Plagued by Trumpism


As an educator, I’m always looking for ‘teachable moments’—current events that illustrate and reinforce the principles on which I’ve been lecturing. And there is nothing like a pandemic to focus attention on what really matters.

The COVID-19 crisis is rich in lessons, especially for the United States. One takeaway is that viruses do not carry passports; in fact, they don’t observe national borders—or nationalist rhetoric—at all. In our closely integrated world, a contagious disease originating in one country can and will go global.

Co-operative response

The spread of diseases is one negative side-effect of globalisation. Whenever such cross-border crises emerge, they demand a global, co-operative response, as in the case of climate change. Like viruses, greenhouse-gas emissions are wreaking havoc and imposing massive costs on countries around the world through the damage caused by global warming and the associated extreme weather events.

No US presidential administration has done more to undermine global co-operation and the role of government than that of Donald Trump. And yet, when we face a crisis like an epidemic or a hurricane, we turn to government, because we know that such events demand collective action. We cannot go it alone, nor can we rely on the private sector. All too often, profit-maximising firms will see crises as opportunities for price-gouging, as is already evident in the rising prices of face masks.

Unfortunately, since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the mantra in the US has been that ‘government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem’. Taking that nostrum seriously is a dead-end road, but Trump has travelled further down it than any other US political leader in memory.

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At the centre of the US response to the COVID-19 crisis is one of the country’s most venerable scientific institutions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has traditionally been staffed with committed, knowledgeable, highly trained professionals. To Trump, the ultimate know-nothing politician, such experts pose a serious problem, because they will contradict him whenever he tries to make up facts to serve his own interests.