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Sunday, March 29, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Did Donald Trump blow the coronavirus crisis? My Never Trumper friends keep telling me that he was wrong from the git-go, that he called the disease a “hoax,” that he refused to act quickly, that he failed to follow the science, etc, ad nauseam.

But the president never called the coronavirus a hoax. Not even close. It was The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who made this accusation, tweeting on Feb. 28: “Remember this moment: Trump, in South Carolina, just called the coronavirus a ‘hoax.’“ But this “scoop” didn’t contain, as Barack Obama liked to say, a “smidgen” of truth. Even fact-checking organizations on the left viewed it as bogus. But the Milbank libel, which still rides the Internet, is, alas, emblematic  of why so much of the public is misinformed.


How about the obscene fable that he never follows the science? The answer to that is to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and now a media star. Dr. Fauci heatedly insists that the president has never, ever overridden the advice on the science offered by his advisers.

That may change if the president modifies the lockdown in certain areas of the country, but Dr. Fauci, while skeptical, hasn’t flatly rejected the idea either. He’s also sympathetic to the president’s dilemma — saving lives and saving the economy.

The president’s foes are right to say he played down the virus’ contagious quality early on, but that was based on what his highly qualified science advisers were telling him. On Jan. 31,  key members of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force briefed the press on the current situation. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the “serious health situation in China,” but stressed “the risk to the American public currently is low.” 

He said that in the United States “we have confirmed six cases” of the virus which had not yet produced a single death, repeating that the current risk “to the American public is low.” (Question for the Never Trumpers: If the president reflected the CDC’s  and the task force’s optimism, how was he ignoring the science?)

Nevertheless, the  administration planned to quarantine and test people who had been to China — the main source of the disease — and temporarily suspend entry of ”foreign nationals who pose a risk” of transmitting it.

But that was far too aggressive an approach for the president’s current critics and even the World Health Organization (WHO), which had just declared the outbreak a global emergency. The blogosphere exploded with harsh condemnations of the travel ban. The website  STAT  headlined its lead story: 

“Health experts [from WHO] warn China travel ban will hinder coronavirus response.” Not to be outdone, the Democratic Party’s likely nominee, Joe Biden, who Never Trumpers think should replace this president, erupted: “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia … to lead the way instead of science.”

But what do we now know with the luxury of hindsight? That President Trump’s health experts proved wiser than WHO’s health experts (and Mr. Biden’s). At the moment Mr. Trump announced his policy, the sole known source of the coronavirus was China and the most effective way of limiting its damage, according to the president’s medical experts, was to block potential carriers from entering our borders. The entire world now seems to accept the policy, with Dr. Fauci arguing that thousands of lives have been saved as a result.

Just for the record, Taiwan, despite millions of Chinese visitors yearly, produced spectacular results a month before the Trump policy kicked in by stopping flights from China, quarantining suspicious cases and examining the symptoms of passengers of all direct flights from Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease. As of mid-March, this island nation, with its “xenophobic” policy, as Mr. Biden might put it, had just 48 cases and one virus-related death, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Despite the unceasing attacks, the president’s approval ratings have levitated nicely as a result of  regular press briefings where he’s surrounded by a vast army of health specialists who have persuaded the public that the administration is doing everything possible to end the virus and keep the economy afloat. 

What the public sees on TV is the administration mobilizing federal, state and local governments, the entrepreneurial class and a brilliant selection of epidemiologists and virologists to find solutions to this dread disease. Those briefings have had, momentarily anyway, a calming effect on the nation, with the ABC/Ipsos March 20 poll reporting that 55 percent of respondents now approve of President Trump’s management of the health crisis. 

Even Democratic governors are getting along with the president these days and Nancy Pelosi, though sullen, is embracing the president’s policies. There is also a slight thaw in a tiny portion of the media, with Dana Bash, the CNN anchor, saying that the president, because of his message, and more sober tone, is “being the kind of leader that people need and want and yearn for in times of crisis and uncertainty.”  

Maybe the Never Trumper crowd should sit down with Ms. Bash and Dr. Fauci, at a social distance, of course, to get a better read on what the administration is accomplishing.

• Allan H. Ryskind, a former editor and owner of Human Events, is the author of “Hollywood Traitors” (Regnery, 2015). 


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