US President Donald Trump signs an executive order to reform the hiring process for federal jobs in a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board in the East†Room of the White House on June 26, 2020. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images / AFP

In April, the US Republican Party issued a playbook for the November election. Put simply: Blame the Covid-19 pandemic and everything else on China and do not bother to defend President Donald Trump. As matters have unraveled since then, it’s becoming obvious the strategy will not work.

Trump and his faithful henchman Mike Pompeo continue to hammer home the message that China did not tell the world about Covid-19 in a timely manner, did not share its knowledge about the virus, and may even have created it in one of its own labs. 

But the narrative lacks authenticity and rings more hollow with repetition. To bolster a tenuous accusation, Pompeo has to exaggerate when the virus first struck in China and the length of time the authorities kept silent. 

While the two sides will never agree between what Pompeo said and China said, it has become obvious that regardless of when the Trump administration knew about the virus, it let weeks if not months go by before taking action.

Trump is betting his re-election on a healthy economy. He is desperately wishing for a normal recovery without paying the price of a nationwide lockdown, testing, mandating wearing facial masks and maintaining social distance. 

Unemployment remains over 11% and nearly 50 million Americans have filed unemployment claims for their first time. To inject liquidity and keep businesses afloat and wage earners from drowning in debt, Congress authorized the sending of checks on a massive scale.

The federal budget deficit for June was well over $800 billion, more than a tenfold increase from the same month last year.

The June World Economic Outlook published by the International Monetary Fund projected that the US economy will shrink by roughly 8% for the year. Canada is slightly worse and Germany slightly better, while most European economies will experience the pain of negative 10% growth or more. 

Only China is expected to show a 1% gain in gross domestic product. The country bit the bullet, clamped down hard and brought the virus under control quickly, measures the Western countries were reluctant to take.

History may well credit Trump’s stupidity for facilitating China’s economic rise and surge past the US. His administration and some poorly informed Republican senators seem to think that the US is the fountainhead of all advanced technology and the Chinese only come to America to steal.

As The New York Times reported, the artificial-intelligence project contracted to Google by the Defense Department was powered by brilliant Chinese citizens on the staff. This was OK with the DoD because it wanted the most qualified minds on the job.

Eric Schmidt, former Google chief executive officer and current adviser to the DoD, said restricting entry of Chinese students is against America’s own self-interest. Some of the best minds are Chinese and they contribute to our national security, he said.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have launched a joint legal suit against the government to allow foreign students to enter the US even for online classes. More than 40% of their international students are from China.

But many students admitted from China are hesitating. They fear the whiplash of abrupt changes in the Trump policy and being caught by surprise in the blanket “whole of society” arrest for spying by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If some of these students decide to continue their work at home, they will further China’s advances in 5G, AI, wireless applications, quantum computing and advanced weapon development. By recently completing the Beidou satellite navigation system to compete with the US Global Positioning System, China has severed another dependence on American technology. So far 130 countries have adopted the Chinese system.

Trump’s aversion to reality

Trump did not want to face the reality of the virus and the need to confront the contagion. He thought the virus was a hoax. A 30-year-old man who believed Trump recently attended a “Covid party” in Texas and died from the disease. The chief medical officer at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio said his dying words were, “I thought it was a hoax.”

Trump sneered at those wearing a mask as unmanly and wearing a mask became not a matter of public health but was politicized and became a sign of disloyalty to Trump.

Trump does not understand science and does not care. On various occasions he suggested treatments for the disease without any basis in science. He also thought the virus would go away in the summer months. 

His scientific advisers such as Dr Anthony Fauci, whose advice could make a difference in guiding the American public to a healthier lifestyle, have been relegated to the back stage simply because what they have to say contradicts Trump’s public positions.

Trump is a president who does not care about the welfare of the American people. Regardless of the deadly consequences of the outbreak, he does not want social distancing, he does not want shelter-in-place and he wants businesses operating as usual.

Appallingly, he thinks too much testing is the reason for too many cases. Data from testing gives him the bad news that he doesn’t want to know, and facts merely confuse him.

He has managed the epidemic so badly already more than 135,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, nearly one-quarter of the world’s total, coming from just 5% of the world’s population. 

Virtually all developing countries with threadbare health-care systems have handled the pandemic better than the US. Yet Trump has shamelessly given himself credit for a superb job because actual death count “could have been higher.” 

Being a totally ignorant, incompetent, and irresponsible president fits Trump to a T. He cares only about himself and other than his core base he has no empathy for anyone else.

Having seen him in action for nearly four years, what does the rest of the world think of him? Apparently very little.

