• June 14th, 2024
  • Friday, 05:28:40 AM

A Plague of Incompetency

Photo: Javier Sierra/Sierra Club/permiso The breathtaking solitude of the coronavirus times at Memorial Ave., Arlington, VA.

Javier Sierra


In the midst of this pandemic, I feel we all are at the mercy of a most incompetent leader.

The US is already the country with the most cases of COVID-19, the worst pandemic in a century, which is overwhelming countries and leaving behind a path of death and economic chaos. If we all fail to take drastic measures, such as mandatory home confinement, an Imperial College of London study predicts that the death toll in the US would be up to 2.2 million. The Trump administration, on the other hand, forecasts that “if we do things almost perfectly” — a huge “if” — the death toll would be fewer than 200,000.

How did we all arrive at this nightmare? Up until early 2017, the US possessed the world’s best pandemic-fighting system, according to the Global Health Security Index. Ever since then, the Trump administration has been systematically dismantling it.

In January of 2017, the administration ignored models handed over by the Obama administration warning them about a potential pandemic coming from China, worse than the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In 2018, Trump fired the US Pandemic Response Team embedded in the National Security Council. That same year, he eliminated the early warning system for pandemics at the Department of Homeland Security.

Against this plague of federal incompetency, we have the remedy of solidarity and generosity. Let’s use it.

In less than three months, Trump has gone from saying we have it “totally under control,” to assuring us that it would disappear like “a miracle,” to predicting the number of cases would be reduced to “close to zero”, to finally declaring that “nobody” could have predicted this pandemic.

The reality is that in January and February, his administration ignored repeated warnings from its intelligence services that the coronavirus threat would force the government to take urgent and drastic measures to fight it. Now Trump, completely reversing his position, is warning the country that “very painful” times lie ahead.

The pain will at least be somewhat alleviated by the passing by Congress of the largest stimulus package in US history, $2 trillion worth. Undoubtedly, more financial help will be needed, but the focus must be bailing out the people, not fossil fuel corporations.

Meanwhile, as we all follow the pandemic news with anguish, the Trump administration has exploited the situation to intensify its onslaught on public health and environmental protections, as follows:

-Has drastically weakened air and water contamination restrictions.

-Has rolled back clean-vehicle standards that reduce pollution and fuel costs.

-Has accelerated the construction of his destructive border wall, putting hundreds of workers in danger of being infected with the coronavirus.

Fortunately, governors across the country are filling Trump’s leadership vacuum (“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he quipped). The governors of the states most punished by the pandemic — Andrew Cuomo of New York, Jay Inslee of Washington, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Gavin Newsom of California — are desperately fighting to flatten the curve; that is, limiting as much as possible the number of cases so as not to exceed hospital capacity.

That’s why we all need to cooperate by following the experts’ recommendations:

-Keep a social distance of at least six feet and avoid big gatherings.

-Stay at home as much as possible, leaving only to shop for food or other essentials.

-Follow personal hygiene directives, such as washing your hands often and for at least 20 seconds.

Keeping the contagion to a minimum is crucial for the success of the heroic efforts of healthcare personnel who are risking their lives to save ours. Let’s also acknowledge those other unsung heroes — the grocery, restaurant, delivery, and farm workers, overwhelmingly people of color, whose efforts are essential to avoid social collapse.

Against this plague of federal incompetency, we have the remedy of solidarity and generosity. Let’s use it.


Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC


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