Most people here and the world over are hunkered down determined to physically survive the Wuhan pandemic knowing it could kill them. America’s liberal politicians and their media supporters want to survive it too, but seem just as interested in creating a narrative they can use against Donald Trump and his supporters. They want to make sure that when it’s all over the public will blame the president for bungling the whole thing from day one in the hope that if they can do so, they will deny him a second term.
The boys and girls at the time are no doubt familiar with Winston Churchill’s claim that he would be treated well in the histories of his time because as he put it “To secure your historical standing, be sure you are the first to write about it.”
Following Churchill’s advice, this week The New York Times published a major piece detailing how the president and his friends at Fox News belittled the threat posed by the virus, convincing Americans to dismiss the very real threat it posed and allowing the president to delay taking steps that might have saved thousands of American lives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gone further, actually accusing the president of responsibility for many deaths and comparing him to the Roman emperor Nero, who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned. She has promised a full congressional investigation to hold him responsible when things calm down.
There is no question that the Trump administration was slow in realizing the severity of the threat posed by the Wuhan virus, but so was everyone else … including The New York Times itself. The implication of the charges being made is that others knew better than he and would have taken action earlier.
Unfortunately for them, however, there is nothing in the public record to support this contention. In fact, The New York Times itself belittled the idea that the Wuhan virus might be as dangerous as or more dangerous than the seasonal flus that kill tens of thousands of Americans every year and spent far more ink attacking the president for over-reacting by banning air travel to China than criticizing him for not taking the threat seriously.
In fact, the liberal establishment fell into lockstep behind the World Health Organization’s line early on and saw the initial concern expressed by the White House as more evidence of the president’s “racism” and desire to demonize the Chinese. The establishment media spent as much time condemning the president for referring to the spreading virus as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese” virus as wondering what might be done to counteract it.
Mrs. Pelosi helped lead the attack against the president for his anti-Chinese rhetoric and urged San Franciscans to ignore those who had begun advising they stay away from large crowds and attend the city’s Chinese New Year celebration.
Mr. Trump’s critics began to claim that he had called the whole thing a “hoax,” which he had not, and attacked those who criticized either the Chinese failure to report accurate details of what was going on in that country. Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, was accused, for example, of spreading a “discredited hoax” when he asked if the virus might not have somehow escaped a research facility in Wuhan rather than having emerged from that city’s “wet market” as Beijing claims. Months later, evidence is emerging that Mr. Cotton may well have been right, but anyone who suggested that China was being less than honest was denounced.
When the Trump administration began to take matters more seriously, the first reaction of the liberal establishment was to warn of the dangers of over-reacting and using the threat of the spreading virus to curtail American liberties, and when it became obvious that tough quarantine measures might be needed, quickly shifted gears to blame the president for not having acted quickly enough.
This will continue. The fact is that no one got it right in the early days either because they misgauged the danger by relying on inaccurate information from the WHO and Beijing or because there wasn’t enough evidence at the time to suggest things were going to get as bad as they have in the months since. Dr. Anthony Fauci, our lead expert today, was one who suggested in January that we might be facing just another flu virus and at first dismissed the idea that we would impose mass quarantines like those being ordered in China.
He was wrong then and so was the president, but they were neither willfully wrong nor incompetent. They were acting on what everyone, including those now attacking the administration, took to be reality at the time. It’s too bad they weren’t right.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.