As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, President Donald Trump is exploiting the crisis to pursue his own dangerous agenda. His recent actions on pandemic response, the environment, foreign policy, immigration and education all seem likely to benefit himself and make the crisis worse.
The coronavirus has rightfully taken our attention, but we need to stay engaged to prevent the myriad ways Trump could opportunistically exploit the pandemic.
The administration’s coronavirus response seems designed to help the president. Trump on Tuesday removed the inspector general for the Pentagon, which provided oversight on federal coronavirus spending. The president has also spread misinformation claiming that antimalarial drugs could be used to treat the coronavirus while owning stock in companies that produce them.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would no longer enforce many pollution regulations in March, citing the coronavirus. Rolling back federal regulation is a long-standing administration priority, and the crisis has allowed it a chaotic enough news cycle to do so without much notice.
Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the likelihood of death to COVID-19, according to a Harvard University study published this month. The Trump administration is making the coronavirus deadlier, not only due to a botched response but also because of its political agenda.
The Trump administration is also continuing its aggressive strategy against Iran, intent on reminding us of the other time the world almost ended this year. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated in recent weeks with new trade airstrikes and rocket attacks in Iraq.
Economic sanctions imposed in 2018 have hindered the Iranian regime’s ability to contain COVID-19. Just under 4,000 Iranians have died from the coronavirus, while U.S. sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for the country to obtain essential medical supplies. The European Union and the United Nations have both called for the U.S. to relieve sanctions on Iran on humanitarian grounds.
On America’s southern border, Trump is continuing to build his wall. Apart from wasting urgently needed resources, communities along the southern border have expressed anxiety that the influx of construction workers could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. Once again, the Trump administration is endangering public health by pursuing its own priorities during a pandemic.
Trump’s Department of Education is attempting to push controversial Title IX rule changes amid the crisis. Deeply unpopular among advocates of sexual assault survivors, the changes would require cross-examination and an in-person hearing. The timing of the move is drawing criticism from colleges and 18 attorneys general who say that administrators are already overburdened and that live hearings are impossible during a pandemic. IU criticized the proposed policy change last year.
Exploiting a pandemic for political gain is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. Trump already demonstrated his callousness toward ordinary Americans during a crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. His COVID-19 response proves to be no different in how he leans into opportunistic actions at Americans’ expense.
As many of us lose paychecks, free movement and loved ones, it is important to remind ourselves of our own power. Take 15 minutes during quarantine to call or write your representatives in Congress. Remind them who they serve, and urge them to prioritize human lives, not Trump’s wishes.
The crisis may continue for months, but we do have power to influence our government’s response. Whether or not Trump is successful in exploiting the crisis depends, in part, on us.
Kyle Linder (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and international relations. He plans to pursue a career in media.