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The New Republic - March 12, 2020

"Many Americans seem to still believe we live in a country with functional institutions. Even as broadly defined“trust”in Congress and the government collapsed, this belief persisted:In 2017, with Trump in office, Pew still found that more than 60 percent of Americans believed the government did a good job “protecting the environment and responding to natural disasters.” Indeed, a lot of the conservative project of corrupting or starving government agencies depends on an almost touching belief in the resiliency of the institutions liberalism built in the twentieth century. Even the people dismantling the government probably believed, at some level, that the CDC could effectively address a massive public health crisis even though its new director was unqualified and its budget had declined for years."

Donald Trump’s televised address to the nation Wednesday night on the coronavirus pandemic failed just about every single test of political rhetoric. It neither reassured the American people nor did it inform them. The markets have continued their dismal tumble, and the White House took the extraordinary step of correcting (or, in Politico parlance, “walking back”) three separate untruths the president managed to deliver, despite seemingly sticking to his prepared remarks.

Not that anyone, at this stage, expected the president to rise to the occasion. It has become apparent that Trump and his staff view a pandemic as a messaging problem that threatens to become a liquidity crisis. The idea that they should have stepped in to contain the virus is as foreign to them as the idea that they now bear the primary responsibility for mitigating it.

Congressional testimony earlier this week featured an illuminating exchange between Representative Andy Harris, a Republican and medical doctor, and Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Harris mainly wanted to use his time questioning the officials who were testifying before Congress to attack a Democratic proposal to lower drug costs for people on Medicare (Harris worries it would stifle “innovation” in the lucrative world of vaccine manufacturing) and to praise the superior ability of the private sector to handle such crises.

The problem, though, was that the private sector hasn’t yet done anything to slow down the virus. “Quest and LabCorp now are geared up to do [coronavirus tests],” Harris asked. “Could they have geared up sooner?”

“As a clinician like yourself,” Redfield said in his answer, “I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged and helped develop it for the clinical side.” He finished his response with more bewilderment: “I can tell you, having lived through the last eight weeks, I would have loved the private sector to be fully engaged eight weeks ago.”

Here were two men wondering aloud why reality had failed to conform to their ideology. Where was the private sector, exactly, during these eight weeks? How odd that these companies, whose only responsibility is to their shareholders, had failed to make up for the incompetence of this administration. ...
Read full report at The New Republic