All of this could have been kick-started in January, once the possibility the virus might come here first announced itself, and there has been plenty of justified outrage that none of it was. But it also could’ve been kick-started in February, or March, or April. Practically speaking, none of it was, though our politics and news cycles had been entirely eaten up by the pandemic at that point. It is unfortunate but unexceptional that the White House did nothing in January — in this, it was quite like most of its peer countries. What is remarkable and unforgivable is that it did almost nothing to make up for it in the months that followed, doubling down on a policy of indifference whose most aggressive feature was the president’s son-in-law commanding FEMA to seize shipments of critical medical supplies on the way to states and hospitals to redistribute according to unclear criteria. Finally, in the last stimulus bill, some money was allotted for this capacity, but the initiative didn’t come from the executive branch, which spent the time urging states to reopen. The testing will only come slowly, and, in the meantime, as MTA conductor Sujatha Gidla wrote in the Times this week, “essential” workers are being treated as “sacrificial.” On Twitter, Jeet Heer went even further: “I cannot underscore enough that the plan is to make the working class into human sacrifices on the altar of capitalism,” he wrote.
On his blog, press critic Jay Rosen was perhaps even more excoriating. “The plan is to have no plan,” he wrote, “to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by ‘flooding the zone with shit,’ Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call ‘search costs’ for reliable intelligence.”