Trump’s Coronavirus Playbook is the Same One he Uses for Climate Change

April 15, 2020

There is a consistent pattern to how President Trump addresses crises that happen on his watch:

First, dismiss the threat. In 2017, departing Obama administration officials briefed Trump’s team on how to address a pandemic like the coronavirus. One Trump Cabinet official fell asleep and others questioned why they had to be there. By spring of 2018, the Trump administration had dismantled the team in charge of pandemic response and fired its leadership. This action was coupled with the administration’s repeated calls to cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health agencies.

Then, claim the threat is a hoax and blame others. By February 2020, the President denounced Democrats, describing concerns about the virus as “their new hoax” after the Russia investigation and then impeachment. “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said.

When (or if) you finally do something, it is inadequate. The administration’s failure to send out millions of needed test kits and protective gear for health care workers was, and continues to be, an inadequate response.

Next, claim what you have done is perfect. Once he belatedly acknowledged the threat, the President claimed that testing for the coronavirus is “going very smooth,” that “anybody that needs a test can get one,” and that the tests “perfect” and “beautiful.” Of course, these are all claims that the administration’s science experts had to disavow. Then, when confronted with the botched testing process, Trump said: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

And finally, leave a trail of avoidable devastation behind. The president’s “leadership” resulted in the waste of precious time and the predictable trail of disease and death. The Administration’s top scientists recently estimated that the coronavirus will kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans…and we are just getting started.

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Trump’s response to the climate crisis is exactly the same:

First, Trump dismissed climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese.  “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he wrote on Twitter in 2012.

Trump’s response was, and is, inadequate. Trump pulled the U.S, out of the Paris climate accord; now he is actually rolling back regulations intended to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with the changing climate. On March 31, 2020, the Trump Administration relaxed Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, allowing cars on American roads to emit nearly one billion tons more carbon dioxide over their lifetimes.

In addition to regulatory rollbacks that intensify the crisis, the Trump Administration has created a hostile environment for any employee that warns about climate change. Under Trump, the EPA has eliminated references to the changing climate on its official websites. The administration has also fired respected scientists from government panels intended to address climate change and proposed devastating cuts to any part of the budget related to climate change.

Then, when the inevitable weather-related disasters arrive, the President denies there’s a problem, blames others, and insists that what he does is perfect. For example, after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico in 2017, an independent study found that 2,975 people died both directly and indirectly from the storm. President Trump took to Twitter to argue, without evidence, that “3,000 people did not die” and that the numbers were made up by his political opponents to make him look bad (a hoax by another name is still a hoax). The President then insisted that the government’s response to Hurricane Maria was an “unsung success.”

Here, too, avoidable devastation is the result. Trump’s failure to act on climate means we can expect increasingly damaging hurricanes, wildfires and heat waves, along with declining crop yields, destroyed infrastructure, and incalculable human suffering. According to the National Climate Assessment, by the end of the century, climate change could cost the United States $500 billion per year.

There is one major distinction between the coronavirus and climate change. The coronavirus may, in time, level off, after a record number of deaths and a body blow to our economy. But the effects of climate change are not reversible. As we ignore the problem and fail to prepare for it, the consequences will only get worse. That is something to consider as we (hopefully) head for the polls in November.

Dan Reich

Dan Reich was an assistant regional counsel at EPA Region 9 in San Francisco for 27 years. He also served as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice before retiring in April 2017 with 33 years of federal service.

Tags: American politics, climate change responses, coronavirus strategies