The Psychology of Trump’s Pandemic Mistakes

President Trump ignored the earliest pandemic warnings from his intelligence agencies and some of his advisors for many years. He continued to minimize the threat of this pandemic well into March 2020, and he continues to lie, contradict his own medical experts, and dangerously confuse a very nervous public. Why would he do that throughout a serious crisis? Trump seems to overvalue the present and undervalue the future. In addition to focusing on only what benefits him, he sees only what he thinks is an immediate political reward and ignores future consequences. He lacks conscientiousness, diligence, and self-discipline. And he is impulsive, erratic, and unpredictable. These are long-term character traits that are not likely to change.

Trump claims this pandemic was unforeseeable. Yet he ignored and undermined the advice of intelligence, medical and other experts and federal planning efforts for several years. For example:

In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security began annual simulations of the critical effect that a pandemic would have on America. Those complex simulations looked for issues with our transportation and distribution networks as well as what it would mean if a large portion of America’s workforce had to stay home and could not maintain systems that depend on a human presence. This information, carefully produced over a dozen years using supercomputers and several national laboratories, predicted an increased need for ventilators and masks in hospitals across the nation and other needs that would follow. It showed where the nation was vulnerable and needed to improve. But this critical annual planning was allowed to simply die because under Trump, the DHS has become “singularly focused on border enforcement” at the expense of everything else.

The Trump administration inherited a National Security Council pandemic playbook from the Obama administration, which drew on the lessons of Ebola and H1N1. And the Obama administration tried to prepare the Trump administration with a pandemic response exercise during the transition designed to help them understand the vulnerabilities of the nation and the power of the White House to respond. The Trump team was warned that in such a pandemic emergency they could face “shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs, and other medical essentials” and that a “coordinated, unified national response was ‘paramount’” in saving lives and holding the nation together. The Trump administration never valued the information. For Trump, nothing related to Obama can ever have value.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference and webinar warning of pandemic. However, Trump dismantled the National Security Council’s global health section designed to fight pandemics, fired Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, an expert in dealing with both disasters and organizing a response to epidemics, and removed Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Two of Trump’s top administration officials foreshadowed our current disaster in their public remarks at the BioDefense Summit in April 2019.

Last September, DHS ran exercises (Operation Crimson Contagion) about a global pandemic that caused fever and respiratory illness emerging from China and sweeping around the world. The results showed the Trump White House was woefully unprepared to provide clear leadership, issue national guidelines for how states should respond, give the states adequate funding, or decide what agencies were responsible for various aspects of the crisis and how they could work remotely. The report said that hospitals were short on ventilators and protective gear and would be overrun with cases. Trump’s paradoxical response was to stop funding and US involvement in the PREDICT pandemic early-warning program that included work on novel coronaviruses and worked with labs in Wuhan, China, that had identified 160 new novel coronaviruses.

The Chinese government and the WHO first announced concerns with the coronavirus at the end of December 2019. South Korea and the US had their first confirmed case on January 19.

On Feb. 3, the US Army assembled a presentation showing that COVID-19 would completely disrupt the U.S. economy and result in over 100,000 deaths.

In March, state Governors began issuing stay-at-home orders following medical advice that physical distancing would slow the spread of the virus. The states that continue to refuse such actions all have Republican Governors, and Trump refuses to order a national stay-at-home action.

On April 3, the CDC recommended everyone wear cloth face masks when leaving their homes, but Trump said, “it’s voluntary. You Don’t have to do it. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

Trump has given many inaccurate, confusing, contradictory messages throughout the coronavirus crisis. In February, when America had 15 cases, Trump said the coronavirus was a Democratic hoax and COVID-19 cases would be down to zero in a couple of days. He also said the virus was under control, he was doing a great job, and when it gets warm in April, the virus would go away like a miracle. America now (April 6) has more than 367,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths.

In March, Trump claimed that testing was “going very smooth,” that “anybody that needs a test can get one,” and that the tests are “perfect”and “beautiful.” In fact, tests required a prescription by a doctor or public health professional, and our testing system was failing, according to Dr. Fauci. The WHO said every suspected COVID-19 case should be tested and contact tracing should be done, while Trump was saying, “We don’t want everybody taking this test. It’s totally unnecessary.” At the time, the US had conducted 60,000 tests total while Korea was conducting 10,000 tests per day.

On March 4, Trump said he had a “hunch” the WHO mortality rate of 3.4 percent was false. He also said we’d have a vaccine very quickly – in months. The medical experts said it would take around 18 months.

Trump has been hyping the broad use of Hydroxychloroquine. Medical experts emphasize that the drug is effective for malaria and lupus but has not been adequately tested for COVID-19. Using this drug in unproven ways risks harm, unwarranted expectations leading to delay of more effective treatments and is depleting availability for those who rely on it for proven uses.

There are many more examples of Trump’s bizarre and dangerous messages and actions. Because of Trump’s characterological dysfunction, the only way to end this disastrous lack of leadership is at the polls in November.

4 thoughts on “The Psychology of Trump’s Pandemic Mistakes

  1. A little off topic, but Tom’s favorite quote from 45 this week was: “We have so much ammunition, we don’t know what to do with it”.


  2. Thank you for the letter in “The Greeley Tribune”, based on this excellent article. I doubt if many of Trump’s supporters believe it! He certainly has a hold on otherwise intelligent people. It is just very scary.


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