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Trump Downplaying the Virus: A Mistake or Not?

By: Julia Strachan

Executive privilege. Simply defined as the President of the United States being able to withhold information from the Senate, Judiciary and the American public as they see fit. In this instance, the president did not withhold information, but perhaps the entire truth about the impending virus to come.

What President Trump said was, “We don’t want to instill panic. We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem and scare everybody.” He intended to keep the masses calm and take into consideration the anxiety and panic that most Americans would feel if they were told a massive and deadly virus was on its way to the United States.

Recently we learned that on February 7, Trump said during a recorded interview with journalist Bob Woodward that he downplayed the coronavirus. However, on January 20 Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced the National Institutes of Health is already working on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. This would be a significant piece of information needed when addressing a nation of people. Additionally, perhaps another reason for initially downplaying the virus was because at the time a vaccine was being worked on and the virus was still in the process of traveling to the United States.

On January 27 Trump made several moves to get ahead of the virus, and this was still before he was interviewed by Woodward. He made it known to the public that he offered China’s President Xi Jinping to send experts to investigate the coronavirus outbreak, and he gathered the White House Task Force to meet about helping contain the spread and provide updates about the conditions of the virus to the President.

By the time that the president met with Woodward, he had already declared the coronavirus a public health emergency, announced travel restrictions to and from China, and prohibited any entry into the United States that posed a risk of virus transmission. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security began steps to limit flights from China to the United States to only seven domestic airports. By this time, the experts the President offered to travel to China and investigate the virus were still awaiting approval by the Chinese government. By February 5, Trump vowed, “to take all necessary steps” to prevent the spread of the virus and protect Americans.

If the President perhaps felt that he and his advisory committee had the situation under control, why would he release information that had the potential to cause mass panic and hysteria?

Some professors in the Political Science Department at Adelphi disagree. Regina Axelrod, a professor in the department, specializes her research in energy and environmental policy in the United States, and she was awarded by Sage Publishers for her co-edited book “The Global Environment: Institutions, Law, and Policy.” When asked about her thoughts on Trump downplaying the virus, she said,: “President Trump was warned by his national security advisor on Jan. 28 that the coronavirus would be a devastating problem and would be the biggest threat to his presidency. It is difficult to accept that on February 4 in his State of the Union address he ignored the warning because he `wanted to always play it down because I don't want to create panic.’ President Trump is responsible for close to 200,000 deaths so far, with more looming into the unknown future. Besides costing people their lives or long-term disabilities if they get the virus, unimaginable personal hardships, the collapse of our economy, the politicization of the pandemic into red and blue responses and threatened the stability of our democracy, he lied. The President of the U.S. lied and admitted it. He had the information and he lied. We all pay the price.”

Margaret Gray, associate professor and chair of the Political Science Department, also weighed in. She said, “The Federal Government is designed to respond to a crisis, like a pandemic. When President Trump downplayed the scale of the problem it wasn't just in words; he didn't direct the appropriate agencies to act. What resulted was governors attempting to coordinate individual state responses and this created competition for resources and wasted expertise with many efforts, instead of one."

Disagreeing over politics is natural and considered a conduit for improving the current status. I believe to not cause mass hysteria, the President created a sense of nonchalant comfort in the dealings of day-to-day life, which contributed to the spread of the virus. While I individually may support the President in his immediate action to combat the coronavirus, the war on the disease is long-term and his lack of communication came as a betrayal to many Americans. His abrasive and lax attitude in the months after the interview with Woodward was where the President would have done a better job.

I do foresee this being a factor for some Americans when it comes time to vote. Personally, it seems to me that the job of President of the United States is the hardest in the world. Americans expect him to protect them, their families, their livelihoods and that of other countries across the world that need Big Brother America to clean up. It is in my personal opinion that nobody can consciously imagine the severity of the stress the President faces every day, and I trust that he is doing the best he can with the information he has. If anyone disagrees, it is an American right and prerogative for you to do so. No other country in the world affords such a privilege as outlined in our Constitution. Say, think, believe, write, whatever it is you want. It’s American.

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