The United States has just over 4 percent of the world’s population, but had about one-third of all global coronavirus cases and one-quarter of the fatalities, as of Friday.
This is a catastrophic failure that can be laid largely at the feet of President Trump. Editorial boards and politicians — both Democratic and Republican — should be calling on him to resign immediately.
It’s not just the catalog of screw-ups that led us to this point — the playing down of the threat, the lack of testing, the spread of misinformation and lies, and the government-wide inattention to the issue. It’s that Trump represents an ongoing danger to the health and well-being of the American people.
Consider, for example, the strange case of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that Trump began publicly touting several weeks ago as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. “What do you have to lose?” the president asked, about a drug that had not been approved by the FDA for that purpose. It turns out the answer is “your life.”
We already know of at least one couple in Arizona who took a related drug in an effort to ward off the coronavirus after hearing the president speak positively about it. The husband died and his wife ended up in the hospital. A new study of Veterans Health Administration patients, not yet peer reviewed, has concluded that COVID-19 patients who take hydroxychloroquine are more likely to die than those who do not.
As remarkable as it is for the president to be suggesting the use of unproven drugs, Trump topped it on Thursday when he suggested that ultraviolet rays and cleaning disinfectants, injected into the body, should be examined as possible treatments for coronavirus. These comments led public health experts and companies like Lysol to remind Americans of something we regularly tell children: They shouldn’t ingest cleaning products.
The Trump administration also allegedly forced out the official in charge of the federal agency responsible for developing a vaccine for the coronavirus after he says he raised concerns about money being directed toward hydroxychloroquine. Pushing aside qualified public officials and allowing politics to drive the development of a vaccine makes Trump not just an incompetent president, but a malevolent one.
There’s more. Trump has egged on the smattering of protests around the country pressing for an end to social distancing orders, with calls on Twitter to “LIBERATE” states run by Democratic governors. These demands directly contradict the Trump White House’s own guidance.
And his obsession with reopening the economy has likely been a catalyst for governors in red state America, such as Bill Lee in Tennessee, Henry McMaster in South Carolina, and Brian Kemp in Georgia, to weaken social distancing regulations. (Trump, who initially backed Kemp’s bizarre and dangerous order allowing hair salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, and restaurants to open, has since backtracked and is now openly criticizing Kemp.)
Trump isn’t even participating in the federal response to the coronavirus. He reportedly watches television most of the day, doesn’t attend coronavirus task force meetings, and then uses his daily press briefing — for which he barely prepares — as a platform to self-aggrandize and lie.
All of this has crippled Trump’s credibility: As one recent poll showed, less than a quarter of voters put a high level of trust in what Trump is saying about COVID-19.
When the president has lost the confidence of the American people and when his words and actions are doing far more harm than good, there can be little justification for him to stay in office.
Granted, we’ve never really encountered a situation like this before. In modern times, there were calls for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton to resign. But those were for crimes in office, not incompetence. Mishandling a crisis has rarely been grounds for a president to resign. But we’ve never had a president like Trump, who is making the crisis worse simply by remaining in office.
I’m under no illusions that Trump is going to resign. But as I wrote in September when I argued that politicians should call for Trump to step down over the Ukraine whistleblower allegations, “A call for resignation is a statement of principle that Trump’s actions so clearly violate the public trust that his position in office has become untenable."
Demanding accountability would serve as a reminder that even in the wreckage of the Trump era some basic political norms still matter and we, as a nation, cannot become inured to having such a dangerous and unqualified leader in the nation’s highest office. It would also force Trump’s defenders to explain why his continued service is in the interest of the American people.
Anyone who has regularly watched Trump’s press conferences knows that the president is detached from reality, indifferent to the suffering around us, and more concerned about his political standing than the health and well-being of the American people.
Calling for the resignation of a president who muses about the use of household cleaning products to fight a deadly virus is not a partisan exercise or a futile plea for political sanity — it’s common sense.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.