Unmasking President Trump’s fatal ignorance throughout the plague year

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 29, 2020

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

I don’t subscribe to The New Yorker so can’t help but be grateful for the Axios story on how the nearly 100-year-old magazine is looking back on the plague year in an eponymous issue, which is almost entirely about America’s unmoored response to the pandemic.

Axios says Lawrence Wright offers a 40-page account (paywall). I’ve written before about Mr Wright’s prescient, if godawful thriller ‘The End of October’. It seems eerily true – that a global pandemic was triggered by a virus that originated in Asia – but it’s not a particularly well-written novel. Perhaps that’s not surprising because Mr Wright is basically a non-fiction writer, something he does carefully and compellingly.

So I have no doubt his New Yorker account of America’s botched response to the coronavirus crisis must be excellent. According to Axios, Mr Wright tells the early story of the Trump White House’s reaction to the spreading disease from the perspective of deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger. That’s because Mr Pottinger, a former Marine and China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, must have agreed to offer a candid view of how things were, within the highest reaches of the Trump administration, a week before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic. It is revealing, dear reader. It is frightening.

Axios has the following extract from Mr Wright’s New Yorker story. Have a read:

“On March 4th, as Matt Pottinger was driving to the White House, he was on the phone with a doctor in China. Taking notes on the back of an envelope while navigating traffic, he was hearing valuable new information about how the virus was being contained in China. The doctor … emphasized that masks were extremely effective with COVID …

Still on the phone when he parked his stick-shift Audi, on West Executive Avenue, next to the West Wing, Pottinger forgot to put on the parking brake. As he rushed toward his office, the car rolled backward, narrowly missing the Vice-President’s limo, before coming to rest against a tree.

While the Secret Service examined the errant Audi, Pottinger kept thinking about masks. …

Nobody in the White House wore a mask until Pottinger donned one, in mid-March. Entering the West Wing, he felt as if he were wearing a clown nose. People gawked. Trump asked if he was ill. Pottinger replied, ‘I just don’t want to be a footnote in history — the guy who knocked off a President with COVID’.”

He isn’t.