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World & Nation

Column: Google, drive-throughs, top retailers, the coronavirus and you: a very Trumpian national emergency

drive-thru
President Trump has announced that drive-through coronavirus testing will soon be available.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

After his Wednesday address from the Oval Office left many wondering what the Trump administration was doing to combat the spread of the coronavirus beyond blaming former President Obama and closing the borders to EU, but not U.K., citizens (take that, Angela Merkel!), Trump decided to hold a news conference Friday to explain.

He is declaring a national emergency, and he has a plan. Or rather he has assembled a team of CEOs from the largest “retailers and medical companies,” and they have a plan.

Which appears to boil down to Google creating a website, faster than “websites of the past,” that will direct people with symptoms to the nearest drive-through testing center.

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Except as reported first in Verge and then in Wired, Google isn’t sure what he is talking about. A division of Google’s parent company is working on a website for healthcare workers and limited to the Bay Area. Now that the president has made his “announcement,” the site, Verily, will be available to the public but is still in very early stages and restricted to the Bay Area.

Starbucks does not seem to be involved, which is a darn shame since they have not only the drive-throughs, but also an app.

OK, OK, Trump said more than that. Or rather, he read more than that. As he did Wednesday, Trump stuck very closely to a highly prepared speech, down to reading off the numbers of the talking points. His eyes glued to the paper on which the speech was written, his voice was an almost bored monotone even as he stumbled over what the national emergency declaration meant — “access to up to 50 billion of very importantly and important, a large amount” — except when he was describing how fabulous all the CEOs he had assembled were.

Throughout the news conference, the president reminded us time and again that he trusts people who make a lot of money more than he trusts, say, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Also, that he had once been the star of an unscripted reality show. Because he doesn’t do well with scripts.

He also doesn’t do well with serious topics, or at least serious topics that do not involve throwing vitriol at an opponent. He did manage to criticize Obama’s handling of the swine flu epidemic and throw some shade at the CDC for, apparently, yoking him with “a very obsolete, very old-fashioned system.”

As for any of the well-documented foot-dragging and evasiveness done by his own administration, well, when asked point blank about the firing of epidemic experts and dismissal of medical community recommendations, he said he doesn’t take “any responsibility at all.”

Nor does he apparently take any responsibility himself for preventing the spread of the disease. Although he came into recent contact with someone who tested positive for the virus — “there was a photograph,” he said when asked before offering the assurance that “I take lots of photographs, hundreds of photographs” — he has not been tested for the virus. Which is probably why he felt comfortable ignoring those pesky “old-fashioned” CDC guidelines and shaking everyone’s hands before touching the microphone as often as he could. Just in case any of those breath droplets had somehow missed being shared by the group.

Am I the only one who remembers Trump saying he was a germophobe? Or is that only in times of national nonemergency?

I also must have missed the part when Trump assured us that all these CEOs would not somehow be making a ton of money off this national emergency. Probably because he didn’t say that. Fast, he said, but never free, or even cheap.

Declaring a national emergency, probably with no prompting at all from former Vice President Joe Biden, whose own news conference Thursday many called “presidential,” Trump did take an important step forward. Though given the many, er, mistaken assertions during his Wednesday presser and now this Google mess, someone might want to make sure that the necessary “state of emergency” documentation has actually been signed.

Should we be concerned that Trump could not bring himself to utter the word “California” when discussing the states with which he was “working closely”? Maybe, but then he did point out that Gov. Gavin Newsom (state unmentioned) had “made very complimentary comments” about the administration’s response so far.

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Far more disconcerting was his general tenor and mien; Trump appeared to be reacting to this national emergency as an onlooker, becoming animated only when he mentioned that some people thought the virus would just “wash through” the country. Except when he was hyperbolizing the folks he had on stage as some of the most successful CEOs in the country, he offered much of the information as if he were a slightly disinterested onlooker, rather than, you know, the leader of the free world.

“We will get through this all together,” he said at one point, his tone flat and utterly unconvincing. “We will just … get through it.”

Um, OK, but will Google tell me if I can get a skinny vanilla latte with that nasal swab?


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