Trump and his allies have made a dark calculation — 'reopening' at any price is his only path to re-election

Trump and his allies have made a dark calculation — 'reopening' at any price is his only path to re-election
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

It seems like only yesterday that everyone was lamenting the lack of COVID-19 tests and vital medical equipment, and now we are supposedly ready to "reopen the country." That's because it was only yesterday — and it will be the same tomorrow. There are still not enough tests and not enough medical equipment. But because the worst hotspots, including New York City are muddling through at or near the apex of the pandemic curve — dealing with the ravages of this virus day after day as the bodies pile up but new cases level off — President Trump is trying to change the subject away from his failures to a premature declaration of victory.

His coronavirus rallies (aka "press briefings") this week have been hostile affairs, with the president on the defensive trying to push back against the devastating cascade of reporting that has laid bare the fiasco of his response to the pandemic. But by once again attempting to downplay the current state of the crisis, he seems intent upon making exactly the same mistakes he made before.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes astutely observed on his Tuesday night show that Trump made three essential errors at the beginning of the crisis.

  1. He failed to take it seriously and appreciate the terrible danger of a pandemic.
  2. The administration did not move quickly, with the lead time, it had to prepare adequate testing.
  3. He focused on the problem of the economy, thinking of it as somehow more important than — and separate from — the epidemic.

Inadequate testing left public health professionals flying blind for weeks and Trump's lack of understanding of the threat meant that officials waited far too long to issue social distancing guidelines and initiate any meaningful public health response. Trump spent most of his time making happy talk to pump up the stock market, which made it almost impossible for the government to adjust for new information or switch gears when something wasn't working, because he was deeply invested in saying everything was going great.

As Hayes pointed out, Trump learned nothing from that experience and has remained focused on himself and his re-election prospects above everything else — so he's doing exactly the same things all over again.

Trump still fails to appreciate the deadliness of this virus, now bragging openly that because the models no longer suggest hundreds of thousands of deaths, he has handled the crisis "perfectly." Now that he's concentrating on "reopening the country," he again fails to understand that testing and contact tracing on a massive scale is absolutely necessary to avoid a terrible resurgence of the outbreak.

Indeed, he still doesn't seem to understand that asymptomatic people can spread the virus. At last Friday's coronavirus rally, Trump said widespread testing was not needed because "people aren't going to go to the hospital, people aren't going to get sick. It will be gone and it won't be that much longer." (The public health experts undoubtedly pounded their heads on their desks when they heard that one.)

He has totally abdicated, once again, the responsibility to make sure that testing is available:

And of course, Trump still sees the economy as the greater problem, without understanding that these things are all connected, and that dealing with the epidemic is necessary before the economy can recover. Simply telling people to go back to work, go back to the mall and go out to dinner doesn't mean they are going to do it if they think it might kill them. He can't just magically wish this all away.


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