Over the past three months, millions of Americans have stayed home instead of going to school or work. They have lost jobs, closed down family-owned businesses, and struggled to put food on the table for their children. They have canceled weddings, held virtual funerals, and refrained from visiting grandchildren and being at the bedsides of dying loved ones. People who work in grocery stores, respond to 911 calls, and staff hospitals around the country have taken on the serious personal risk — and in some cases paid the fatal price — of exposing themselves and their families to the deadly coronavirus.
Americans did all of this not because it was going to eradicate COVID-19, but to buy political leaders time to respond to the crisis and to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Widespread drastic social distancing measures were necessary after a botched national rollout of tests and the president’s underestimation of the pandemic fueled the outbreak’s spread in communities across the country. Many states reopened quickly, some at the urging of the White House, without taking the basic precaution of asking residents to wear masks in public.
Now COVID-19 infections are on the rise in 29 states, and on Friday the nation marked a record number of new cases in a single day, at 40,000. This spike in new infections is not simply a byproduct of increased testing; as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has said, it is attributable to the increased community spread of the virus. With just over 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has now recorded around 25 percent of the world’s known COVID-19 infections.
The president and his White House have failed the American public in this pandemic from the very start. Trump downplayed the threat, promoted dangerous and unproven treatments, undermined testing efforts, and abdicated federal responsibility for securing ventilators and personal protective equipment for American hospitals and health care workers. Since then, instead of learning from errors they made earlier in the pandemic, the president and his administration have doubled down on their strategy of denial, assuring abject failure. Trump has not seized the power and responsibility of the Oval Office to address the crisis even as the US death toll has surpassed that of all the world’s nations. The president had a chance at partial redemption, and he squandered it.
Given the country’s feudal health care system, in which medical care, coverage of care, and public health tracking is decentralized, contagious deadly disease outbreaks demand a coordinated national response from the White House. Yet the United States still lacks a national testing strategy and is still failing to coordinate and distribute critical medical equipment and protective gear to priority areas as the outbreak progresses and new epicenters, such as those in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, have emerged. Rather than seizing the federal government’s critical function of data-gathering and information-sharing to shape the response, the president speaks about putting a stop to testing. The vice president, meanwhile, pretends that everything is getting better.
President Trump has not only chosen not to wear a mask himself — something leaders around the world and the country have done to signal to the public the importance of wearing them — he has also discouraged mask-wearing at campaign events and fanned the flames of discontent with social distancing measures adopted by governors, even calling for insurrection. At a recent rally in Tulsa, Trump campaign staffers removed stickers from stadium seats intended to keep people apart to avoid the spread of infection.
With such acts, the president of the United States has made life-saving health measures a matter of politics and party loyalty. Imagine if only Democrats were required to wear seat belts, or if only Republicans had access to chemotherapy.
Americans want this to be over. Americans want to be safe. They would prefer to hug their loved ones, to host dinner and birthday parties, to go to concerts and yes, crowded bars like those that the Texas governor just had to shut down. But anyone paying attention to the growing number of cases — more than 2.5 million diagnosed thus far in the United States — knows that this is not the time to sigh with relief. Despite the summer weather and the partial reprieve it appears to offer in dampening transmission of the virus, the death toll is also rising, and the road ahead for this country and coronavirus does not look promising at all.
No one, not even people who voted for Trump in 2016, deserves a president who fails to protect them from a deadly scourge. But he would have his own supporters attend a crowded rally indoors without masks to rekindle his campaign fires rather than stay home to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19. In an election-year gambit to reenergize the religious right, the president ordered governors to reopen churches in May, which appears to have fomented new clusters of coronavirus cases in mostly red counties where believers have been gathering in person.
In March, this editorial board wrote that the president had blood on his hands because of his administration’s catastrophic failure to prepare and respond to the pandemic threat as it reached our shores. Now, as the American outbreak has spread and expanded its profound toll on families and our economy, killing more than 125,000 people and putting more than 30 million people out of work, the president has not only demonstrated that he is culpable but that he is callous in his disregard for the loss of American lives and the suffering of American families. The United States was never going to be spared from the pandemic altogether. But as the wealthiest nation on earth, with the most advanced hospitals and highly trained medical personnel, it could have done far, far better. The American people, regardless of political party, deserve markedly more from their president and, come November, should make loud and clear that they demand it.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.