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OPINION

US suffers more from the pandemic because Trump and his gubernatorial allies failed

Some responsibility also extends to those who voted for him in 2016.

"Trump 2020" merchandise.. Almost 156,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus since March.
"Trump 2020" merchandise.. Almost 156,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus since March.ERIN SCHAFF/NYT

Cry our benighted country.

Our state of national dysfunction has reached the point where the president of this once-great nation has attacked one of his health experts for simply acknowledging the truth.

For too long, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, played pandemic Pollyanna to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s candid truth-teller.

But Birx acknowledged on Sunday a reality that can no longer be denied: The pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread,” having now penetrated both urban and rural areas, which led her boss to accuse Birx of truckling to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and describe her or her comment as “pathetic.”

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Other nations — provident, science-respecting polities — have survived the initial wave of the pandemic, bent the transmission curve, and so are better prepared to resume a more normal life. Some of those countries have more cohesion, national purpose, and governmental effectiveness than does the United States. South Korea and Germany fall into that category.

But not all. Others are more typically fractious and prone to governmental paralysis. Italy comes to mind. Yet Italy has now succeeded where we haven’t.

Why?

The virus is the culprit, but partisanship, pugnacity, and obliviousness have been the catalysts of our calamity.

COVID-19 has now claimed more than 155,000 US lives. Although we have only 4 percent of the world’s population, our death total accounts for some 22 percent of worldwide deaths from the pandemic. And yet, in a rolling average of polls, some 38 percent of Americans approve of the way President Trump is handling the crisis.

How can that be? Only by viewing the events of the last five months through a filter thick enough to invert reality could one arrive at such a judgment.

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When it first arrived on our shores, comparatively little was known about the coronavirus or how it spread, but the experience elsewhere led rational people to approach it cautiously and abide by expert advice.

Because Trump pushed responsibility for virtually everything down to the states, we have had a test of approaches.

New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where it landed early and hit hard, have managed to tame the transmission curve. But rather than learning from the experience in those early-onset locales, other states, like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and California, succumbed to ideological wooden-headedness or political pressure, reopening too early and without proper precautions.

The Northeast has done relatively well in reducing transmission, whether governors were Democratic or Republican. But look at the surge — and the unnecessary suffering — that has beset the South, a region where both governors and voters are inclined to take their cues from this president.

One need do no more than watch Trump’s deflection, dissembling, and denying in his recent interview with Axios’s Jonathan Swan to understand what a calamity it has been to have him as president during this crisis. First, he maintained that the pandemic is “under control.” When Swan asked how that could be so, given that about 1,000 Americans a day are dying from COVID-19, the president responded of the death toll, “It is what it is.”

What it is, is a national disaster. The principal failure belongs to Trump. But heavy responsibility also lies with the governors who followed his early-reopening urgings. And some extends to the voters who put him in office in the first place.

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No, one couldn’t have predicted in November of 2016 that within four years, there would emerge a novel coronavirus uniquely designed to exploit the weaknesses of a science-denying, buck-passing, reflexively dishonest, self-consumed president.

Yet all of the failings that made him unfit for the office in any circumstance were abundantly obvious.

In a rational world, rueful 2016 Trump supporters would resolve to take their responsibilities as voters and citizens more gravely this time around. Some, thankfully, have.

Those still unfazed by this fiasco need to confront this question: By voting again for a man who puts his political interests above the public welfare, aren’t they themselves elevating political cause over genuine concern for country — that is, putting partisanship over patriotism?


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh