As I was preparing a soon to be published review of Donald Trump’s statements, both in domestic and foreign settings on the emerging national health risk of COVID-19, the press briefing he presented at the White House and the content of his moment to moment barrage of tweeting, I began to speculate what a person in the role of president would do, if he actually, not only respected the citizens of his country, but the office he holds. In other words, a responsible adult.
From there, I began to imagineer what I would submit to this traditional minded chief executive as a script outline to work from.
My sense of this was informed by a number of presidents I have witnessed over my lifetime and the fact that although I might strongly disagree with them on one or another matter of policy or their agenda, there were common threads among their handling of emergencies and how they communicated with Americans.
Some were decidedly better at it than others, but even among the worst examples, we saw nothing that resembles the radioactivity of the present occupant of the Oval Office. It may serve not only as a contrast to what we’ve seen and heard so far, but illustrate the yawning chasm between that ideal and what we’re confronted with. What I arrived at in terms of a draft document, is this.
DRAFT OF POTUS ADDRESS TO THE NATION AND PRESS BRIEFING ON COVID-19
Good evening. I scheduled this press briefing because I felt it was important that I weigh in with you members of the press and the American public on the public health issue that I and our legislative branch, Congress, are tasked with responding to and managing with all the resources at our disposal.
Allow me to start off by saying that I take the emergence of the virus, generically referred to as the Coronavirus, and specifically what the experts have labeled COVID-19, with the utmost seriousness.
Let me also say that with regard to the effort to get a handle on this communicable disease and the challenge it represents, I am putting aside the consonant behind my name and all of the ordinary partisan considerations that go with it.
The virus cares not whether we are Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green Party, Independent or any other classification. It also is oblivious to our ideological leanings, whether they be liberal, conservative, libertarian or anything else.
I commit myself to the discipline that there is not going to be the faintest amount of daylight between myself and my administration and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I need their cooperation and they need mine.
This situation transcends all other customary divisions. It requires me to bring people together, not separate them. I call on everyone to refrain from political opportunism. The team to battle this disease all wear the same jersey.
But let me also be clear. In no way do I consider myself immune from criticism. I will wrap my arms around it and take it to heart. A worthwhile saying is this, from the Old Testament book of Proverbs:
“Conceited people do not like to be corrected; they never ask for advice from those who are wiser.” (Proverbs 15:12)
This is a time for me to set personal ego aside and be president to everyone, not only those who gifted me with their votes.
I’m going to tell you what I know at this moment as reasonable certainties and basic facts according to the best available information and I am going to refrain from asserting things that are not yet known or resolved.
What we do know is that the virus originated in a particular province in China – Hubei, in the city of Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million residents and in the period of just over two months to date, has spread outward from there and at this point, infections have been discovered in every continent except Antarctica and spread throughout every nation. We have a growing number of cases in North America including the United States.
The virus can result in debilitating symptoms, up to and including, death. That is why this administration is fully committed to bringing all the expertise we have, both within and without the federal government to confront the health risks of COVID-19.
That includes research organizations, the brain trust of the academic community and the insight we can leverage from our international allies and partners. The virus respects no national boundaries and we need to make as many seats at the conference table as there are stakeholders in the mission to control and manage this outbreak.
Probably the most expedient thing would be for me to tell you that we have everything in hand, there is no need for concern and the crisis will be over almost as soon as it began. That would be the path of least resistance, but it would be grossly negligent on my part – a true abuse of my office.
There were and are, some issues regarding the response to COVID-19 that we did not anticipate or were not fully prepared for. Those, such as a reliable and standard testing protocol and the ramping up of regional, state level and local testing facilities are being addressed as we speak.
It bears mentioning that this emergency carries with it a risk to the economy and financial markets. While that issue is without question, a matter of concern, the top priority is to bring the spread of the virus under control in the most expeditious manner possible and to provide treatment and care to the infected.
The fact that the disease is impacting supply chains for products and services in America, is all the more reason not to adopt a nationalistic posture, but to coordinate knowledge and solutions with other nations.
The response team here at the federal level are all of a united sense of purpose and have a clear understanding of their roles. I believe the timely and candid dissemination of accurate information is one of the core components of organizing a successful defense and ultimately, a vigorous and unrelenting offense against COVID-19.
For that reason, I am giving my blessing to the top cabinet officials at the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS and the National Institute of Health, to provide the valuable updates to the media that our citizens deserve.
The last thing we need is to muzzle the very people who have the best information and can enhance our efforts to communicate with the public and the healthcare infrastructure. More transparency equals more progress in combating this.
Before I finish, I would like to point out a matter of risk related to the imperatives we are addressing. We know from the assessments of all of our leaders in our intelligence community, that certain adversarial foreign governments are actively engaged in sowing disinformation, with the intent to derail our efforts to protect Americans.
While I am aware of that and concerned about it, there is another aspect that troubles me equally and perhaps even more. There are also individuals and shadowy groups in America that are exploiting this crisis, by poisoning social media with fiction, falsehoods and pernicious conspiracy theories to ramp up fear and division.
We can defeat them by counteracting this with reliable data, fact checking and frequent updates of what is true and real.
With that in mind, I will now introduce you to the public officials from those agencies that you will be hearing from in the coming days and weeks and let them share with you what they know about the disease itself, some elements of the plan we have in place to counter it and some recommendations on the best ways for you to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
(At this point, the president presents introductions to cabinet officials, agency officials and deputy assistants in the West Wing that are assisting in coordinating the effort within the administration and with state, county and local governments).