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It's no secret that Donald Trump's thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak in the US are largely centered around the November presidential election. At rallies, he's insisted that criticism of how he's handled the outbreak is a "hoax" spread by Democrats and the media to hurt him (but don't you dare suggest he said the pandemic itself is a hoax, OK?), that the stock market's reaction to the outbreak is based on unfair propaganda meant to hurt him, and of course there's that time he said quite openly -- at the friggin' Centers for Disease Control! -- that if he had his druthers, a cruise ship would never dock in the US because bad numbers.

I'd rather have the people stay [...] I would rather — because I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault.

Trump ultimately left the decision to Mike Pence's coronavirus task force, but his own preference was pretty clear, and it was about how he'd be perceived, not people's health.

Politico reporter Dan Diamond wrote a terrifying article last week about how the crisis has been made worse by the chaos in the White House and Trump's insistence on rosy scenarios. He was interviewed yesterday on NPR's "Fresh Air," and offered a wide-ranging critique of the administration's response to the outbreak -- and even noted some things that went wrong that were beyond Trump's control, like the faulty test kits the CDC initially put out. Can't blame a man who doesn't read for fucked-up chemistry! But even there, the worst parts of what's laughingly called Trump's "management style" led to such failures not getting resolved quickly.

Have a listen, if you have 45 minutes. You may wish to keep a comfort animal near.



There's a lot of excellent stuff in the interview, particularly Diamond's discussion of how Trump has driven experts out of government agencies across the board because he likes ideological loyalists and yes-people, not troublemakers who speak inconvenient truths, which is a constant problem with this administration. Diamond criticizesTrump's decision to fire the National Security Council's team that was supposed to plan for pandemics, saying that was a bad idea, and that Trump also

cut funding for a program that predicted when viruses could jump from animals to humans basically around the same time that this new coronavirus appears to have jumped from animals to humans in China. And there are big parts of the bureaucracy that he has either tried to cut or otherwise alienated and driven people away.

On 'tother hand, Diamond noted, government not taking future health crises seriously enough isn't something Donald Trump invented himself, though there's no denying Trump has made the problem worse:

Several officials pointed out to me that the White House pandemic preparedness team was made up of just three or four people. And if that's the dividing line between a pandemic or not, the United States is perhaps more vulnerable than we realize. And we still have career scientists like Tony Fauci, who's clearly a star, working to fight this outbreak. But it does come back to the president bigger picture. He's chased off experts when we need them most, and he's claimed that he can get scientists back when he needs them, which is just not true.

The biggest take-away from the interview comes back to the Prime Directive for everyone in the administration: don't make Trump mad, ever. In the interview, Diamond tells host Terry Gross that when HHS Secretary Alex Azar tried to brief Trump on the outbreak back in January, he had to

push past resistance from the president's political aides to warn the president the new coronavirus could be a major problem. There were aides around Trump — Kellyanne Conway had some skepticism at times that this was something that needed to be a presidential priority.

Worse, said Diamond, Azar, who constantly fears for his job, wants to keep the boss happy -- like all of them do! -- and that's getting in the way of an effective response, especially when it comes to testing people, which TO BE CLEAR is one of the primary reason's the US's response to coronavirus has fallen so far behind other nations:

Secretary Azar has not always given the president the worst-case scenario of what could happen. My understanding is [Trump] did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that's partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear — the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.

(In the transcript, Diamond said "he," which gave the mis-impression that Azar had failed to push for testing; Diamond and NPR later issued a correction: That "he" definitely meant Trump.)

Is Trump pushing aggressive testing now? Nope! But, as a righteously angry Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, he's flat-out lying and saying he is:

Trump Admin Fails On Basic Guidance To Americans Facing Coronavirus | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC www.youtube.com

Back to the interrview, Diamond also suggested that while Trump's mess of a speech Wednesday was full of errors and misplaced blame on Europe for infections that Americans are spreading, Wednesday may also mark a turning point in people taking the outbreak seriously. Trump did at least make a "serious"-ish speech, and it coincided with a wave of breaking news about sportsball cancellations and school closures.

As Evan put it in the Wonkette ChatCave this morning, "I really think when the history of this moment is written, it'll be that the NBA saved us, by suspending its season the same night Trump lied at everybody on the TV. Because it wasn't Trump who kicked everybody into action." That plus Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson testing positive in Australia, and suddenly a lot more people are paying attention. And now it's time to get to work on limiting just how bad this will be. Pity we don't have a leader, though.

And here's one more data point for your "Trump cares about his numbers more than helping people" term paper: The Los Angeles Times reports that, in a break from past disasters, Trump is refusing to allow states to use the Medicaid program to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

In previous emergencies, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 flu outbreak, both Republican and Democratic administrations loosened Medicaid rules to empower states to meet surging needs.

But months into the current global disease outbreak, the White House and senior federal health officials haven't taken the necessary steps to give states simple pathways to fully leverage the mammoth safety net program to prevent a wider epidemic.

And wouldn't you know it, that may also be in part to the administration's desire to crack down on Medicaid overall. Can't have a program helping more people when conservatives want to gut Medicaid and drive people off it, now can you? Gotta appeal to the base, even if some low-income Trump voters get sick. They won't mind, because at least black people won't be getting help either. WINNING.

[NPR / Politico / LAT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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