Trump’s top diplomat, the pompous Pompeo with a perpetual smirk, prances around the world urging and sometimes threatening countries to adopt the US anti-China line, or else. But action speaks louder than words. The world has come to understand that “America first” means everybody else last.

When he first heard a rumor that a German company was near a breakthrough in developing a vaccine for Covid-19, Pompeo’s instinct was to try to acquire the company and relocate it to the US. The German government objected, so his idea of monopolizing the vaccine fell through. 

Of course, typical of anyone ignorant of science, Pompeo did not understand that developing an effective and proven-safe vaccine takes time and is fraught with uncertainty. Buying the German company could have turned out to be a foolish bet.

Today, many vaccine candidates are in the running. Some of the leading potential vaccines in final stages of clinical testing are being developed in China, and China has announced its intention to share its research with the world. 

This is in contrast to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company whose mere announcement of a possible approach to a vaccine was good enough for Wall Street to get excited and the founders to cash out and take millions to the bank.

China has shown to the world that it took strict and draconian measures to bring the coronavirus under control and now is actively supplying personal protective equipment to other countries in need. China also continue to work within the World Health Organization to help quell the worldwide pandemic.

194 nations in WHO vs one US

The 194 nations that are members of the WHO have the common goal of collaboration to detect and contain outbreaks because contagious diseases know no national boundaries. They were aghast that Trump would withdraw the US membership because the WHO has made him look bad by contradicting some of his hyperbole and misstatements.

What to make of Trump’s pettiness? German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation any more than you fight it with hate or incitement to hatred.” So much for the Trump/Pompeo perception that the US continues to enjoy the world’s respect.

Domestically, the Trump administration has fared even worse. The brutal murder of George Floyd triggered nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. Instead of reaching out to the black communities with words of sympathy and support to cool things down, Trump used the pulpit to castigate the protesters and threaten to shoot them. 

His act that passes for empathy was to order the National Guard to clear away the protesters near the White House so that Trump could walk to St John’s Church for a souvenir photo of him holding a Bible. Since he’s not known to be a reader of the Bible or for that matter any book, it was a strikingly strange and awkward photo with not one scintilla of sincerity.

Black lives don’t matter to Trump

His distaste and racial bias for all people of color is palpable. He openly praised the glory of the Confederacy, condemned the destruction of statues of Confederate generals and accused the BLM protests as acts of terrorism.

He has not acknowledged the centuries of racial injustice and made no attempt to heal the wounds white supremacy has imposed on the black communities for centuries.

Naval showdown in South China Sea

Asia Times reported the simultaneous naval exercises in the South China Sea by two US aircraft-carrier strike groups and a comparable Chinese flotilla that took place around July 4. The article expressed concern over possible conflict at sea.

Another observer worried that the Trump administration could be orchestrating another Gulf of Tonkin incident. Readers may remember the alleged firefight that did not take place on Tonkin Gulf but which gave Washington the pretense to start the Vietnam War.

Observers from China noted that the American fleet was east of the Philippines while the People’s Liberation Army Navy was near the Paracel Islands, well inside the South China Sea and a safe social distance apart. The Chinese test-fired their full array of advanced weapons including missiles that they claim are carrier killers for the benefit of the American observers.

Letting the Americans see is consistent with China’s past practices. Acording to Physics Today, it once invited an American intelligence officer to visit and learn about China’s nuclear weapon test and development. They want to make sure the Pentagon is fully informed and does not miscalculate.

The author of the Physics Today article was Thomas Reed, former US secretary of the Air Force. His concluding statement was, “Over a period of 15 years, an intellectually talented China achieved parity with the West and preeminence over its Asian peers in the design of nuclear weapons and in understanding underground nuclear testing. China now stands in the first rank of nuclear powers.”

Whether members of the Trump administration are smart enough to get the message from the South China Sea remains to be seen.

Dissident movement against Trump

There is growing disenchantment with the Trump government within the ranks of the Republican Party and among the rank and file of the military. They see that Trump has no regard for the sanctity of the US constitution and his henchmen can break the law at will and count on the president to issue them “get out of jail free” cards. 

The dissidents see that under the Trump administration, the US has completely lost the respect and admiration of the international community of nations.

They see that Trump will only divide the American people according to black and colored vs the white supremacists, and between the states that want to contain the epidemic and the states that blindly follow him for the sake of economic activity.

They see no hope of stopping the pandemic and bringing about economic recovery under Trump’s management and they see that his re-election would only destroy the Republican Party, begin a death spiral for America and cause a disastrous ripple across the world.

George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform.