Trump's U-turn on the coronavirus task force wasn't really a U-turn at all

There is no silver lining here

Hannah Selinger
New York
Thursday 07 May 2020 21:46 BST
Trump says he changed his mind over task force because it is 'popular'

On Monday, The New York Times published an internal document from the Trump administration which offered a grim vision for life in the United States during the next few months. That document (the existence and accuracy of which President Trump has since refuted) claimed that deaths in the United States due to coronavirus would rise steadily in the coming days and weeks, reaching a daily high of 3,000 by June 1.

Those numbers are staggering, though not entirely surprising; the United States has enacted no federal protocol regarding a lockdown or stay-at-home mandate, and guidelines have been willy-nilly, at best. Trump has been his own worst enemy, often backtracking on suggestions. And high-level members of the administration have set poor examples when it comes to social distancing; take, for instance, Vice President Pence, who ignited controversy last week by visiting the Mayo Clinic without wearing a protective mask.

Still, given the staggering projection, postulated by Trump’s own people, one would assume that the administration would exercise extreme caution. Instead, it was announced on Tuesday that they would be winding down the coronavirus task force, in order to shift focus on the American economy. The move would have been tantamount to cutting the strings on a parachute as you’re falling from an airplane toward a tarmac. Through his mouthpiece Mike Pence, Trump offered this flaccid untruth: “It really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.” What a tremendous lie. If 75,000 deaths — and double that yet to come — is progress, while we sit in wait with no help for our government, I guess I don’t know what progress truly is.

As it turns out, the Trump administration will not — in any official capacity, at least — be “winding down” the coronavirus task force. In an unexpected pivot (though, these days, what is expected from the president?), it was announced on Wednesday that the task force would remain intact, but would now be charged with an economic prerogative.

Is this really a retraction? I would argue that the parachute strings have still been cut. To redirect the course of attention to the economy, when the president’s own projection (deny it or not) has us on a path to a peak that we have not yet reached, with deaths untold, is careless bad judgment. Trump has spent a lot of time trying to account for his poor decision-making that got us into this mess to begin with. What to make of the poor decision-making that will perpetuate it?

Trump’s new press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who, mysteriously, now actually holds press conferences, tried to spin the devastating new projections as good news. Over two million people, she said yesterday, were originally projected to die; we should consider just under 150,000 American deaths a massive victory. She attributed said victory to the president. “We’re far lower than that thanks to the great work of the task force and the leadership of President Trump,” McEnany said. But I can see no silver lining in any outcome that results in more pain and suffering for the American people, even if that outcome is less severe than the outcome we had originally deemed possible.

Not so long ago, a president stood on an aircraft carrier called the USS Abraham Lincoln for a televised address. With troops behind him, he announced that major combat in Iraq had been completed. He proclaimed “Mission Accomplished,” to great applause, and a banner behind him memorialized him and that moment. The year was 2003, and that president was George W Bush. The vast majority of insurgencies and military and civilian casualties took place after the president uttered those words, for which he will always be known, no matter what other good he does in this world.

As for Trump, he will be known for his own pretend version, his cut-and-run, bailing on the American people when we needed him the most. This task force has been reduced to a paper tiger: It has no real bite. Our president is the type who walks into a mask factory without a mask, while “Live and Let Die” blasts in the background. Mission accomplished, indeed. Without gravity, and, more importantly, without an administration who takes seriously the consequences of a pandemic, we’re all goners. Look out below.

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