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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Opinion | Can We Call Trump a Killer?

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The coronavirus pandemic is still raging in this country. In fact, in more than 20 states, the number of cases is rising. More than 120,000 Americans have died from the virus. This country has a quarter of all the cases in the world even though it makes up only 4 percent of the world population.

Things are so bad here that the European Union, which has lowered its rates, is considering banning U.S. citizens when it reopens its borders.

This situation is abysmal, and it would not have been so bad if President Trump had not intentionally neglected his duty to protect American citizens.

From the beginning, Trump has used every opportunity to downplay the virus, claiming in February, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Well, we’re now in June, summer. It’s not just warm, it’s hot. And the cases in the hottest states — those in the South and Southwest — are surging.

Trump has consistently been resistant to testing, falsely claiming that an increase in testing is somehow linked to an increase in cases. But in fact, the more you test, the more you are able to control the virus by identifying, isolating and treating the infected, thereby reducing the spread of the virus. Testing is how you reduce your cases. It is also how you save lives.

But Trump believes that to reveal the true extent of the virus’s presence in this country would make him look bad. So more people get sick and more people die.

He said in May: “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They don’t want to write that. It’s common sense. We test much more.”

What Trump is truly saying here is, let people get sick without proper surveillance. He is saying, let them suffer out of sight. He is saying, some will die, but so what. He is saying vulnerable Americans are collateral damage in his image-making and re-election bid.

At his rally in Tulsa, Trump took a step deeper into the darkness, saying: “When you do testing to that extent you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ They test and they test. We got tests for people who don’t know what’s going on.”

If there actually was a slowdown, it allowed the virus to spread and more people to get sick and die.

Trump stood in the White House briefing room and suggested that injecting disinfectant into the body could possibly cure the virus, known officially as SARS-CoV-2. After this insane and dangerous remark, states saw a spike in poison control calls. A survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a third of Americans were “engaged in non-recommended high-risk practices with the intent of preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, including using bleach on food products, applying household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin and inhaling or ingesting cleaners and disinfectants.”

Trump pushed the use of hydroxychloroquine, without sufficient scientific backing, to prevent transmission of the virus or to treat infection, even saying that he took a course of it himself. The Food and Drug Administration approved an emergency use of the drug for Covid-19. The federal government began to stockpile it. States requested doses from the federal stockpile. Then, researchers found that Covid-19 patients were more likely to die if they took the drug, not less likely.

During the height of the crisis, some states experienced a shortage of ventilators to treat gravely ill patients. Trump claimed that the Obama administration had left no ventilators in the national stockpile, that there were “empty cupboards.” In truth, his own administration confirmed a few days ago that 16,660 ventilators were available for use when Trump took office and in March, and outrageously the Trump administration had distributed only 10,760 of them as of Tuesday. States were scrambling for ventilators to keep people alive, and the Trump administration held some back.

This all says nothing of Trump’s lag in using the Defense Production Act to more quickly get supplies to cities and states.

Trump then pressured states to reopen economically even before those states met the administration’s own guidelines for reopening. Now, many of the states that quickly reopened, no doubt in part to please the president, are the same ones in which cases are rising and more people than necessary are dying.

Trump has even mocked the wearing of masks, which experts say is a proven way to reduce virus transmission.

Now Trump is having another mask-optional rally with yelling people sitting and standing close together, a blatant violation of social distancing rules.

It seems that in every possible way, Trump has willfully and arrogantly put more Americans at risk of getting sick and dying, and the results have been inevitable: More Americans got sick and died.

There is no way to remove Trump’s culpability in this. If your feeble effort saves two lives when an earnest, robust, science-driven effort would have saved four, are you not responsible for the two deaths?

At this point, how do we not label Trump a killer of American citizens by negligence, ignorance and incompetence?

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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