White House

President Trump’s Coronavirus Response, in Context

President Donald Trump speaks during a news briefing on the administration’s response to the coronavirus at the White House, March 15, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
President Trump’s response, to date, resembles neither Dr. Jonas Salk nor the Grim Reaper.

The most incompetent and uninformed president in history has led the federal government into the worst emergency response to a pandemic that we have ever seen in this country,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell ranted on March 12. “More people are sick in America tonight, because Donald Trump is president. More people are dead and dying in America tonight because Donald Trump is president.”

According to Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist, Vt.), “the current administration is largely incompetent, and its incompetence and recklessness has [sic] threatened the lives of many people.”

Time magazine snarled: “Faced with the most dangerous threat to American life since at least the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 45th President made matters worse.”

Not to be outdone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) sank to new depths on CNN last Sunday, when she basically accused President Trump of negligent homicide: “As the president fiddles, people are dying.”

As of Wednesday, April 1 at 11:53 p.m., Johns Hopkins University reported 216,515 COVID-19 cases in America, with 5,119 deaths and 8,593 recoveries. These rapidly changing figures are grim, especially with the U.S. now suffering the world’s highest coronavirus caseload. But how do these data compare with those overseas? How is a nation with 332 million people managing against, say, China, from where COVID-19 crawled, population 1.4 billion?

Social scientists would gauge these disparate figures as they would evaluate nations along other key metrics, such as GDP: on a per capita basis. Using Johns Hopkins’ priceless and highly televised COVID-19 website and the CIA World Factbook’s population forecasts for July 2020, one easily can judge America’s relative international performance against this invisible enemy.

Among the top-20 nations in the Johns Hopkins’ ranking by total cases, America is No. 12, with 651 cases per million inhabitants. The top three countries, by this criterion, are Switzerland, with 2,114 per million, Spain (2,082), and Italy (1,772).

Concerning fatalities, among these top 20, America is also No. 12, with 15.3 deaths per million. The three leading countries by this grim yardstick: Italy, with 211 per million, Spain (188), and Belgium (71). COVID-19 deaths skew older and male. These data, alas, do not address these variables.

On a cheerier note, what about those who regained their health? America is now No. 13, with 26 recoveries per million. The top three such countries are Spain, with 453 per million, Switzerland (353), and Italy (270).

How has the United States fared among the G7 industrialized nations? Placed beside Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, America ranks fourth for cases per million (651), fourth for deaths (15), and fifth for recoveries (26). The category leaders are Italy with 1,772 cases per million, Germany (973), and France (920). Deaths: Italy with 211 per million, France (64), and the UK (36). Recoveries: Italy with 270 per million, Germany (233), and France (176).

(For further details, please consult the interactive spreadsheet linked here.)

These numbers come with several significant caveats.

First, this is just a snapshot. Unlike a staged family portrait, this picture was taken at one moment during an unprecedented, swiftly changing, and incredibly complex global catastrophe. Another snapshot taken in three days, a fortnight, or on July 4 could look completely different.

Second, some of these data may be totally false or merely unreliable. To be charitable, China’s and Iran’s statistics may be the work of censors rather than scientists. Elsewhere, honest countries are cautious and meticulous. Others are equally genuine, but casually phone in figures that are good enough for government work.

Third, these nations were not all afflicted at once. Instead, this rolling plague has battered different countries at various times, like a bizarre, macabre track race in which various runners react to staggered starter pistols. This highly dynamic plague frustrates comparisons across countries.

Fourth, until Pfizer invents the omniscience pill, mankind operates in a world of incomplete information of mixed quality. Some conclusions are clearer than others (e.g. “I count precisely four oranges on the kitchen table, and they look like about six ounces each”). And inferences are exactly that: inferences.

With these data subject to those words of caution, it’s fair to say that at this moment, they suggest that President Trump’s leadership of America’s COVID-19 response is not the immaculate CDC clean room that his fans envision. But it’s also neither the festering Petri dish nor the death row of which Trump’s foes scream.

Weighing COVID-19 cases, these data identify modern, prosperous, non-MAGA Switzerland, Spain, and Italy, and liberal favorites Belgium (No. 5), France (7), and the Netherlands (10) as nations with less attractive results than America’s (12). Conversely, Sweden (No. 14), Canada (16), and Turkey (18) enjoy better scores than America’s.

Among fatalities, the U.K. — home of the National Health Service — (No. 7), Sweden (9), and Portugal (10) have endured more deaths/million than America has (12). But Norway (No. 14), South Korea (16), and Israel (17) are less toxic.

Regarding recoveries, America’s spot (No. 13) is unenviable, although Sweden (15), Norway (19), and Brazil (20) have done worse. That said, some better performers were hit early, including South Korea (No. 9) and China (10), or hard, such as Spain (1) and Italy (3).

President Trump’s response, to date, resembles neither Dr. Jonas Salk nor the Grim Reaper. America has steered clear of the top 10 in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths, although its recovery numbers could be higher. Among the G7, the US is right in the middle of the pact for cases and deaths, and just behind that center spot for recoveries.

President Trump has worked tirelessly and creatively with a diligent team, all confronting an unseen and unexpected enemy. So far, one can infer from these data that their results have left Americans healthier than the citizens of numerous major nations.

While Democrats conducted Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, he chaired a White House meeting of his Coronavirus Task Force and made his most important decision in this crisis: He barred aliens who had been in China within 14 days of attempted arrival. Trump did this on January 31, one day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. President Trump frequently cites this courageous action as the likeliest reason that, to date, America does not resemble Italy with four time zones.

Furthermore, the Left’s “Trump blew it” narrative would ring true if the rest of the planet were healthy, open for business, and shocked at how badly the ailing, dying Yanks botched it, while everybody else aced it.

Instead, country after country has called in sick, closed its doors, and commenced prayer. If Trump got anything wrong, so did most nations and leaders, including some whom the Left adores.

COVID-19 struck Earth like an invisible asteroid. Nearly everyone has scrambled to defeat something absent since 1918’s Spanish Flu pandemic — 102 years ago. Acting legend Kirk Douglas survived that tragedy. Alas, he died on February 5, at age 103, and no longer offer his insights.

Has President Trump’s response been perfect? Has anyone’s?

Bucknell University’s Michael Malarkey contributed research to this opinion piece.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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