COVID-19 Is Immune To Trump’s Lies And Bullying

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

So how does Trump handle the combination of the virus and the economic fallout from it? He can’t blame it on a political conspiracy, though he has flirted with the notion—suggesting at one point that the whole thing was a new Democratic “hoax” before denying he had said that. And there’s no enemy here to finger as the villain either. There’s no Robert Mueller, Peter Strzok, or Adam Schiff against whom to rail.

Denial isn’t going to work, as the Chinese Communist Party learned when it tried to cover up the virus early on in the outbreak. Trump has tried to minimize the likely impact on the United States, talking about how few cases there have been and what a good job his administration has done on containing the spread. But now that cases have shown up in California, Washington State, Rhode Island, Florida, and New York, and the first deaths are beginning to occur, his self-congratulation is starting to look naive. If the spread of the virus continues, this look-on-the-bright-side approach will appear altogether ineffective—particularly bad for Trump, who has marketed himself as the guy who comes in and makes magic happen. And while Trump has insisted that the current weakness of the stock market is nothing but a blip that will reverse shortly, he has essentially no leverage to make good on that prediction.

The president can, of course, protest that the spread of the virus and the resulting economic damage are not his fault. He may even be right about that—not in the sense that his handling of the matter has been competent, but in the sense that this particular virus may have been beyond the power of even competent management to contain. But presidents rarely get spared political blame for economic shocks beyond their control. And a president who ties his political fate so energetically to the state of the economy and the market—who declares that voters should ignore apparent illegality, corruption, and serial failures of decency because their retirement accounts are faring well and their job prospects are good—may prove particularly vulnerable to conditions that undermine the premise of his argument. The fact that he has long claimed to control the economy with the force of his will makes his inability to do so a particular liability.

The point here is not to predict, much less to hope, that the virus will do what Mueller and Schiff could not. The Fox and Friends host Pete Hegseth claimed that “the Democrats” and “the media” are “rooting for coronavirus to spread.” Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, similarly, told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the press thinks “this will bring down the president, that’s what this is all about.”

Everyone should be hoping that Trump handles this matter brilliantly—even if that means that he reaps political benefit from it. Situations like this are among the reasons the country needs a functioning executive branch, and all Americans are invested in the presidency’s success in managing the disease’s spread.

The risks of considering the likely political impact of the virus and its economic fallout are already visible in the deranged response to it by some of the president’s political supporters, who—clearly fearing some of the very effects we are describing here—are busy putting out information that may well get people killed. The talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh’s insistence that COVID-19 is nothing more than “the common cold,” and statements by Fox News hosts that frightening news coverage of the virus is aimed only at taking down the president, would be irresponsible in any context. But comments minimizing the harms of the epidemic are particularly dangerous, given that listeners to Limbaugh and viewers of Fox News tend to be older, and elderly people are dramatically more likely to die if they contract the virus.

Our point, rather, is that the challenge President Trump now faces is one he cannot obviously meet with the usual toolkit he has relied on during previous crises. He can meet it only by actually doing the job of president of the United States, which is—in a fundamental sense—a management position that supervises a raft of executive agencies with immense resources to address a wide range of issues. This is exactly the part of the job Trump has never shown the slightest interest in or capacity for. It is the part of the job that he actively disdains.

It is also, alas, the part of the job that implicates the name of the branch of government he heads. The solution to this problem involves faithful—and skillful—execution of the powers of the government. But that solution will require Trump to begin to value the role played by a more traditional president. It is not an exaggeration to say that many lives may depend on his undergoing that transformation.

The Dow went up 1200 points yesterday, after a disastrous previous week when it lost 3000. And even though then Fed cut half a point on the interest rate, Dow is down 900 on the day.