Trump Realizes He’s Supposed to Be Doing Something

One gets the impression that Trump finally has realized the coronavirus is a big deal (that could cost him the election) and that he should be doing something. The markets are rebounding a bit after the White House hustled out a stimulus package. There’s actually serious talk of sending some amount of cash directly to people, but I’m going to believe that one when I see it.

Paul Waldman:

The pivot has begun.

At a news conference Tuesday, President Trump took pains to tell the public not only that the coronavirus crisis is serious — “We want to save a lot of lives. If you get too steep on that curve, you’re gonna lose a lotta lives” — but that he never downplayed it in the first place.

“I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic,” Trump said. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

That followed a press conference Monday when for the first time he seemed to acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis (“this is a very bad one”), amid the expected self-congratulation (“we’ve done a fantastic job from just about every standpoint”).

I sincerely hope that Michael Bloomberg and his advertising team are putting together television ads replaying all the times Trump downplayed the virus and claimed it wouldn’t be a big deal. And I want to see television ads showing the time in 2018 Trump explained why he was cutting the pandemic team, juxtaposed with his claim from last week that he didn’t know anything about it. And I sincerely hope most Americans aren’t fooled. See also A new poll shows Trump’s magical lying powers are failing him.

The question is, can Trump and Senate Republicans do the right thing even if they try? Or will they water the stimulus proposal down, or make sure its benefits mostly flow to rich people, or add a bunch of abortion restrictions and dare Democrats to not vote for it, so that Dems can be blamed for not addressing the crisis?

Paul Krugman flat-out says that the entire Republican Party can’t do economic policy.

Why are Republicans useless at best in the face of an economic crisis? As I’ve pointed out before, there are many competent center-right economists, but the G.O.P. — not just Trump, but the whole party — doesn’t want their advice. It prefers hacks and propagandists, the people Mankiw famously called “charlatans and cranks,” whose only idea is tax cuts. The party truly has nobody left who is capable of putting together a plausible economic rescue package.

The Senate probably will eventually pass Pelosi’s bill. But with all signs pointing to a steep economic dive, we need a much bigger stimulus package — perhaps along the lines being developed by Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader — as soon as possible. This package shouldn’t include tax cuts; it should focus overwhelmingly on cash grants, perhaps a basic grant to every legal resident plus additional grants to those in special need.

And since there’s nobody left in the G.O.P. who can put together a coherent stimulus plan, Democrats will have to do the job, perhaps with help from the Federal Reserve intervention to stabilize highly stressed financial markets.

Economists agree that Trump’s favorite idea — a payroll tax cut — is a bad idea, mostly because it does nothing for those not getting a paycheck. But maybe he’ll warm to the cash giveaway, thinking it will buy him some votes.

David Atkins has an excellent analysis at Washington Monthly, Trump Is Running a Pandemic Response Like a Business, With Disastrous Results. This goes further than just explaining why Trump is screwing up; it explains why Republican ideas about the government’s role in the economy are screwed up, and why government must not be run like a business.

Today’s fast-moving capital markets are explicitly designed to be reactive rather than proactive, and every incentive built into them is to push for growth at all costs. Problems are meant to be pushed to the side and out of sight so the good times can keep rolling at the top; inconvenient costs are externalized and socialized on the backs of workers, the impoverished, and the environment. In the best of times, this dynamic creates massive inequalities and injustices that the market doesn’t notice, because the victims most affected are insignificant to—and go unnoticed by—the invisible hand. In the worst of times, however, it utterly hobbles a society’s ability to respond to crises that require active management before they can be directly felt in the marketplace.

Do read the whole thing. In short, business is always pushing to find the shortest route to profit. “Crisis management” in business is mostly viewed as a problem of reducing liability and maximizing public relations after something goes wrong. If possible, the damage and cost of a problem are pushed off on someone else (often the government). But by the time business notices there is a problem, it’s too late to stop it. “It’s true of any problem with an exponential curve whose solution requires acting well before the curve turns irrevocably steep, but where the action to prevent it would impact corporate profits,” Atkins writes.

As Trump said when he explained disbanding the pandemic team, “I’m a business person, I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.” But by the time you realize you need them, you’re already way behind the curve. It’s like waiting until there’s a fire to start hiring firefighters.

There are a lot of “insider” looks at how the Trump White House mismanaged the crisis. See, for example:

Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair, “There’s No Boogeyman He Can Attack”: Angry at Kushner, Trump Awakens to the COVID-19 Danger

Julia Ioffe, GQ, The Infuriating Story of How the Government Stalled Coronavirus Testing

Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland, New York Times, Inside the Coronavirus Response: A Case Study in the White House Under Trump

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)



9 thoughts on “Trump Realizes He’s Supposed to Be Doing Something

  1. I actually watched Trump on tv last night, only because his approach to the virus did a 180 and he started sounding, well honest (otherwise I can't stand him). Of course this presentation was a minor divergence from his never going to change schtick of being a complete "carnival barking clown" as Bloomberg put it.

    I wonder what got through to him. Somehow he listened to somebody (Hannity?) who convinced him that continuing the BS would be worse than being straight with the public. He's too dumb to figure that out on his own.

    There are two things I'm watching in this: 

    – the level of financial pain the public, particularly the young who typically work in service jobs that are shutting down. I personally know some people affected by this, and I have no idea how they're going to get by. Republicans may pass laws giving out money, but they're incompetent at this sort of social engineering, all the more when nobody knows how bad things will get.

    – voices to speak out for this same set of people. They were effectively shoved aside in favor of Joe Biden. What's lacking are powerful voices to speak for the traditional Democratic constituency, otherwise the crisis will be co-opted and reframed by the likes of Hannity and the powerful voices on the right. This is what has to be tipped over before there's any change. Whoever controls the stories a country hears, controls the country.

