What’s Next: Responses to crises

Full disclosure: The connection between this week’s news event and episode of “The West Wing” (1999–2006) is rather tenuous. It is less an episode or plot point of the show and more just a quote that reminded me of something Donald Trump said a few weeks ago. I also just wanted a reason to talk about the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

At a rally in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 10, President Trump claimed that the coronavirus would “miraculously” disappear as soon as the weather began to warm up. He also said, “I think it’s going to all work out fine. Rough stuff, I tell you, rough, rough stuff.” 

In the season 3 finale of “The West Wing,” a Secret Service agent is shot and killed in a convenience store robbery. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) tells his Republican opponent, Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin) of Florida, about this, and Ritchie’s response is, “Oh. Crime. Boy, I don’t know.” 

Over the past few years, many people have drawn parallels between Ritchie and Trump: The faux folksiness and ineloquence are just two points of comparison. Ritchie’s inadequate response to the news that a Secret Service agent has died seems very similar to Trump’s unsatisfactory take on coronavirus. He has undermined and contradicted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials who have been trying to warn the public about the spread of the coronavirus. He has dismissed the World Health Organization’s reported global fatality rate of COVID-19 as false. He has compared the virus to the flu, something experts say is wrong. 

Even though you are more likely to contract the flu than COVID-19 right now, the fact is that this is a global pandemic, and the coronavirus currently has no vaccine. This is not reason to panic, but it is reason to be cautious. Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 health crisis is telling. It reveals him as a president who does not support citizens with paid sick leave laws so people with coronavirus don’t have to worry about their next paycheck and who refuses to provide citizens with accurate information about a pandemic.

The way this administration is dealing with COVID-19 is terrible for public health. It also emphasizes the need for a new administration that doesn’t treat medical experts’ warnings like suggestions and isn’t so cavalier with the truth. Bartlet ends his conversation with Ritchie with, “In the future, if you’re wondering: ‘Crime. Boy, I don’t know,’ is when I decided to kick your ass,” and ultimately beats Ritchie in a landslide. I’m hoping that “rough stuff, I tell you, rough, rough, stuff” will lead to Trump losing the White House in November.