At a time when the world is looking for stable leadership in the fight against the deadly coronavirus, America seems to have abandoned its traditional stabilizing role in favor of an isolationist and self-centered policy. Instead of becoming a beacon of light in this time of darkness, the United States has opted to sow dissension and division in a world needing desperately to act as one to overcome this latest humanitarian crisis that has not been experienced globally since the last world war.
In that war, America also refused at first to help end the death and destruction that have plagued the whole of Europe and parts of North Africa. The isolationists in the country rejected appeals from England and other Allied nations and from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to come to the world’s aid in fear of being caught in a war that they said wasn’t America’s.
They only listened when Roosevelt and his allies warned that the war could come to America’s shores if Adolf Hitler succeeded in overpowering England and Russia, the last bastion of defense against the Nazi onslaught. But they were willing to commit only military arm and equipment until the US finally decided to send troops and join the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Despite early warnings that the novel coronavirus that had brought death and paralysis to China, South Korea, and other countries could devastate the United States, President Trump and his allies ignored health experts’ advice, and politicized the issue by claiming that it was another “hoax” raised by the Democrats to derail his reelection. And just like the isolationist attitude of Americans during the Second World War, Trump and many Americans thought the coronavirus would not come to America’s shore until sometime in early March when the first community-shared fatality in the US was reported, four months after the outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China in December.
Outside of banning some flights from China, Trump still refused to heed the warning and advice of health experts. He called himself a “wartime president” when cases and deaths started mounting and hospitals became overwhelmed, but unlike real wartime leaders President Franklin Roosevelt, British Premier Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Trump failed to rally the governors and the American people by providing stabilizing and confident leadership. Instead, he contradicted his health officials, continued to blame Democrat leaders and governors, endorsed medicines and treatments that were untested, provided facts and information that were not based on facts, and painted a bright picture of the situation instead of telling the people to brace for the worse while reassuring them that the government was doing its best to minimize the spread and impact of the crisis and find a vaccine to stop the virus.
The Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis was, in the words of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, “an absolute chaotic disaster.” Obama assailed the administration’s “long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life.”
Instead of providing a unifying leadership to the governors, Trump opted to pick fights with some of them, blaming them for the spread of the virus in their states and even encouraging protesters who undermined stay-at-home orders, describing the armed dissidents as “very good people, but they are angry.” And instead of taking responsibility as the national leader, Trump provided unclear guidelines on how to slow down the spread of the virus and tossed everything back to the governors.
But it’s not just in the national front that Trump failed to provide a unifying and stabilizing leadership. Thinking only of his reelection in the November elections, Trump took the isolationist stance again when the word was looking to America to provide the leadership as American presidents had done in several global crises, such as in the Second World war, the fight against terrorism, the war against HIV-AIDS, SARS and Ebola, the climate change crisis, and conflicts around the world.
Earlier in his term, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement, launched trade wars against China and other countries, ended the nuclear accord with Iran, threatened to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and collided with the United Nations on many fronts as he pursued his isolationist policy.
Trump again abandoned America’s traditional global leadership when he stopped close to $500 million funding to the World Health Organization, the international organization best positioned to lead the global response against the coronavirus. He accused WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the coronavirus crisis, specifically the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, and described the WHO as “China-centric.”
Trump also refused to assign representatives to virtual international meetings convened by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potential Covid-19 vaccines. Last week, more than 40 countries and several organizations raised $8 billion in pledges and entered into a commitment that whoever produces an effective vaccine first will share it with the rest of the world.
Trump would have none of it, would rather sit out the global effort and do it alone.
In the same manner that he politicized the US efforts against the coronavirus, Trump blamed China for the spread of the virus, even declaring – without any iota of evidence – that the virus originated from a Wuhan lab and threatening to impose sanctions against China. Allies see the move as a political move to insulate Trump from blame for his inconsistent response to the pandemic.
A French diplomat quoted by the CNN said a number of countries feel that “at the moment, the priority has to be getting on top of the pandemic globally that requires a lot of cooperation. … China needs to be a part of that and the WHO has to be involved. … Anything that might detract from that effort at the moment makes people a little nervous.”
In his first public criticism of his successor, Obama assailed Trump’s “what’s in it for med” mindset: “It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”
That has been Trump’s guiding principle since the first day in office, aimed at strengthening his political base and ensuring his reelection. The people’s verdict will surprise him in November.