Originally published March 18, 2020
It should surprise no one that the global pandemic known as COVID-19, a.k.a. coronavirus, a.k.a. Wuhan virus, has become a political hot-button issue. Given the tense relationship (which is nearly always at a breaking point) between the Trump administration, the Democrats, and their media counterparts, any crisis turns political. Combine that with a Presidential election in eight months, and this latest disaster was never going to be a unifying moment for the country.
First, let’s not assume that Trump did everything right. As is all too commonplace in the last few years, there is a major difference between the policy and the rhetoric coming out of the White House. Trump’s tendency to release public policy and statements via Tweet has always been a hit-or-miss process. On March 9, to stem the bleed of the stock market drop, Trump tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” This was actually a common thought process back in January and February. The problem is the public knew far more about the deadliness and infection rate of coronavirus by the time Trump tweeted this. So instead of calming market sell-offs, he gave the impression that he knew less about the virus than experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
There was also a myriad of mistakes during Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday, March 11, many of which were later corrected. This is Trump’s second Oval Office address during his presidency (the first being about the government shutdown in early 2019). It is crucial that all the details of the speech are right. While Trump likely didn’t write the speech and definitely didn’t load it into the teleprompter, he is responsible for the messaging that his administration gives to the public.
That’s the bad news for Trump. The good news is that his administration is actually handling a crisis of this magnitude as well as anyone could. The nationwide mobilization is unprecedented. Suspended air travel, canceled sporting events, and school shutdowns are the tip of the iceberg. The public pressure for “social distancing” is so great that the former Miss Nevada’s tweet about merrily going out to eat in a restaurant was met with national scorn.
As usual, instead of a measured reaction to mistakes by the President, the left blow the errors way out of proportion, and focus their ire in ridiculous directions. Trump enacted a China travel ban back in January, which slowed the spread of the disease far greater in the United States than in Italy (which did not limit travel to China). That travel ban was called racist by the left, including by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Trump mobilized a response team far faster than Obama did with the Swine Flu back in 2009. That response team was chided for being “too white” by CNN. Trump enacts a travel ban from Europe, and he’s called xenophobic. Trump labels COVID-19 a “foreign virus” (which it is), and his opponents recycle the same tired accusations all over again.
Joe Biden is not letting the crisis go to waste by making his own statement about what he would do as President. It’s all irrelevant, because he is not President, and he has no power to accomplish anything. So when he says that “anyone who needs to be tested based on medical guidance should be tested at no charge, at no charge,” and “we should make every person in a nursing home available for testing,” he sounds more like President Platitude than an actual leader. His statements about what should happen with no implementation plan are about as useful as a reassurance from Beijing that this thing is under control.
Nancy Pelosi has been playing the political game, as well. After being accused of delaying the bill a week for the express purpose of using the pandemic to attack Trump before the Super Tuesday primary votes, Pelosi did her best to cram her agenda into the coronavirus bill that was presented to the House of Representatives. She tried to include abortion-funding into the bill. She tried to make the employer-paid sick leave permanent, not a temporary measure during the virus. The 110-page bill was given to the House approximately 30 minutes before voting began. As such, 40 Republicans opposed the bill, stating they needed time to read it.
Cable news outlets are using this crisis in the never-ending ratings war, as well. Unsurprisingly, Fox News, which regularly beats out competitors MSNBC and CNN in the ratings, has been the subject of these attacks. “When this is all over,” tweets Joe Lockhart, CNN Political Analyst and former Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton, “and we properly examine what was done right and what was done wrong, I hope we can have an honest national conversation on the toxic effect of Fox News. They are a critical instrument of Trump and his approach to the crisis.” On MSNBC, Eric Boehlert said, “Fox News has been getting people killed for years. Just look at their crusade against affordable health care and their crusade against expanding Medicaid. This is not unusual for them… They are a cancer on this country.” These commentators are pushing their political agenda, and the networks that host them are attacking their cable rivals, all on the backs of the sick and dying.
There was never any chance that this was going to be a unifying crisis; the country is too polarized for that. The only thing we can do is hope that the tests are properly disseminated, the disease spread slows down, and communities pull through this together. Looking towards our leaders, both in office and on television, will only bring deeper despair.
Moshe Hill is a political analyst who has written for The Daily Wire, the Queens Jewish Link, The Jewish Link of New Jersey and JNS.org. He is regularly featured on ‘The Josh M Show’ podcast. Subscribe to aHillwithaview.com for more content from Moshe Hill. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/ahillwithaview and follow him on Twitter @TheMoHill.