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Editorial: Trump doesn't know what he doesn't know. In a pandemic, that's deadly.

Editorial: Trump doesn't know what he doesn't know. In a pandemic, that's deadly.

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President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that he doesn’t believe states need as many ventilators as they claim is, like so much of his response to this pandemic, based not on science or facts on the ground or really anything else beyond his own ego-driven instincts and hunches — which have proven wrong again and again. Relying on the guesses of an elected official who possesses a bottomless belief in his own brilliance but no medical expertise is no way to lead in a health crisis.

The illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, attacks the body’s respiratory system, cutting off the oxygen supply. Among the treatments is to put the patient on a mechanical ventilator, forcing oxygen-infused air into the lungs.

Doctors fear that as the peak of cases arrives in the coming weeks, hospitals in conoravirus hot spots — potentially soon to include the St. Louis area — won’t have enough ventilators. The nightmare scenario could be similar to what doctors in Italy faced, being forced to stand by helplessly and watch savable patients die. The fear of this is great enough that New York is already planning for the difficult and dangerous last resort of doubling up patients on single ventilators.

Given all that, it makes perfect sense that governors, on the advice of medical experts, are preparing for worst-case scenarios. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his besieged state needs 30,000 ventilators in place to ensure doctors aren’t scrambling for machines as patients gasp for breath. Trump said Monday the federal government has stockpiled 10,000 ventilators. “We have them,” he said, yet they apparently remain warehoused.

The lack of presidential leadership has complicated things from the start. Early on, Trump could have launched a national effort to beef up ventilator production, but instead he squandered valuable weeks in wishful-thinking predictions that the pandemic wouldn’t grow here. Then he suggested that governors scrounge up their own ventilators and other equipment, sparking counterproductive interstate competition and driving up prices.

On Thursday, in response to Cuomo’s comments, Trump told Fox News: “I don’t believe [New York needs] 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” He noted that major hospitals sometimes will “have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, can we order 30,000 ventilators?”

All of a sudden? Perhaps he missed this important news: There’s a pandemic.

This is another symptom of the destructive narcissism Trump has displayed throughout his presidency. Waving off the experts, he launched a trade war that required a multibillion-dollar farm bailout. His massive tax cut for the rich added $1 trillion to the deficit for no good reason. He infamously declared himself better at military strategy than the generals, then bungled multiple overseas military operations.

Trump is that most dangerous of leaders in a crisis: one who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. If that doesn’t change soon, it’s going to cost lives.

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