Donald Trump
Credit: The White H

There is something bizarre going on with shipments of critical medical supplies.

  1. Three million N95 masks that had been ordered by the state of Massachusetts were confiscated in the port of New York.
  2. A shipment of 35,000 N95 masks headed for New Jersey was commandeered by the federal government.
  3. A shipment of 200,000 N95 masks headed for Germany were confiscated by the U.S. in Bangkok.
  4. Masks that France had ordered from China were bought for three to four times the going rate by the United States as they waited to be loaded onto cargo planes.
  5. A shipment of 20 ventilators ordered by the government of Barbados was seized by U.S. authorities.

Those are simply the cases that have been reported. Given the scope of these examples, it is safe to assume that there are others. Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s interior minister, suggested that what we are witnessing are acts of “modern-day piracy.” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said that states are competing in a “global jungle.”

In some of the cases listed above, it is unclear whether the U.S. government or a private entity confiscated the materials. But given the way that Jared Kushner has intermingled the roles of public and private enterprise, that could be a distinction without a difference. The real question comes down to what Kushner plans to do with these supplies.

The Trump administration has made it clear that it is up to the states to stock their own supplies and that the federal government is merely a “backstop.” At the same time, they are confiscating materials that the states have purchased. During a recent press briefing, Kushner made the disturbing distinction between “theirs” and “ours.”

When it was noted that Kushner’s description of the Strategic National Stockpile contradicted its stated purpose, the mission was re-written to conform to Kushner’s remarks. At a subsequent press briefing, Trump was asked who his son-in-law was referring to when he described the stockpile as “ours.” The president responded by telling the reporter that she ought to be ashamed of herself.

It has become clear that the president plans to distribute these supplies in a way that meets his own self-interest. Trump has already demanded that governors assuage his ego by being sufficiently appreciative when he sends them supplies. We can only imagine the kind of quid pro quos he’ll be demanding as desperation mounts in the coming weeks.

In the midst of all of this, it is important to keep in mind that not long ago, a German newspaper reported that Trump had been trying to gain exclusive access to a potential coronavirus vaccine. That is the mindset from which this president operates. He sees every situation as a zero-sum game with winners and losers and then employs any means necessary to ensure that he is the ultimate winner. His main task in life is to dominate the scene and defeat the losers. In a situation where medical supplies are critical, they become fodder for the “global jungle” created by that kind of approach.

All of this is one of the reasons why Trump and his team are attempting to bully the 3M corporation.

3M this week resisted demands by White House officials to send about 10m N95 respirator masks being produced in Singapore for markets in Asia to the US, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The company was reluctant to accept the White House request on legal and humanitarian grounds, as medical workers across the region would be deprived of protection, the person said…

3M also said that the administration had requested that it “cease exporting respirators” from the US to Canadian and Latin American markets, but warned this could trigger a humanitarian crisis in those countries, where 3M is a “critical supplier”. The company also said the move could prompt retaliation against the US.

After weeks of resisting pressure to deploy the Defense Protection Act, Trump activated it to force 3M to comply. During a recent press briefing, the president declared that “we need the masks, we don’t want other people getting them.” He went on to describe his use of the DPA as “retaliation.”

What we have is a president who, during a global pandemic, is acting like a mob boss. He is not only confiscating critical medical supplies from other countries, he’s taking them from our own governors. Trump admitted that he is doing so to stop “other people from getting them,” but he is also likely to distribute them in a way that meets his own self-interests. Finally, he is using DPA as a weapon to retaliate against companies who don’t comply with his demands.

At this point, most Americans are unaware of the fact that this administration is deploying the tactics of organized crime to procure critical medical supplies. The potential blowback from that kind of approach would be bad enough. But none of this is designed to address the needs of the American public. Ultimately, these supplies will be used to meet Trump’s self-interest when it comes to his re-election. We’ve always known that nothing else matters to this president. But this time it’s lives that are on the line as a result of his despicable behavior.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.