What isn't Trump's fault

Some anti-Trump liberals might nod along to this point. But then the second thing you see when you look beyond Trump is more congenial to conservatives — the reality that our public-health bureaucracy, full of liberal technocrats rather than Trumpistas, has also been a locus of pandemic failure.

Some of these failures have (like Trump’s) been failures of messaging: the early attempts to discourage mask stockpiling, the public-health hypocrisy surrounding the George Floyd protests. Others have been failures of will and imagination: the absence of challenge trials for vaccines (in which young, healthy participants agree to be vaccinated and then infected with the virus), the predictable expert resistance to at-home testing. But the most important one was the straightforward bureaucratic calamity at the C.D.C. that delayed effective testing for a fateful month.

An effective president might have addressed some of these problems. (Although Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s vaccine initiative, is more imaginative than the bureaucratic norm.) But overall they are problems with structures and habits rather than personalities — an institutional decadence that predated Trump and will persist when he is gone.