The federal government’s policies during this pandemic have been weak and slow in action. A part of this problem stems from the fact that the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 has been politically charged and divisive, favoring his partisan interests over the needs of the nation.
It has become abundantly clear that pandemic-related federal aid is contingent upon flattery to President Trump. When questioned about why the state of New York received 300 ventilators instead of the 40,000 that Governor Andrew Cuomo requested, he declared, “It’s a two-way street, they have to treat us well also.” Additionally, a White House staffer speaking confidentially stated, “If you’re good and respectful to [Trump], he will treat you the same — it’s that simple.” The Trump administration has explicitly stated that they will be more cooperative with governors who make positive statements about the President. This is a troubling development in a country that was founded on the ideal of free speech.
This is not to say that aid is being withheld from every state with a Democratic governor. In fact, my home state of Connecticut will be reimbursed for 75% of its pandemic response cost. But it has also become apparent that the President is prioritizing states that could electorally reward him in the November elections. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waited just three days for his request of thousands of ventilators, among other equipment, to be honored. While Florida did need these supplies, given that their cases top 18,000, the discrepancy of federal aid between New York and Florida is notable. To justify this discrepancy, an administration official stated, “The President knows Florida is so important for his reelection.” Unless the CDC inexplicably discovers that swing-state voters are more susceptible to the virus, President Trump is catering to the states that will help him in his reelection campaign.
With the medical supply chain in shambles, states have largely been left to source their own protective equipment. In New York, nurses have donned trash bags in the absence of personal protective equipment. The Trump administration, quite literally, is treating America’s frontline workers like garbage. Without support from the Trump administration, states have been forced to turn to China for PPE — which puts them at risk of purchasing faulty equipment.
America’s PPE shortage is largely self-imposed, due to perceived political constraints. Up until April 13th, President Trump repeatedly refused to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would compel private firms to manufacture medical equipment. His refusal stemmed from lobbying by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as a resistance to “nationalizing our business like Venezuela.”
The President’s delayed action was a refusal to produce life-saving equipment in fear of political retribution.
Amidst one of the greatest crises America has faced, our leader caved to the whims of the Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest pro-business lobbying organization that bankrolls his political party. Even now, President Trump’s recent use of the Defense Production Act has been in name only. General Motors executives have spoken out, claiming that they have received no official orders from the White House to produce more ventilators and that their planned production will not change.
Now, more than ever, it is important for leaders to unite the country under a common mission and to prioritize human needs over partisan alliances. Using partisanship as a cudgel to determine who receives help and resources when hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line is one of the greatest sins of our collective history. President Trump’s politicization of one of the greatest crises of the 21st century shows that he prioritizes petty politics over the wellbeing of the American people.
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Email Kevin Kurian at [email protected]