America's capacity to deal with the coronavirus hinges on Trump's inability to listen to experts -- and his own phobias: columnist
President Donald Trump during “chopper talk” on the South Lawn of the White House as he departed for Florida (screengrab)

As the coronavirus that originated in China continues to threaten the world as a potential pandemic, the question of President Trump's preparedness still goes unanswered. Writing for The Atlantic, Peter Nicholas fears that it's a crisis that could "draw out every personal and managerial failing that the president has shown to this point."

"Much of what he’s said publicly about the virus has been wrong, a consequence of downplaying any troubles on his watch," Nicholas writes. "He has long stoked fears that foreigners entering the United States bring disease. Now he may double down on xenophobic suspicions. He has hollowed out federal agencies and belittled expertise, prioritizing instead his own intuition and the demands of his political base. But he’ll need to rely on a bureaucracy he’s maligned to stop the virus’s spread."

Despite Trump's claims that the outbreak is "totally under control," no one knows what the scope of it will be. Speaking to Nicholas, Michael Mina, an epidemiology professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, said even a "middle schooler wouldn’t have said that." Sure enough, just after Trump's assurances that things were controlled, the virus spiraled.

"Guiding Trump’s response is a hardheaded nationalism," writes Nicholas. "On January 31, the administration announced strict travel bans: Most foreign nationals who’d recently been to China were barred from entering the U.S., and Americans were warned to stay clear of the country. These measures—which career public-health officials argued were needed to delay the virus’s spread—broke with guidance from the World Health Organization, which did not recommend curbs on travel or trade. The restrictions did, however, reflect the alarm coming from Trump’s base."

Another potential hindrance of Trump effectiveness in dealing with the emerging coronavirus are his own phobias. But ultimately, the real danger lies in the fact that Trump prefers to listen to his own instincts over expert opinion.

"Trump insists on being the protagonist in every drama,"Nicholas concludes. "He wants to promote the idea that everything on his watch is improving. Virology isn’t politics, though. Tweets don’t beget vaccines. Following his instincts in the face of an outbreak that has left the world on edge risks making things worse."

Read the full piece over at The Atlantic.