In a break from his usual claims of expertise on just about everything, President Donald Trump occasionally admits to learning something that he did not know before.
Such a moment notably came during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta where, wearing the bright red “Keep America Great” cap of his 2020 reelection campaign, he did a presentable job of sounding interested in what the real experts were doing to slow the global spread of COVID-19.
“Who would have thought?” he asked during the visit to the nerve center for the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”
Ah, does that sound familiar? My mind raced back to 2017 when Trump tried to explain his and congressional Republicans’ inability to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Contrary to his wishes, the law was becoming increasingly popular.
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he said.
Nobody? Where, one might wonder, had he been during the yearslong political dogfight that had created Obamacare? Oh, yes. Developing real estate and reality TV shows.
Now, rather than study the issue in the manner of more conventional presidents, Trump offered oddball theories to explain Obamacare’s growing popularity.
“People hate it, but now they see that the end is coming, and they’re saying, ‘Oh, maybe we love it,’ “ Trump said. “There’s nothing to love. It’s a disaster, folks.”
Yet, neither his White House nor congressional Republicans have come up with an alternative or worked with Democrats on a compromise, even as protection of Obamacare became a pivotal issue that helped Democrats to retake the House majority in 2018.
But now the coronavirus crisis raises new and far more urgent questions about this president’s public health policies. Asked during his CDC visit why his White House had shut down an agency established in 2016 by President Barack Obama to handle such crises after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, he stumbled around verbally to say in effect that, yes, nobody saw the coronavirus coming.
Under a reorganization by now-
former national security adviser John Bolton, the agency’s global health security team would have led this nation’s response to such epidemics. The simplest explanation for Trump’s abolition of the agency? It was created by Obama.
Besides, as we have seen repeatedly, Trump’s approach to governing is to live in the moment, buoyed by a latticework of delusions.
He has acknowledged his own ignorance when it can be framed as everybody’s ignorance. “I didn’t know people died from the flu,” he said at the CDC. Indeed, tens of thousands die of influenza every year, including his own grandfather during the 1918 epidemic, as The Washington Post reported.
More often, the president praises his own “instincts” for understanding science and other matters.
“I like this stuff. I really get it,” he said at the CDC in remarks that I am certain will live on in history. “People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.” Hey, it’s not too late.
And when all else fails in Trump’s list of reactions to crises, he makes stuff up. He has predicted that the virus will “miraculously” disappear on its own as spring warms into summer. Actually, the virus’ discovery is so new that nobody’s certain what will happen in the long run.
He also has suggested that a vaccine will be available soon, only to be contradicted by other top health officials. He has said that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “Fox News Sunday” that it would actually be up to a doctor.
And through it all, his concerns about his own reelection are as obvious as his red “Keep America Great” cap. He has tarred Democrats’ concerns about coronavirus as “their new hoax.” He walked that back the next day, saying he wasn’t calling the coronavirus a hoax, but his son Don Jr. and some other prominent surrogates have picked up the theme.
All of which reveals how little respect the president has for the intelligence of his own supporters. It’s not just what he doesn’t know that’s troubling. It’s how little he cares about finding out.