The Department of Health and Human Services plans to spend more than $250 million on its latest pandemic-related effort — not to combat the coronavirus itself, but to "defeat despair and inspire hope" on the issue. The agency is seeking bids from communications firms for what amounts to a public-relations campaign aimed at coaxing people back out into the workplace and society.
This is classic Donald Trump: focusing on public perception rather than the actual problem. If the administration really wants to "defeat despair," how about finally providing some national leadership on testing and tracing, consistent messaging about masks and all the other things it has so far failed to do?
From the beginning of the pandemic, Trump has treated it less like a public health crisis than a political conundrum. He has sought to address it with wishful thinking instead of science. Early on, he repeatedly insisted the virus will disappear "like a miracle," while doing next to nothing to make that happen. He declined for months to wear a mask in public, saying it would make him look "ridiculous" (and contributing mightily to the bizarre politicization of mask-wearing). Even as experts say aggressive testing and tracing of the virus is the only way to address it until there's a vaccine, Trump has repeatedly suggested he wants less testing, so the U.S. won't "look bad."
The subsequent alteration by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of its testing stance, declaring late last month that testing was unnecessary for asymptomatic people who might have been exposed, has baffled doctors because it was so medically unsound. But it fits right into Trump's test-less narrative. There was also the recent admission by Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, that he oversold the benefits of convalescent plasma during a news conference with Trump. These were among many indications that America's health agencies have been co-opted by the president's showman instincts, at the expense of the science.
That dangerous trend is now confirmed again. Politico obtained an internal Health and Human Services document laying out how it is soliciting bids from several communications firms for the quarter-billion-dollar contract to "defeat despair and inspire hope, sharing best practices for businesses to operate in the new normal and instill confidence to return to work and restart the economy."
So the administration is hiring a PR firm to try to make it all look better after having disassembled the pandemic response apparatus it inherited and then tried to blame shortcomings on its predecessor, having failed to provide Americans with clear, coherent messaging on masks and other precautions, and having refused to launch a national testing campaign.
Americans should not despair. Who needs a $250 million contract when they can inspire their own hope with a simple vote on Nov. 3 — to oust this incompetent president?
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