Timothy Egan: Trump should just stop talking about coronavirus

President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus Wednesday, March, 11, 2020, in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

For the good of the nation, for the health of the country, in the interest of doing something drastic to mitigate a national disgrace, President Donald Trump should self-quarantine.

I’m serious. Every time he opens his mouth or makes an appearance, he puts the American people more at risk. His three years of flagrant and unremitting lying have made him the last person who should be the source of life and death information for 330 million Americans.

Trump should be isolated for his own health as well. He may have been exposed to a Brazilian official who tested positive for the coronavirus and was at Mar-a-Lago with the president just a few days ago.

Nothing reveals character like a crisis. Trump’s prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday was a full-blown disaster, blaming Europe, congratulating himself, fanning confusion and panic. Even reading a script from a teleprompter, this executive could not deliver a truthful, coherent message to a jittery nation.

Wall Street panicked. White House aides were quick to issue clarifications and corrections. No, the president did not intend to declare economic war on the world’s largest trading bloc, in Europe. No, insurance companies would not suspend co-pays for coronavirus “treatment” — only testing.

Another thing about a crisis: The only asset you have is your credibility, as the late Paul Volcker liked to say. Trump has zero.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Trump and his senior aides have been deliberately misinforming the public — 28 falsehoods or dubious claims, by CNN’s count. The president said cases were “going very substantially down,” when they were growing exponentially. He said anyone who wanted a virus test could get one, when there were massive shortages. He said, “This is a flu,” though COVID-19 has a fatality rate 10 times greater than the flu.

Trump disbanded the pandemic response unit — Shout it out, folks — and he previously slashed funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He reportedly overruled his own health officials who wanted to warn the vulnerable about flying. In the early days of the outbreak, his administration missed a chance to ensure more widespread testing. Many lives could have been saved.

On Monday, he said: “Nothing is shut down. Life and the economy go on.” Those are the words of a b.s. artist trying to gaslight his way through a pandemic.

No one close to Trump has the guts to say what needs to be said: Stop talking! Now. Don’t utter another word. Put your phone away. Go to Mar-a-Lago and play golf, which is to say, resume your normal schedule. He can have his Big Macs brought to him, as always. He just has to go dark.

Let Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who has just the right mix of bedside manner reassurance and give-it-to-me-straight gravitas, do the daily briefings. Let Vice President Mike Pence handle the logistics. Let Congress finish up with a package that will offer free testing and give financial relief to the most vulnerable. And allow career government servants — the deep state pros who will keep this listing ship of state from sinking over the next months — to do their jobs.

Trump looked at the sun during an eclipse and nothing happened to him, so maybe he feels invulnerable. But he also will never accept any responsibility for months of government inaction. As the writer David Frum said, “The rooster who took credit for the sunrise is outraged to be blamed for the sunset.”

In addition to credibility, a leader needs to express empathy. Trump is sociopathic on this front. In a visit to the hospital after the mass shooting in El Paso last year, he was incapable of showing simple human compassion to family members of victims; instead, he bragged about his crowd size from a previous rally.

He told the grieving widow of a slain American soldier that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, the state hardest hit, “is a snake,” said the president.

In that bizarre appearance at the CDC a week ago, Trump wore a silly campaign hat, patted himself on the back, and spoke nonsense about his medical expertise. It was like showing up at a funeral in beach clothes and asking what time is happy hour.

And what to make of that picture your president retweeted of him fiddling, presumably while Rome burns, with a tag line: “My next piece is called … Nothing can stop what’s coming?” The man is sick in the head.

Given a chance to reach across the pond and offer condolences to longtime European allies in Wednesday’s Oval Office address, Trump said nothing positive and put up a travel wall. With one exception: He exempted the countries where three Trump-owned golf courses are located.

Tom Hanks, in just a few words revealing that he and his wife had tested positive for coronavirus, was the best American voice of the week.

Trump thinks he’s Churchill, the man of the hour. He’s Neville Chamberlain, the man who couldn’t see the world threat at this doorstep.

Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan (@nytegan) is a contributing opinion writer who covers the environment, the American West and politics. He is a winner of the National Book Award and author, most recently, of “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.”