By Gail Collins
Opinion Columnist (The New York Times)
Whenever Donald Trump appears in public, you can be sure of a couple of things: He will not wear a mask, and he will brag about having beaten back Chinese travelers.
“We are getting great marks for the handling of the CoronaVirus pandemic, especially the very early BAN of people from China,” he tweeted last weekend.
“We banned people from China coming in. … I was the only one that wanted to do that,” he told Republican members of Congress.
“And I issued a travel restriction from China. Think of it.”
“I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban.”
“I was early, I closed our country to China.”
We will stop here for a moment to note that Trump did not announce the China ban until Jan. 31 — after the World Health Organization had declared a global coronavirus emergency and a raft of nations were doing the same thing. But nobody expects the president to admit he came in behind the Marshall Islands.
Trump’s China obsession is particularly disturbing to people who have to deal with our current public health crisis, most of which is no longer due to the Asian connection at all. If you listen to Andrew Cuomo’s daily address to the people of New York, you may have noticed that he talks about the “European virus.”
“When we first started with this virus we were told it was coming from China, right?” Cuomo said on Wednesday. But when it came to the East Coast, he added, “it turns out it came from Europe.” That was a detail the administration was reluctant to mention, given the fact that even our extremely creative president couldn’t figure out a way to make himself the hero of that version. So Americans were left to presume it was all about Wuhan.
But the word is spreading. Thanks in great part to … the governors. They’re not exactly the people you think we’d be counting on during a global epidemic. Really, governors are the ones you expect to handle feisty state senators, not the plague.
But the president passed the buck himself. You want to know how long Americans should stay in quarantine? Ask the governors — Trump wants them to work out the problem. Want an update? Your governor will probably be delivering one every day. (Trump dropped his regular press conferences due to time pressures and an inability to avoid making things up.)
Cuomo is by far the best-known gubernatorial face, and some polls suggest he’s much more popular than the president. He gives his daily talk while flashing titles, themes and exhortations like “Masks work! Gloves work! Hand sanitizing works!” Meanwhile Trump, appearing in all his barefaced glory, told a crowd that Americans have learned “the good and the bad” about masking: “It’s not a one-sided thing, believe it or not.”
Sort of hard to believe the president of a pandemic-ridden nation is saying that. But when it comes to the administration’s performance, the rule in the White House is to always look on the bright side of life.
“We are testing more people per capita than South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Sweden, Finland and many other countries,” Trump announced proudly this week. Cynics noted we are not testing as many people per capita as Germany, Russia, Spain and Canada. But think positive, people. We’re still doing better than Finland.
And remember those plane passengers! “We acted very early. We acted extremely early in keeping China out of our country,” Trump boasted at a recent press conference.
Since Trump’s theoretically early action, nearly 40,000 people have still flown directly to the United States from China. To be fair, many of them were citizens who had the right to return home. But you’d think the government would make sure they weren’t coming back with anything contagious. Travelers said they were surprised by the lack of scrutiny.
It took until mid-March for the president to impose travel restrictions on visitors from Europe, where the pandemic had long since spread. “We essentially locked the front door and left the back door open,” said Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist. It’s not hard to figure out why. Banning flights from Naples doesn’t really have the same appeal as cracking down on Wuhan. Even Cuomo’s daughter was perplexed when her father started warning about infection from Italy.
And politically, of course, there’s nothing like claiming your opponent is soft on — someplace foreign. “You’ll never hear it from the Fake News media, but I am TOUGH ON CHINA and Sleepy Joe Biden is WEAK ON CHINA,” a recent Trump fund-raising letter announced. “He always has been and he always will be — that will never change.”
When Cuomo started his coronavirus briefings, his outrage at the president was pretty wonderful. (“If he’s sitting at home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work.”). Lately he’s been much more discreet — possibly because New York needs a lot of federal support.
But his current spin — that our problem now is all about the “European virus” — seems like a smart approach. First of all, it reminds us that the pandemic is not going to fade away. Second, it’s a call for global oversight.
And third, it’ll drive Donald Trump crazy. What more do you need?
(The New York Times)