    • I wonder what got through to him.

      Well, you might not be looking at a true repentance. Could be just a change in tack where he is slowly shifting the weight of responsibility to the American public. To make it seem like he's fulfilled his responsibility by doing everything right, and if this pandemic turns out to be a disaster it will be because the American public wasn't faithful in carrying out their responsibility according to the dictates of his glorious leadership.

       His words thus far would indicate that his boast of being the omnipotent fixer of all our problems isn't going to apply in this case. He's only going to bless us with his direction and great leadership, but any failure will fall in our laps.

  2. I'm cynical about Trump's conversion. This was always a PR problem to Trump and IMP, it's still a PR problem to Trump. What's changed in the last 24 hours is Trump's tactics for handling the PR problem. 

    My stated opinion has been: Trump slow-walked testing and refused the WHO test so that the virus fatalities in the US could be swept under the rug as something else. Actually dealing with a messy medical crisis was going to screw up the economy, drive down the stock market, drive up unemployment and kill Trump's re-election bid. For no reason grounded in medical reality, Trump wrote the crisis out of the script – and the virus refused to  bow to the power of Trump's sharpie. 

    When did Trump become 'presidential'? After the economy was screwed, after Wall Street broke all records on losses, after an unemployment crisis was inevitable and Trump's re-election in serious jeopardy. Trump's objective is to keep power – not take care of Americans. He's got seven months to work an economic miracle and he's working against the inertia of a virus that's only beginning to make it's presence known.

    The virus is the most lethal in the demographic groups where Trump is most popular.  How lethal? Nobody knows because testing has been suppressed in the US. If Trump Flu is ten times more lethal than the regular flu (and global numbers support that) we may see fatalities in the US upwards of 700,000. Oh, nobody has asked but if huge numbers of people require treatment through the existing commercial insurance system, what's going to happen to rates in 2021?

    IMO, Trump is planning to be Santa Claus in the summer. This is going to be more socialistic than anything Bernie proposed but it's only til November. Trump turns back into the Grinch immediately after the election. The problem as I see it, is that true believers are not going to accept an Obama-style bailout that gives all individuals in the country and all businesses in the country huge gifts. 

    Something tells me there are more plot twists to come.

    • Agree with your first paragraph. There's no such thing as a real conversion for Trump, it's all based on what he thinks will profit him the most. His reflexive disinterest in reality had to be explained to him by somebody (Hannity?) who is smarter than Trump (hard to believe) in that he's more flexible and better at seeing the writing on the wall. After all, Trump is in his 70s, only really knows NY real estate. Hannity supplies a lot of real world smarts that Trump lacks.

  3. I agree with everyone above. Trump hasn't made any change other than his role in the reality show. He's only realized he can't bullshit a virus or the stock markets and is cynically and clumsily trying to become a wise leader. I watched the presser too, and didn't see anything different in tone. There was the same baldfaced lying, vague language, self congratulation, bragging, and so on. There probably will be a bailout of sorts, but as with all legislation the devil will be in the details.

    The media seem to be suffering something like Stockholm Syndrome. Almost every talking head on cable news and at least one network remarked on Trump's "major change in tone". People are afraid, and they so desperately want a real president they're beginning to imagine Trump actually is one.


  4. I did not hear Trump, but Pence did an interview with NPR which I caught.  We certainly do have a major change in tone at the White House.  Now Reuters is reporting Russian disinformation aimed at Europe to destabilize virus control measures.  

    It is not news, or should not be news that the price of oil is in the tank.  The wholesale price of gasoline is at this moment at 66.6 cents per gallon. I do think that figure is a coincidence, but that is what it was when I just looked.   Anyway pump price do includes such things as taxes and profits because there is always a real devil in the details.  This price drop is large, rapid, and important because Russia would not agree on Saudi proposals to limit crude oil production.  Russia knew this would destabilize financial markets and did it anyway.  I would guess Putin did it with large objections from Trump.  Putin may have just gone by the old, let no good deed go unpunished, rule, reading Trump's incessant appeasement as a sign of weakness.  I have always noted a tendency for adversaries to  kick you when you are down.  Again, this is just trying to make the pieces fit, but it sure would explain the sudden change in Trump's attitude.  

    Suffice it to say that we or Europe are not going to get any help from Russia in our time of peril.  Putin will make Russia great again by doing his best to drag others down.  This can be said with more confidence, as several recent Russian actions are consistent with this interpretation.  Oh, and the news that Barr and the Justice Department are dropping charges from the Mueller investigation against those Russian companies, could just be a coincidence.  Then again, it might be another puzzle piece that fits.  Or,like Barr claimed, it could jeopardize national security by revealing sources.  Plausible also.


  5. Just to keep in mind…I don't want to come off as a religious fanatic…but, the scriptures say that Satan can appear as an angel of light. So you might keep that in mind when trying to understand what's going on with Trump and his pivot toward concern for anybody other than himself and his brood of grifters.

     Ya gotta look at every angle when dealing with Trump.

  6. I read somewhere today that it was Tucker Carlson who had a personal meeting with Trump, who got through to him about the seriousness of the virus. Carlson's been the leading light at Fox News (I hate to say it) in terms of being the most science-based about the virus (I can't believe I used "Fox News" and "science based" in the same sentence).

    It's sinking into me, that until a vaccine is ready, everyone's going to be hunkered down, including the trashed economy. I suspect we're looking at 12-18 months. No real return to normal until people can get vaccinated.

  7. I feel like I am on the titanic watching the desk chairs slide.

    It's not just Trump. No one in the white house has a clue. They are all sycophants, acting this or that's, only there because of their willingness to ignore reality. We may see some conversions to science

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