Tom Harwood | Attention, Armchair Quarterbacks…

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Armchair quarterback. A person who is not a quarterback but offers opinions and criticisms on the performance or decisions of those who are. This is what I see when it comes to criticism of our president. It’s as if he caused COVID-19 and failed to stop its spread. Neither, of course, is true.

It is easy to say President Donald Trump could have done more. Do you really think it was an easy decision to shut down the country and bring our economy to a screeching halt? To put 33 million people onto the unemployment rolls, especially when so many of them live paycheck to paycheck? He listened to the experts and did what they recommended, despite having reservations. As time passes he has increasing doubts as to the necessity to shut down the entire country. There is a high price in doing such an unprecedented action, as there is with doing nothing and riding out the virus. 

How long can this country survive this action? It is a serious question and difficult to answer.

Trump received recommendations from a host of experts. Bear in mind there is substantial disagreement among those experts. Many have suggested hydroxychloroquine may aid in the prevention or treatment of the virus. He made the unique decision to try it himself. The two biggest criticisms of the drug are that it won’t help or that it has dangerous side effects. Opinions are divided on the side effects as well, but the FDA doesn’t make a case that the side effects are dangerous or lasting. It is an FDA-approved drug. He is a firsthand witness that it doesn’t cause him any side effects. It should be noted that many physicians prescribe the drug for patients both positive with the COVID-19 virus or as a prevention against contracting it or limiting the symptoms once contracted. 

I see a president looking for ways to return to normal as soon as possible. Only a fool thinks he recommended injecting bleach into the body.

He is a racist because he calls the virus Chinese. It did originate in China even though China denies it. He did try to help curb the virus by offering to send specialists to Wuhan to investigate. China refused our help and continues to refuse to provide needed information. That is not the president’s fault or failure.

He saw conflicts of interest between the World Health Organization and China. There is ample evidence to support this. Like so many things this country does for the rest of the world, the United States bears a major financial burden in supporting countries and causes around the world. If the system is broken or there is a better way, why continue to provide such support? The WHO (which is part of the United Nations) failed to call COVID-19 “a public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 22, despite being told by Taiwanese physicians it was exactly that. China and the WHO bear most of the responsibility for the massive spread of this virus, not Donald Trump. 

Trump recognizes our country is too dependent on foreign nations. It turns out China has most of the drugs and ingredients for antibodies. He knows many of the N95 masks China hoarded were manufactured for 3M. He wants to make sure we don’t find ourselves flat-footed in the future. On April 20, Trump stated: “We cannot outsource our independence… We cannot be reliant on foreign nations.” That is leadership.

Trump has initiated Project Jumpstart. Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense are contracting to manufacture prefilled syringes for when a vaccine is created. Not unlike the lack of N95 masks, hospital beds and antibiotics, without this action the delays in providing a vaccine would be due to the lack of the means to administer it. He wants to be ready. That is leadership.

One of the most interesting things about how Trump is handling this crisis has constitutional significance. He has overseen many actions to assist the states, including converting ships into hospitals and ordering half a billion N95 masks. So much was said about how he was treating the masks as (the federal government’s) property and allocation to the states was something for him to monitor. The Constitution enumerates certain federal powers. Those powers not specifically given to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states. 

This could have been a golden opportunity for the president to usurp additional powers as a result of the crisis. It can certainly be characterized as a war (and has been), which does fall under an enumerated federal power. Instead, he has made it clear that much of what the states are clamoring for were the states’ not the federal government’s responsibility. Very little attention has been directed to this issue within regional and local governments and the mass media. It’s not like epidemics, coronaviruses and pandemics are unheard of, which begs the question, what responsibility do governments at the state, regional and local level bear in the lack of preparedness? In his press conference April 14, he made it clear the lack of testing was a state issue, not for the federal government. The U.S. is a constitutional republic, not a unitary central government. Interesting how a crisis like this causes so many to think we need more, not less, centralized power. So much for democracy.

It is no coincidence that the virus has struck large metropolitan areas worse than less populated areas. As Trump has stated, the time table for reopening government is different for states and even portions of states. Some are probably ready to open now and probably never needed to close in the first place. These are state decisions. Atwater, California, has declared itself a “sanctuary” city from the shelter-at-home requirements set forth by Sacramento. That double entendre is not unintentional. California wants additional money from the federal government. The state decides how to spend its tax revenues, not the federal government. This could be viewed as a teaching moment if it weren’t so serious.

CNN thinks Trump should endure another congressional investigation for his failures regarding the virus. As president, they say, he knew even before taking office the dangers of a pandemic. Not this one, just the possibility of one and the dangerous potential associated with it. Doesn’t that apply to anyone in government? The only true criticism I can find is that he should have acted sooner on a lot of things. There are two problems with that assertion: He had to have credible information on which to act, and as with anyone overseeing an enormous workforce, he had to rely on others for that information. Perhaps there are problems within the CDC that need scrutiny. Mistakes happen and with good governance will be prevented in the future.

For all you armchair quarterbacks out there, I expect to hear a lot from you. Hopefully some of what I hear will be instructive.

Tom Harwood is a Valencia resident.

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