On Thursday, Vanity Fair published a detailed analysis of how the planned federal testing program headed up by Jared Kushner disintegrated into a puddle of mismanagement, hubris, and finger-pointing. As much as any other story over the last three years, it’s instructive in showing how the Trump White House acted as if it were both above the rules and smarter than the experts. Like so many other things that have happened under Trump, it’s ultimately a story about how unwillingness to accept responsibility for anything dooms everything.
Only the utter abandonment of any effort to execute a coherent national testing strategy—a decision that all its own is principally responsible for consigning 160,000 Americans to their deaths—turns out not to be the worst aspect of this story. The worst part is that Trump, Kushner, and everyone involved knew that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die if they failed to act, but they still refused to act out of a political calculation. That calculation was that American deaths in blue states would be good for Trump’s election chances. The worst thing is that Americans did not have to die in vast numbers. The United States’ worst in the world results on COVID-19 were not an accident.
On the day he announced his coronavirus response team, Trump added management of testing for the disease onto the stack of things that son-in-law Kushner was supposed to squeeze in between solving Middle East peace and providing kill lists to authoritarian dictators. Kushner responded by forming a crack team of old college buddies and real estate pals who WhatsApp’d their way to a national testing strategy with the help of advice from billionaire bankers and the occasional health expert. The end result was a plan that recognized that the United States needed a coherent national testing strategy, that states shouldn’t have to compete with each other for protective gear, and that a national contract-tracing database was required to make testing effective.
Then the White House set out to execute that plan. Step one: Illegally purchase over a million Chinese-made COVID-19 tests that turned out to be “contaminated and unusable” in a $52 million taxpayer-funded boondoggle. Step two: Decide that paying any real attention to COVID-19 might be bad for the stock market and just say f-ck it about the whole thing. Seriously.
Trump’s “political instincts” were that it was better to simply continue downplaying concerns about the virus and to keep the federal government out of the testing business. Because, of course, testing for COVID-19 might find COVID-19, which would be “bad publicity.” Besides, Dr. Deborah Birx was backing up Trump, showing models that suggested the virus would just magically disappear with the summer. Trump decided to dump the whole idea of launching any testing plan, forget about contact tracing, and abandon any pretense of a national strategy.
But even that isn’t the worst thing.
As a member of Kushner’s team made clear, Trump didn’t just decide that turning up cases of COVID-19 by testing for them would lead to bad publicity—he decided that, because it was hitting blue states the hardest, he should just let it burn. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states,” said the source, “that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”
Just to repeat that: Trump deliberately decided to let Americans die, in huge numbers, not because there was nothing that could be done, but because it was decided that it would “politically advantageous” to have people dying in states with Democratic governors.
There are acts that go beyond the need for impeachment. There are acts that are so inhumane that they go beyond comprehension. There are actions for which even imprisonment seems inadequate.
But let’s start with impeachment. The imprisonment can come later.