Stealing masks and stockpiling hydroxychloroquine — what America has become during this epidemic is deeply worrying

Hannah Selinger
President Trump has told Americans to use a drug against his own medical expert's advice: EPA

Last night, in the most recent of several long and strange press conferences, President Trump announced that the United States had amassed 29 million pills of hydroxychloroquine, a yet-unproven treatment that may assist in improving outcomes with Covid-19. Shortly after Trump spoke, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was prevented from answering any questions pursuant to the drug and its uses.

The reason that Fauci was not permitted to speak at that presser was because there is still much debate about whether or not this drug can even be used to treat Covid-19 — and a whole other host of ethical considerations about removing from circulation a drug that is already useful in treating lupus, since now those patients will no longer have access to it. Unlike what Trump claimed, the FDA has not actually approved hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment. Fauci has already made clear his reluctance to kowtow to the president, as many other administration sycophants have done in the past, and was likely to have mentioned that if he’d been allowed to speak. But Trump hates a dissident, so Fauci was forced into silence.

The stockpiling of hydroxychloroquine presents a darker truth about the American methodology in the era of Covid-19, however. We shouldn’t just be concerned about the way President Trump is personally conducting himself. Seen as part of a whole, what Americans have committed — and are continuing to commit — is, essentially, modern piracy.

On April 2, it was reported that “US buyers waving wads of cash managed to wrest control of a consignment of masks as it was about to be dispatched from China to one of the worst-hit coronavirus areas of France”. On April 3, a second story hit the press, claiming that 200,000 N95 masks, destined for Germany from China, were diverted to the United States during a plane transfer in Thailand. The masks had been ordered for the Berlin police force. As of today, Germany has over 100,000 coronavirus cases, the fourth most in the world, behind Italy, Spain, and the United States.

The hydroxychloroquine stockpiling, then, is not an act in a vacuum. Instead, it’s an example of ongoing behavior that’s wholly indicative of what the United States has become under the ethically vacuous leadership of President Trump. It seems that Americans don’t care if others suffer while they engage in piracy to the express benefit of their people (so long as they don’t have lupus, in which case they’ll be denied medication and thanked for their sacrifice) — and the detriment of the rest of the world. Indeed, at some points it even seems to have descended into a state vs. state brawl, with Trump accused of pandering to red states and refusing ventilators to New York, which is in desperate need (over the weekend, China donated 1,000 ventilators to the state when the federal government couldn’t assure governors they would be able to deliver enough medical supplies.)

But if coronavirus presents any lesson inherent, it’s that borders and boundaries are useless in a global economy. If one state or country or leader fails, we all do, which is why hoarding supplies, or stealing from each other, or engaging in subterfuge has no long-term use beyond tanking everything. The greed of piracy fails to see the broad picture of how a world depends on the health, safety, and welfare of all of its residents, rich and poor, American, British, French, German, and every other nationality in between. Asking American companies not to provide medical supplies to Canada or South America will have a direct impact on people inside the US. That’s a fact that President Trump has never grasped, and likely never will.

Even if hydroxychloroquine proves to be a miracle drug that saves millions of lives (and, to be clear, no doctor, including Dr Fauci, has confirmed that this hopeful prognosis is anything but a hypothesis as of right now), providing the drug to only Americans serves no real purpose, just like stealing masks from the French or from the Berlin police force serves no real purpose. Infections don’t check your national identity before proliferating. But, of course, telling Trump to wait his turn serves about as much purpose as telling a tantrum-throwing one-year-old to wait his turn. A leader with no vision for the future will never truly be able to lead. So what can we really, earnestly expect?

Here we are, at the threshold. The only hope remaining is that the few mitigating forces that surround the president can rein him in and remind him that the United States is not autonomous in the world, but that this country is, rather, a cog. If we have any hope in surviving the decimation of death and destruction that we now face — miracle drug or not — we must hope for the improved health and welfare of every single person on this planet. Without that, there is nothing.