Since the earliest warning signs that the coronavirus could become a catastrophic pandemic, President Trump has refused to take it seriously. In fact, Trump and his Republican colleagues have gone such great lengths to ignore public health protocols that the president of the United States — ostensibly the most shielded human being on the planet — managed to contract the virus along with several other top government officials, including three United States senators. And now, after so gravely mishandling the pandemic that has killed over 210,000 Americans, the president and his party have effectively brought the federal government to a halt through their own reckless personal behavior, leaving two branches of government compromised while the nation and the world deal with several crises of unprecedented scale.
Even as Trump planned to leave the hospital Monday evening, it was clear he was dealing with serious symptoms of COVID-19, as evidenced by the medications prescribed to him. As of now, the president’s health may still be posing a national security risk. He is on a medication known to have serious behavioral side effects, and experts are warning that foreign adversaries might exploit this moment. Russia, for example, could use his condition to further spread misinformation as part of its election interference strategy, and countries like China could see this as an opportunity to advance regional claims. But the president and his team have yet to take this problem seriously. Though Trump himself is probably unable to perform all the duties of the presidency while he deals with the deadly disease, he so far appears unwilling to make plans to temporarily transfer his powers to the vice president should he fall more seriously ill.
For his part, Mike Pence — who is continuing to travel and host campaign events — is not taking the precautionary measures necessary to keep himself safe from the coronavirus, casting doubt on whether he will be able to assume the presidency if required. In effect, the executive branch is on the brink of calamitous dysfunction, and the only response on the president’s part so far is simply to hope for the best.
Congress is also facing its challenges as a result of Trump’s utter disregard for public health protocols. After three Republican senators tested positive for COVID-19 — possibly from what may have been a super-spreader event at the White House — Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was left with little choice but to postpone any legislative activity for at least two weeks, leaving the legislative branch unable to deal with the pandemic or economic crisis. This postponement comes in the midst of negotiations for the next coronavirus relief package, which Americans desperately need. Every day that passes without federal action leaves more Americans vulnerable either to contracting the virus or falling into poverty — or, as has unfortunately been the case so far, both.
And yet, despite all this chaos, uncertainty, and violation of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McConnell is still trying to fast-track the confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. While polls have consistently shown that most Americans prefer waiting till after the election to confirm the next Supreme Court justice, McConnell is insisting on securing a right-wing seat on the bench when he can, as opposed to delivering aid to people in need. As two branches of government are at an effective standstill, McConnell is undermining public trust in the third.
For nine months, Americans have watched their president fumble in responding to the pandemic. Through irresponsible public policy and dangerous rhetoric, he allowed the pandemic to wreak havoc on the United States and infect millions of people, whereas a response grounded in science and strong national leadership and messaging could have saved so many lives. Now, as a result of his thoughtless behavior, Trump has infected his own government, potentially leaving an already mismanaged crisis with no one at the helm to manage it.
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