New Zealand says it's eliminated coronavirus. America, look at what might have been without Trump
This is what the president could have done instead
Mark your calendars. Today — April 27, 2020 – is the day that New Zealand, a country of five million people, has declared it has “eliminated” coronavirus. The country now has new cases in the single digits, and knows where every single case has come from, meaning there is no uncontrolled community transmission. The country will now be easing (though not entirely removing) restrictions, as they see life return to relative normalcy.
On this side of the planet, April 27 paints a very different picture. In the United States, we no longer tally the number of cases (how could we know them, when testing is so sparse and widely unavailable?) Instead, we tally the number of deaths; ours have risen above 55,000 now. Of course, we’re far larger than New Zealand, and we’re also far less remote. Still, it’s worth considering whether or not our approach to solving the epidemic has been a problem regarding its certain and unstoppable escalation. To which I say: of course it has.
As cases in the United States continue to rise, President Trump continues to respond to the pandemic with self-aggrandizement. The New York Times tallied the president’s strange responses to a nation in crisis over the weekend, reviewing 260,000 words spoken by Trump over the course of the past months in reference to Covid-19. He has congratulated himself 600 times, blamed others over 100 times, and displayed empathy or attempted national unity a paltry 160 times, which, the Times reports, is “only a quarter of the times he complimented himself or a top member of his team.”
While Trump has placed himself in the center of the maelstrom, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has quietly gone about the business of solving the problem at hand — the problem of saving lives out of the limelight. She has held no ludicrous press conference talking about her own superior leadership skills. She has lacked bluster and buffoonery. She has walked the walk, without needing, it seems, to talk the talk.
That walk included addressing coronavirus when there were only 102 confirmed cases in her country. That was on March 23. On that same exact date, when the United States had over 33,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and had suffered nearly 450 deaths, President Trump said, “America will again, and soon, be open for business — very soon — a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.” Is it any wonder protests started rumbling when it became obvious that that would be impossible to do?
Back when we had around 150 cases, on March 4, Trump dismissed the disease. “Some people will have this at a very light level and won’t even go to a doctor or hospital, and they’ll get better,” Trump said at a briefing with airline CEOs that day. Eleven people died on March 4. We could have shut the United States down then, and, if we had, we could be reopening now, like New Zealand is. But we didn’t. And instead of confirmed cases in the single digits, we are looking at deaths that will soon hit the hundred thousand mark.
Maybe we don’t have the “winning” strategy after all.
But what is Trump’s strategy? If Prime Minister Ardern is now an exemplar for how to live our best coronavirus-free lives, we should be doubling down on what New Zealand did right. They acted swiftly, imposing national restrictions, while Trump has largely thrown his hands up, leaving power in the hands of the states (and vacillating between how he feels about how they leverage it, as we saw last week with his back-and-forth with Governor Kemp’s newly eased restrictions in Georgia). Jacinda Ardern fostered trust by taking a 20 per cent pay cut, leading by example; Trump boasted about how he was rich and knew the economy well enough to get it back on its feet.
Since Trump has never seemed to take much issue with the slash-and-burn approach of using executive power, why did he reserve his mighty pen in this moment, when his country needed him most? He could have imposed a federal mandate, requiring all states to enter lockdown. He could have done it at the very beginning, when it was clear that a problem was swelling. Instead, he set up shop for two hours each afternoon on a lectern, pontificating about everything — but mostly nothing — while New Zealand chipped away at the problem that the United States largely ignored.
And now we soldier on, fighting a war that we will continue to lose, while governors in some states act against the interests of all of us, and our president flips allegiances like a weathervane. Are we winning yet? It sure doesn’t feel like it.