Bob Woodward’s book “Rage” has raised hopes around the world that the Covid-19 coronavirus could see the end of Donald Trump’s reign over America in the November 3 elections. But they may be disappointed.
At first glance, Woodward’s account of how Trump boxed himself in by admitting that he deliberately played down the pandemic’s lethal menace to Americans looks like a blow from which he may not recover.
Anthony Fauci’s disagreement Friday with Trump’s assessment that the US has “rounded the corner” on the pandemic, further cuts the president’s credibility.
With 6.5 million cases and nearly 200,000 dead, the situation is dire, but it remains possible that American voters will absolve him
Woodward recounts an interview when Trump said he was briefed that Covid-19 “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” and it spreads when “you just breathe the air”.
Trump reacted like other world leaders, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and Frances Emmanuel Macron, to similar reports from their advisers. They wanted to avoid creating panic before seeing how the situation developed.
In hindsight, most leaders made the grievous mistake of underestimating the coronavirus and their hesitation has cost their people dearly in lost lives and livelihoods, and broken economies.
But Trump’s mishandling and incompetence were by far the worst. The central question now is whether American voters will punish him, or his core supporters will save him in November.
Trump repeated his belief that downplaying the pandemic’s severity would help to avoid panic. He told a news conference on Thursday: “I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming, ‘Death! Death!’ “.
To many, this demonstrates his incompetence and callousness. But that depends on whether voters see the American public health fiasco as being mostly Trump’s fault.
They might also attribute it to extraordinary dysfunctions in the country’s health care administrations and those for pandemic and infections surveillance. The capacities to retool manufacturing and other facilities to quickly produce materials like masks, gowns, hand sanitizers, virus tests and laboratory capabilities were limited.
It is hard to say whether loud tub thumping by a President, distrusted and disliked by more than half the voters, would have stopped people from crowding beaches and bars after the initial lock downs were eased.
It is also hard to hold him personally responsible for the astonishing initial mistakes in coronavirus testing and continued inability to conduct tests on large enough scale or develop reliable tracing apps.
China conducted testing and tracing with impressive efficiency and is currently reported to be testing a nasal spray vaccine that is easy to administer. American-made vaccines are still far from the extensive testing stage.
The facts are painful, according to Johns Hopkins estimates. The US currently has 62 deaths per million people. In comparison, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan have less than 1 death per million; and China, South Korea and Singapore have each under 5 deaths per million. India has only 0.2 deaths per million although it has 4.6 million confirmed cases in a population of 1.3 billion.
It not credible to think that Joe Biden, who is also not trusted by about 40% of Americans, will be accepted as the mainstream leader whose advice on the coronavirus will be followed willingly by everyone.
He wears masks but the spread of coronavirus may not slow down significantly even if many more Americans followed his example and wore masks.
With typical bravado, Trump is still talking down the pandemic and pushing aside his role in the devastation wrought so far upon the American people.
But the key issues now for the US and most countries are how to restart and rebuild their economies while co-existing with the coronavirus. Trump may have an edge here over Biden.
Despite Woodward’s disclosures that bring comfort to those who loathe Trump, the elections may not dislodge him especially if the improvement in recent Covid-19 numbers continues for a few more weeks.