Jeffery Goldberg has a story in The Atlantic this week that looks back a year tp remind us that we were warned. Sadly, in all the bluster and confusion, deliberate disinformation and misinformation that is the current administration most of America missed this early warning from Ron Klain. Klain had been Barack Obama’s point person on the Ebola virus and is now Biden’s Chief of staff.
Ron Klain authored a story for The Atlantic in late January last year predicting what was coming:
We all knew the moment would come. It could have been over Iran or North Korea, a hurricane or an earthquake. But it may be the new coronavirus out of China that tests whether President Donald Trump can govern in a crisis—and there is ample reason to be uneasily skeptical.
The U.S. government has the tools, talent, and team to help fight the coronavirus abroad and minimize its impact at home. But the combination of Trump’s paranoia toward experienced government officials (who lack “loyalty” to him), inattention to detail, opinionated rejection of science and evidence, and isolationist instincts may prove toxic when it comes to managing a global-health security challenge. To succeed, Trump will have to trust the kind of government experts he has disdained to date, set aside his own terrible instincts, lead from the White House, and work closely with foreign leaders and global institutions—all things he has failed to do in his first 1,200 days in office.
We do not know yet how grave a threat the new coronavirus will turn out to be. On the one hand, scientists have quickly sequenced the virus and are working on a vaccine. China has imposed draconian quarantines to slow the virus’s spread, and is rapidly building massive new hospitals to treat its victims. To date, the U.S. has seen only a handful of cases, all of them the product of travel to China, not transmission here. These are causes for concern, but not overwrought fear.
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Five presidents—liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans—have looked to Tony Fauci for advice; it is not impossible to imagine Trump being the first to angrily dismiss the counsel he offers if it does not fit with his own poor instincts. A president who calls generals “babies and cowards” will have to sit face to face with experienced global-health-security professionals, and listen. He will have to put his isolationist biases and anti-science mind-set aside, and let expertise—not his personal inclinations or the political whims of his base—guide U.S. policy. He will have to trust bureaucrats, diplomats, career staff, and agency appointees who are not on Team MAGA.
Almost exactly one year later it is good to know that President Biden will have Ron Klain as his Chief of Staff. Unfortunately, this comes after millions upon millions of Americans have been infected and hundreds of thousands have already died with many more to come.
I called Klain the other day to ask him how he knew, to such a granular degree, that the Trump-Fauci relationship would go sideways. “We knew already that Trump has a style of governing that rejects facts and that demands that people see the world his way, that they live in his counterfactual reality,” he said. “He also has a tendency to downplay threats, whatever kind of threats they are. I knew Dr. Fauci well enough to know that he was going to tell the truth and speak out and that sooner or later that would run afoul of the Trump approach to governance.”
What did Klain learn by watching Trump? Overpromising solutions in a pandemic is dangerous, but so is under-promising: “One of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in is that President Trump believed, or simply said, that this virus would be gone like a miracle. It would be gone by Easter; it will be gone by Memorial Day.”
Biden, Klain said, will take a more nuanced approach. “President-elect Biden is very clear in saying that COVID is not going to go away in 100 days, that life will not go back to normal in 100 days. But it’s important for a leader in this situation to offer a mix of realism and hope. I don’t think you’re going to get people to participate in a response if you tell them that the slog goes on forever, that there are no midpoints, no progress. But you just can’t overpromise.”
Trump will leave the country in a huge hole but with folks like Klain that President Biden has been hiring, we will have good reason to be hopeful. But it will take:
- Cooperation from American citizens
- Cooperation with our traditional allies
- Continued research and development of further vaccines and treatments for covid
- Congress to stand up and commit the money and people needed to shore up the economy while the fight goes on. This includes money for small businesses that will need to be shut and for employees who are out of work.
- Congress to fully fund the war on the corona virus itself.
- Some relief for the medical community
There is probably much more that will be needed to be done. This is a very short list. However after the longest year ever we know help is on the way.