The spiteful petulance shown by President Trump this week in announcing the cutting off of U.S. funding to the World Health Organization casts a long shadow on his character and on bombastic claims of American leadership.
In the midst of a global pandemic, Trump has decided to pull the plug on U.S. financial support for the United Nations’ health body. At $400 million a year – 15 per cent of its total budget – the U.S. represents the biggest funder of the WHO. Kudos to the U.S. for its erstwhile support.
Of course, as is the often the predicament of international institutions, the Geneva-based WHO is a lumbering bureaucratic behemoth. Formed 72 years ago, in 1948, it is much like its bigger UN auspices and is badly in need of reform. Nevertheless, the WHO’s contribution to improving global health over the decades right up to the present is unparalleled and certainly worthy, indeed obligatory, of continued international support.
The latest row centers on claims made by the U.S. president and other Washington politicians that the WHO “failed to manage” the outbreak of the coronavirus in China back in December. Moreover, it is claimed, the organization colluded with China in a cover-up about the severity of human-to-human transmission. For this alleged failing, Trump has decided to punish the WHO which is the world’s premier multilateral institution for dealing with diseases and public health.
In doing so, the American leader finds himself isolated on the world stage. A wide range of foreign leaders and health officials deplored the move to cut off funds to WHO at this critical juncture in the battle against a global epidemic which has so far infected more than two million people worldwide and has taken over 160,000 lives.
Tellingly, at a G7 summit this week, held by teleconference, all members of the Washington-aligned bloc repudiated the U.S. funding cut, saying that now more than ever was the time to show collective response and solidarity in defeating the pandemic.
This is not the first time in recent weeks that Trump has brought presumed U.S. leadership into disrepute. His unrelenting sanctions policy (aggression) towards Iran and other countries has caused consternation among many nations, including U.S. allies. At a previous G7 summit last month, the other members also refused to back Trump’s demand that the coronavirus outbreak should be called the “Chinese” or “Wuhan” virus. That was seen as another tawdry attempt by the American administration to politicize a global disease.
Trump’s churlish character and tendency for tantrums predates the latest Covid-19 crisis. He’s always had a knack for lashing out at others, even supposed against allies, with accusations of their wrongdoing and malfeasance. In Trump’s view of the world, everybody is trying to “take advantage” of American “generosity” and “leadership”.
His boorish and bullying manner seems to be part and parcel of his so-called “art of deal-making” honed as a New York real estate magnate to extract more gains from others. We only have to recall how he has browbeaten European members of the NATO alliance to spend vast increases on military to match American profligacy. Ironically, such largesse in military expansion would have much better invested on improving healthcare infrastructure.
But there seems something altogether more unseemly when Trump wields spitefulness in the midst of a crisis as the world is currently in from the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s like watching a swaggering big-mouth scrabbling to push others from a lifeboat to save his own neck as danger approaches.
It’s all the more pathetic because Trump is desperately scapegoating the WHO (and China) for the monumental inherent failings of his presidency in dealing with the pandemic.
There are no doubt legitimate questions to be investigated about the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in China’s Wuhan city: how exactly did it come about; how well did the Chinese government respond and alert the rest of the world; and how efficacious was the response of the WHO to this outbreak?
In the scale of things, however, it seems incontestable that the Chinese authorities and WHO did give sufficient warning of a severe public health danger when such alerts were issued towards the end of January. During the next two months it was up to other nations to make the necessary defenses in their public health systems.
Donald Trump is on record for having dismissed Covid-19 suggesting it to be a “hoax” concocted by his political enemies and nothing for Americans to worry about. That was during February and March, the crucial period of combating disease dissemination. Today, the U.S. is struggling to cope with the pandemic with over 32,000 deaths so far, the world’s worst record. The American economy is in ruins; over 20 million have filed for unemployment payments. This disease is exposing the putridness of American corporate capitalism and the chronic exploitation of American workers.
It is in Trump’s egotistical style to never take responsibility for any failing. In an election year, it is imperative for the Narcissist-in-Chief to find some scapegoat to account for his criminally reckless mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis. Step forward the WHO and, interchangeably, China.
It’s in a dangerous crisis that one often finds the true mark of a person. Trump and purported American leadership are not up to the mark.