealand Government’s COVID-19 Advisor: “We Look at Trump’s Behavior & We’re Horrified,” Democracy Now, 05/26/20.
We are Americans—former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders—who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org