The coronavirus pandemic is precisely the sort of crisis that America has long feared would occur on the watch of Donald Trump, a man uniquely unqualified to be placed in charge of anything, let alone a nation of 300 million people.
Ever since taking office, reports about his steadfast refusal to pay attention in briefings or engage with any information that conflicts with the twisted delusions which make up his worldview have steadily trickled out from frustrated and alarmed White House officials — and unfortunately, it appears that not even an unprecedented national crisis has sparked any kind of change in the President.
Ten former and current intelligence officials reached out to The New York Times and shared their disgust with the president’s behavior during his intelligence briefings and remind the nation of just how much warning he was given of the coronavirus crisis — and how he not only ignored all of it but also had the nerve to blame one of his analysts, a woman (of course) named Beth Spanner, for telling him the virus wasn’t a “big deal.”
But in blaming Ms. Sanner, a C.I.A. analyst with three decades of experience, Mr. Trump ignored a host of warnings he received around that time from higher-ranking officials, epidemiologists, scientists, biodefense officials, other national security aides and the news media about the virus’s growing threat. Mr. Trump’s own health secretary had alerted him five days earlier to the potential seriousness of the virus.
Harder still is the terrifying task of getting the president to accept the facts being presented to him as real:
The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult, they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and his friends for information. He is unashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and riff based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn, the retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.
Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with or that runs counter to his worldview, the officials said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.
Not only does he refuse to listen to his briefings, he also makes up his own statistics and figures and then gets mad and will refuse to listen further when he is inevitably told they are wrong.
“How do you know?” is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.
This kind of behavior is beyond unacceptable from the President of the United States, and it’s high time that everyone in American society — from the Democrats, the journalists in the White House press briefings, to the officials working in the government — stopped treating him with the respect the presidency deserves, since he shows none for the office he holds. We need to publicly accept that he is an illiterate buffoon with no interest in governance whatsoever, whose own staff are forced to treat him like a spoiled toddler and whose appalling mismanagement has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of his own people.
Original reporting by Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman at the New York Times.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.