Trump has no intention of ceding to a virus. By his estimates, America will be up and running in less than a month.
As the world faces what may be the largest peacetime crisis in modern history, nations globally announce increasingly extreme measures to keep citizens inside and apart, in attempt to slow the pace of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst previous historic events, like the 2008 financial crash, and 2014 Ebola outbreak were met with a strong reaction from the US presidency, the coronavirus crisis has thus far been characterised by a presidential narrative of jingoism, and scientific untruths.
Through a rhetoric that places a nationalist agenda ahead of global needs, the president continues to endanger US citizens and undermine efforts to abate the pandemic. By referring to the coronavirus as ‘the Chinese virus’ Trump has ensured that the conversation surrounding COVID-19 fits within his anti-immigration image, as he once more uses the pandemic to develop his populist branding. Mr Trump has justified his language stating:
‘Because it comes from China. It’s not racist at all, no, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate’.
The understanding that the coronavirus started in China is ubiquitous. It is therefore not in the name of accuracy that Trump uses such terminology, but rather as a xenophobic tool that continues to place the blame outside of America, despite the continued ineptitude of the President’s handling of COVID-19.
Mr Trump has persevered with his controversial messaging, more recently declaring that:
‘Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this, (…) America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting’.
Once more, Trump’s vague accusations hit against the necessary expertise and specificity requisite to deal with a crisis of this scale. In a stark warning to Americans the WHO has since predicted that the US risks becoming the next epicentre of the pandemic. Although this may bring fear to many Americans, for militant Trump supporters, his truth is the only validation they seek.
As of the 24th of March America currently has 46,168 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and 582 reported deaths. The President is currently under immense pressure over his refusal to assert the powers given to him under The 1950 Defence Production Act. This Act, which was legislated at the start of the Korean War, would give the president the means to mass produce and distribute vital hospital resources, including personal protective equipment, e.g., masks, and gloves. To justify his inaction, Mr Trump explained, ‘We’re a country not based on nationalising our business’, continuing: ‘Call a person over in Venezuela; ask them how did nationalisation of their businesses work out. Not too well. The concept of nationalising our business is not a good concept’.
The arrival of COVID-19 is timely, and follows Mr Trump’s $3 billion reduction in funds for global health programmes, as introduced in his 2021 budget. Under the Trump administration, scientific posts have been cut, leaving America initially ill-informed and subsequently ill-prepared to deal with the rapid movement of the pandemic. Strikingly, before the arrival of the coronavirus, major American scientific posts in China were cut. Such reductions in and of themselves are startling, but the message they send out may be even more so. Throughout his presidency, Trump has challenged experts, collectively categorising them within the brackets of ‘fake news’, and the liberal elite.
After almost four years of President Trump, it is easy to forget the abnormality of his words and actions. The wisdom of former President Jimmy Carter, who was in office between 1977-1981, serves to remind us of the kind of language and leadership required in a president. In a previous message that holds power now more than ever, Mr Carter explained:
‘Whether the borders that divide us are picket fences, or national boundaries, we are all neighbours in a global community’.
As Trump’s decisions continue to divide global opinion, we must work to ensure that COVID-19, is not the only thing that we share.