By Tom Conway
USW International President
Jackie Anklam realized that Donald Trump was failing the American people when her father died of complications of COVID-19 in a Michigan hospital that ran short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers.
What outrages her more is that, several months later, Trump not only refuses to learn from his early blunders but blithely flouts the safety measures critical to slowing the virus.
Instead of leading the nation to safety, Trump downplays the pandemic for personal political gain and divides Americans when they most need to pull together.
“He doesn’t care about getting a grip on this. He doesn’t even care about giving it to someone,” said Anklam, noting Trump refused to wear a mask and defied social distancing requirements while health experts warned that such reckless behavior contributed to the rising death toll.
After seeking treatment for his own infection, Anklam observed, Trump took a joy ride on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents in his SUV to COVID-19 just so he could wave to supporters. And after cutting short his hospital stay and returning to the White House, Trump still refused to wear a mask even though he risked infecting everyone who came into contact with him, including the photographer forced to snap his picture while he posed on a balcony.
“The president is supposed to put the American people first. He has done everything except that. He has put every American at risk,” said Anklam, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9899, who believes her father contracted pneumonia and died because of PPE shortages and infection-control problems in the hospital treating him for COVID-19.
Nearly 10 months after the pandemic hit the U.S., hospitals and other health care facilities continue to struggle with chronic, drastic shortages of respirators, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.
Trump never worked to repair broken supply chains. He never used emergency powers that would have forced factories to retool and produce critical supplies.
And he failed to deliver a comprehensive plan for reinvigorating America’s manufacturing base and averting future shortages of essential goods.
Because Trump abandoned his duty, a coalition of organizations, including the USW, filed a federal lawsuit this week demanding the government immediately harness the nation’s manufacturing capacity for production of PPE. While the courts consider the case, more front-line workers will die needlessly.
Anklam represents hundreds of workers at Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw, Mich., two miles from the facility where her father died. After fighting to get more respirators and cleaning supplies earlier in the pandemic, her colleagues now need more gowns to care for growing numbers of COVID-19 patients.
While the Trump administration fails to implement scientifically sound plans for safely reopening schools, restaurants and other businesses, infection rates in 25 states, including Michigan, continue to soar.
“They’re stressed. They’re exhausted,” Anklam said of her co-workers. “They just pray every day that they don’t get it.”
But while health care workers put their lives on the line because of PPE shortages, the White House commandeers whatever equipment it needs. Staff members wear “full PPE” while interacting with Trump and also have access to COVID-19 testing unavailable to many Americans.
Health care facilities and laboratories face severe shortages of the chemicals essential for analyzing patient samples. That forces health care officials to limit the number of people who can be tested even as they desperately attempt to track and contain the virus.
And, as Anklam pointed out, the closing of community testing centers prompts some potentially contagious people to seek help in crowded emergency rooms.
Despite the urgent need, Trump refuses to use his influence with Senate Republicans to push through a stimulus bill that would deliver $75 billion for testing and contact tracing.
The bill, already approved by the Democratic-controlled House, also would extend federal unemployment benefits, health insurance and renters’ assistance to millions of workers thrown out of work because of the recession.
Among those needing help is Anklam’s brother, who lost his job at a bus company months ago. His health care vanished along with his income, and he’s used up his savings. He doesn’t know what to do next.
Although Trump’s own illness underscored the vulnerability of COVID-19 victims, including their need for affordable health care, he won’t lift a finger to help Americans less fortunate than himself.
He told Senate Republicans to delay work on a stimulus package because he wanted them to focus on ramming through Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court instead. Packing the court with corporate-friendly justices matters more to him than providing the assistance ordinary people need to survive.
Trump continues to trivialize the virus in a pathetic ploy to shore up his sagging image before the Nov. 3 election.
Just days before he revealed his own infection, Trump declared that the virus “affects virtually nobody” even though U.S. deaths already exceeded 200,000.
Because of Trump’s duplicity, some Americans also underestimate the threat the virus poses. Others emulate Trump’s cavalier refusal to wear masks or practice social distancing, putting their neighbors and communities at risk.
Despite the surging caseloads in Michigan, for example, Anklam frequently crosses paths with people ignoring safety measures. Although businesses post signs requiring face coverings, she said, the owners say nothing to scofflaws for fear of risking a confrontation.
If Trump were a real leader, Anklam said, he would demand strict compliance with safety guidelines while uniting Americans in a campaign to eradicate the virus and restore the economy.
“But he’s a con man,” Anklam said. “He’s been conning his whole life, and now, he’s conning the American people. He only cares about himself.”