Arnold Böcklin, Plague 1898, Kunstmuseum Basel
Trump, as his niece, Mary Trump, has pointed out in her book, Too Much and Never Enough. how my Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, could have made himself an American hero by showing effective leadership through the Corona crisis. Instead, with his actions and inactions, he has produced a situation in which the virus has spun totally out of control.
He has downplayed the seriousness of the virus, likening it to a flu that will disappear with seasonal change or will simply die out. (In this, he may eventually be proven right; other viruses have died out. But the issue is when this might happen, if indeed it does, and what to do for those Americans that are suffering and dying now.) In a similar vein, he has propagated the use of miracle cures that were and remain medically unproven. And as if to further belittle the importance of the virus, he has shown no sympathy whatsoever for those who have lost family and friends.
He has tried to discredit and marginalize Antonio Fauci, America’s foremost immunologist. He has not worked to ensure that the federal government can play an effective coordinating role for the various efforts being undertaken at state level or to make the necessary resources available to the states for testing and tracing. Incredibly, almost half a year into the crisis, the US still has no national strategy for combatting Covid-19.
He has moved to take statistics about the virus out of the public domain, reassigning responsibility for record-keeping from the CDC, which has traditionally managed this information, to the US Department of Health and Human Resources, more directly under the control of the central government.
And Trump has been against the wearing of masks, probably the single-most important defence against the pandemic. Recently, his opposition has morphed into a slightly more nuanced stance that holds that mask-wearing should be optional. That said, the President remains a reference point for all those who do not want to mask up.
Trumps’ overriding objective may be, as he says, is to get the economy moving again and at any cost. But this is clearly not working, as the situation in states that have opened before the virus was more or less under control has underscored. The approaches championed by Trump have, if anything, undercut the prospects for economic recovery.
I reject the idea that the President’s performance is all about him being incompetent. Trump is anything but a professional politician, but he did beat out sixteen contenders for the Republican Party nomination in 2016: an idiot he is not.
Another way of understanding the President’s stance on the virus is to see it as a way of favouring his political and financial objectives.
These are essentially three.
One is to contribute to the longstanding voter-suppression efforts of the Republican Party. The virus infects three times as many blacks, Latinos, and other low-income voters as it infects whites; it kills twice as many. The worse the virus gets, the fewer Democrats will appear at the polls in November -or so the thinking goes.
A second is to use the virus to render America incapable of continuing to exercise global leadership. This should not surprise. Since becoming President, Trump has worked overtime to destroy the attitudes and institutions that have allowed the US to play a leading, and for the most part, a historically positive role in international affairs.
In particular, Trump’s efforts have produced a situation in which Russia, a fading hegemon trying to reverse its slide, and China, which now sees itself as America’s equal, enjoy greater room for maneuver in their efforts to control their near abroads. The first victim of the virus has been Hong Kong. Taiwan can be next. Ukraine and other states of the former Soviet Union are also vulnerable.
There have long been plenty of rumours about Trump being in hock to foreign creditors, how after going bankrupt multiple times in the US, he could only raise resources abroad. The more I see of the President’s mis-performance on the virus, the more I am convinced that this is all about paying off debts and/or trying to generate new resources. I suspect that Trump is on the Russian and perhaps the Chinese payroll as well. That his Administration sometimes takes position in opposition to their policies, and that Trump at times does so himself, is all about trying to maintain a modicum of credibility for the US government as a defender of American interests. The effective policy impact of such gesturing is just about zero.
A third advantage provided by the virus is that it provides Trump with room for maneuver around election time, come November. For example, Trump could try to postpone the elections with the argument that a viable poll could not be held because of the pandemic. Or post-election, he could argue that the virus had produced so many irregularities that the results could not be taken at face value.
Americans have to come to grips with the fact that Trump is a rogue president, prepared to do anything to privilege his own interests over those of the nation. The Corona virus has given him greater latitude for doing just that.
Other Writings about Donald Trump:
The Three Dictateers
My Takeaway from the Singapore Summit
On the Emerging American Autocracy
Descent into Dictatorship
President Trump in Europe: how to discredit and dismantle an Alliance https://www.davidmlaw.com/post/2017/08/03/president-trump-in-europe-how-to-discredit-and-dismantle-an-alliance
Donald and Adolf
From Demagoguery to Violence
Trumping the Donald