COVID Is Part of Trump’s Record, Too

There are a few reasons Donald Trump is doing as well in opinion polls as he is. One of them is oversampling of rural voters; that only accounts for some of the polls, however. One that is more universal is the nostalgia for the pre-COVID era (which was indeed very prosperous, with the horrors of January 6th still in the future).

Of course, the horrors of COVID began during Trump’s Administration, but voters seem to ignore that. That the American people would not want to remember 2020 is understandable, but it creates the impression that the pandemic and the damage done was somehow inevitable – and thus should not be part of the evaluation of Trump. This is simply not true. Different nations responded in different ways. How Trump led the response to COVID must be part of his record – and he was terrible at it.

To the extent COVID is discussed politically at all, it usually settles into a lockdown-vs-no-lockdown culture war argument. However, the need to enter a long lockdown to avoid nearly a million deaths in the first place was not a certainty. South Korea, for example, chose to move forward with a detailed testing-and-tracing program that allowed the country to end its lockdown before the summer of 2020 while keeping deaths at 12,000 (the equivalent of 72,000 in the United States, rather than the hundreds of thousands who did perish).

There were two main reasons America was different: first, rather than borrow a German testing protocol, the Trump Administration insisted on making its own and stuck to that even as American-made tests failed. I’ll acknowledge this isn’t unusual. However, a serious recognition of the danger would have at the very least led to a consideration of using the German protocol. Donald Trump’s protectionism, by contrast, devalues any foreign source of goods, services, people, or information. I refuse to believe it had nothing to do with the decisions his political appointees at the Centers for Disease Control made.

The bigger problem, of course, was Trump’s refusal to take COVID seriously at all, which certainly included testing and tracing. As late as June of 2020, when South Korea’s extensive test-and-trace regime had enabled it to come out of lockdown, Trump was asking for less testing. The culture war over lockdowns and masks, the economic damage done, the education damage done, and the hundreds of thousands of deaths were all avoidable had Trump reacted the way his South Korean counterpart had.

Instead, we had our 2020.

Too many Americans are remembering Trump’s time in office without including his terrible management of COVID. That is a mistake – and could be a deadly one if he ends up back in office.

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