The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reports that President Trump sought to pay a German biopharmaceutical company to develop a coronavirus vaccine in the United States, with the proviso that the product would be “only for the United States,” according to a German government source. The German Health Ministry has confirmed the report.
The episode illustrates a few things about the president’s unfitness to manage the present crisis. First, it shows his inability to grasp positive sum outcomes, especially between countries. A vaccine is a reductio ad absurdum of his dog-eat-dog worldview. While production capacity is somewhat finite, a vaccine is not a scarce good. Successful vaccines are always shared around the world because the entire world has a shared interest in eradicating diseases. Trump is the only world leader who is trying a beggar-thy-neighbor strategy for pandemic response.
Second, it reveals his cynical assumption that everybody else shares his own amorality. Sure, maybe an extremely greedy German scientist might be willing to accept a large payment in order to hoard a life-saving vaccine, denying it to their friends, family, neighbors, and fellow Germans. But not many scientists are actually that evil.
And third, we have Trump’s inability to grasp the larger picture. He was apparently able to think one move ahead: Make an incredible deal for exclusive vaccine use for Americans only. He was unable to consider what would happen even if the deal was consummated. Would other countries be happy about this, or angry? Would they react in ways that might harm us when we might need their cooperation?
Trump fashions himself an ultranationalist and a master deal-maker. The first of these descriptions is true. The second is not.
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