As a deadly virus sweeps across America, it was inevitable that we would also suffer an outbreak of the blame game. With the body count soaring and the economy collapsing, finger pointing is in full bloom.
Never mind that all the blame in the world will not save a single life or create a job. The game must go on because politics is ultimately a zero-sum affair.
President Trump, of course, is the most common target, and his critics are the usual suspects. Democrats and the media are ganging up to create a narrative that people died because Trump failed to act fast enough.
“As the president fiddles, people are dying,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in announcing an investigation that smells like impeachment 2.0.
She and others cite the president’s reluctance in January and early February to fully grasp the threat of the coronavirus and delays in providing test kits.
They have a point, especially about the testing fiasco. But they conveniently ignore their own culpability.
First, the president was up to his neck in the flimsy Ukraine impeachment case Pelosi and the media cooked up. The final acquittal vote came on Feb. 6, but recall that the accusers, which included every Dem in Congress and the party’s presidential candidates, demanded additional witnesses. Had they gotten their way, the trial would have run through the end of February and maybe into March.
The second fact they ignore is that Trump already had declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus on Jan. 31, barred entry for most people who came from or visited China and put American travelers under quarantine. At the time, there were only seven known cases in the US, with zero deaths.
Trump’s decisions rocked travel and tourism businesses and rattled stock markets, but also kept out infected visitors who would have accelerated the calamity here.
The China restrictions were not popular among Dems, and the president’s second ban, which covered Europe and was announced on March 11, also drew scorn from the usual cabal.
The New York Times, which now insists the president acted too slowly, said then he acted “without evidence” in claiming European travelers were a threat. Reflecting its own bias and ignorance, the paper lumped Trump in with foreign leaders who shut borders and accused them all of xenophobia.
“The same denigration of science and urge to block outsiders has characterized leaders from China to Iran, as well as right-wing populists in Europe,” sneered Mark Landler, the Times’ London bureau chief.
As those examples show, the blame game cuts in all directions. If Trump is to be held accountable, he should share the dock with many others who failed to foresee the coming destruction.
Most of the big media outlets disgraced themselves by falling for the early lies from China and the World Health Organization about a relatively small number of deaths and the claim the virus was probably not spread by human-to-human contact.
In addition, the media mistakenly likened the coronavirus to the SARS outbreak of 2002, which also started in China and killed about 800 people worldwide. As of Saturday, the coronavirus has killed nearly 64,000 people.
Much of what we know about what Congress knew comes from the outrageous stock sales of Sen. Richard Burr.
Reports say the North Carolina Republican, chair of the Intelligence Committee, got near-daily briefings on the coronavirus in early February. He co-authored an op-ed column on Feb. 7 that declared the nation well-prepared, a common view in Congress.
Yet within a week or so, Burr was unloading up to $1.72 million worth of stock in companies that would tank. By late February, he was privately telling donors the virus “is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” according to a recording obtained by NPR.
Three other senators also made big stock sales around the same time, dumping stocks that would suffer huge declines.
All four say they did nothing illegal, and perhaps that is true. But it’s definitely true they did nothing to warn the public about the looming nightmare. So save space for them in the blame-game dock.
State and local officials also have some explaining to do. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are forcefully demanding federal help, but neither did much to prepare for a pandemic.
Cuomo, now in his 10th year as governor, never built the stockpile of ventilators and intensive-care beds the state needs and massively underestimated the deadly virus.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Cuomo said confidently on March 2. “We are fully coordinated, and we are fully mobilized, and we are fully prepared to deal with the situation as it develops.”
Five days later, with most of the state’s 89 cases in Westchester County, Cuomo declared a state of emergency. On March 10, he ordered schools and houses of worship to close in New Rochelle, where the bulk of infected residents lived, and deployed the National Guard. Then he banned gatherings of more than 500 people.
It wasn’t until the third week of March, however, that Cuomo began a near-daily escalation of orders imposing tighter and wider restrictions.
On March 15, he closed schools in the city and some suburbs. On the 16th, he limited gatherings to 50 people and closed bars and restaurants.
On the 18th, he ordered businesses to keep 50 percent of their workers at home, then increased that to 75 percent the next day. On the 20th, he ordered all nonessential businesses to close.
Yet after all that and with more than 20,000 cases in the state, the governor insisted on March 23 that “many people will get the virus, but few will be truly endangered,” according to ABC News.
Just eight days later, on March 31, he conceded the obvious, saying: “We underestimated this virus. It’s more powerful. It’s more dangerous than we expected.”
De Blasio, now in his seventh year at City Hall, was louder in his complaints and slower in his actions. He and the health commissioner downplayed risk and urged New Yorkers to attend Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also gave false assurances. According to Jim Geraghty in National Review, Johnson said on Feb. 13 that fears of the coronavirus “are not based on facts and science. The risk of infection to New Yorkers is low. There is no need to avoid public spaces.”
Clearly, few people in public life will emerge unscathed from the blame game if we ask everyone the same questions: What did you know, when did you know it and what did you do about it?
On the other hand, mutual destruction is neither required nor desirable, and there is a better option. We can just skip the blame game for now and work together to help America get through this worst of times.
Think of that as the patriotic choice.
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