By Robert P. Bomboy
A century ago in 1918, my father went off to school one morning. He was 11 years old and in sixth grade that warm September and was worried about a spelling test. Down the block on his way he waved to a man named Adams working in his yard. That afternoon, after a hot day studying long division, he passed Adams’ house again and noticed a black funeral wreath next to the front door. Between the morning and the end of the day, Mr. Adams had died. By Friday of that week, my father remembered, he saw two more wreaths on two more doors as he walked to school.
The Spanish Flu struck hard and fast. It was called the 1918 flu, but the epidemic – really a pandemic circling the whole world – lasted from the time my father first saw it until 1922, killing 675,000 Americans in those years.
Few, if any, people living today remember that pandemic. Now comes the coronavirus, which, within a month, has spread to more than 65 countries around world – the beginnings of a pandemic like the 1918 flu.
President Trump – who at one point said this wasn’t anything to be worried about – has been widely criticized for his lack of knowledge about the situation. But while the president was looking the other way, the number of coronavirus cases was growing and medical authorities were beginning to count the deaths.
Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman says, “Maybe Trump — and America — will be lucky, and this won’t be as bad as it might be. But anyone feeling confident right now isn’t paying attention.”
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter, recognized the implications immediately, writing, for the prestigious journal Foreign Policy, “Trump has sabotaged America’s coronavirus response.”
Thanks to Trump’s deliberate neutering of response mechanisms put in place by President Barak Obama, America has never been in a worse position to handle a global pandemic. The Trump administration has purposely, deliberately, and intentionally “rendered itself incapable” of responding to this potential pandemic, according to Garrett.
She describes how bad-off America’s ability to respond to infectious diseases has become during the Trump Administration. From the very beginning, led by a bad man named Steve Bannon, whom I have described many times, Trump and his cronies have derailed and undercut useful programs across the board. Bannon has said, “I want to bring everything crashing down. It only helps us when... they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
In 2018, long before the coronavirus reared its ugly head, Trump fired the federal government’s entire pandemic response chain of command. The heedless and thoughtless demolition of federal agencies and the elimination of key personnel cut $15 billion from our national health spending, including the disease-fighting budgets of a half-dozen agencies, and wiped out the $30 million Complex Crises Fund.
Not content with eliminating efforts to prevent further global pandemics, the Trump administration also targeted the federal network that the Obama administration had constructed to contain big-time epidemics if they reached the U.S., as the coronavirus has.
“Here we saw two of the Trump administration’s overarching goals being realized,” Garrett points out. “That is, the vigorous, wholesale dismantling of government positions as well as undoing the work of the Obama administration, which had carefully designed and staffed what it expected to be a permanent, crisis-ready infrastructure designed to fight epidemics such as the coronavirus.”
Instead, we have Trump and his 16,000 lies. And, with the world on the brink of a potential disaster, it’s terrifying to contemplate the reality that the man in charge here just isn’t up to the job.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.