Panic Might Have Helped

Let’s get this straight — we’re talking about the guy whose entire political career has been about fear mongering, the guy who kicked off his bid for the 2016 Republican nomination with the famous line about Mexicans entering the U.S. — “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He has since devoted considerable time to scaring us about caravans of “illegals” and the Salvadoran-American street gang MS-13. He’s gone on to “rioters and looters,” stirring up hysteria over antifa and the destruction of (affluent, white) suburbs through Democratic housing policies. And did I mention socialism? What does he ever talk about but to tell lies to stir up fear in his base?

But when it came to the pandemic, the one thing that really was and is a danger to the United States, he decides to “play it down” so that people don’t “panic”? Seriously?

Truthfully, a little panic might have helped. We couldn’t possibly have overreacted to what was coming, I don’t think.

Here is NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett from last night’s All In With Chris Hayes. Sums it all up pretty well.

Today, the Trump campaign is trying to pretend Trump lied for the benefit of the American people. Like not being prepared for the coming pandemic was in everyone’s best interest. See Greg Sargent, There’s a big hole in Trump’s frantic spin about the Woodward revelations.

Throughout February, Trump was utterly obsessed with the impact that public news about the coronanvirus was having on the markets. And as Slate’s William Saletan demonstrated at the time, Trump openly cast the markets as inextricably linked to his own political fortunes, regularly suggesting efforts to use the coronavirus to rattle them were the work of political enemies out to tank him.

Indeed, Trump repeatedly raged at the media for deliberately trying to panic markets to harm him politically. Trump approvingly tweeted a media ally accusing CNN of trying “to stoke a national Coronavirus panic” as part of its “anti-Trump” agenda. He blasted the media for trying to make the coronavirus “look as bad as possible” and “panicking markets” to help Democrats.

Worse still, Trump’s obsession with panicking the markets — and harming his reelection chances — deeply hampered his governmental response to the coronavirus crisis.

This is Ryan Bort, Rolling Stone, February 25:

The warning isn’t surprising considering the virus — of which over 80,000 cases resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths have been reported — is now making its way through Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, after originating in China last year. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to President Trump discuss the disease. “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” Trump said Tuesday during a press conference in India.

“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he added on Twitter. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Though Trump wants Americans to believe otherwise, the coronavirus is very much a problem, one his administration still doesn’t seem to grasp. …

… The confusion can be traced back to the president, who seems utterly unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the virus, opting instead to stick his fingers in his ears and repeatedly insist everything is going to be fine and the administration is taking care of it. His belief that the virus will simply “go away” is likely based on how past pandemic scares have come and gone, but those diseases were contained in part because the government was working in tandem with the CDC. Now that Trump is in charge, there’s appears to be a disconnect as the White House tries to project a rosy view of the crisis while the agencies tasked with handling it are forced to work in reality.

Back to Greg Sargent:

In late February, after one of Trump’s most senior health officials publicly warned about the threat of the virus spreading, which Trump’s own officials wanted to do so the American people could protect themselves and each other, Trump privately raged because it “was scaring the stock markets,” as The Post reported.

Even into early March, Trump was still resisting pressure from senior officials to take big steps to halt the spread, such as making a full-throated call for major social distancing efforts and lockdowns, out of fear that it would harm the markets.

Trump actually knew on some level that the pandemic was terribly dangerous, and he not only chose to lie about it to the public; he chose to not respond out of fear that any kind of response, preparation, or warning to the public would spook the stock markets. It would have been one thing if he had downplayed the danger publicly back in February while ordering an all-hands-on-deck response from federal agencies to prepare for a pandemic. But other than the disasterous testing fail from March, there was no response and no preparation. And there still hasn’t been on a federal level, including whatever mysterious thing Mr. Ivanka was doing about ventilators and PPE.

See also Thanks to Trump, We Have No Good Options from May 19

Today the Trump campaign put out a press release arguing that it was Joe Biden, not Donald Trump, who was behind the curve on the coronavirus. One, I hadn’t noticed that Joe Biden has been POTUS any time this year. Two, Biden didn’t have access to the same intelligence and briefings from public health experts that Trump enjoyed. Three, it’s not hard to find examples of Biden (and many others) being way ahead of Trump. See, for example, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Rebuke Trump Over Virus: ‘The Clock Is Ticking’ from March 12.

Mr. Biden, the former vice president, spoke Thursday afternoon from the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Del., about the grave challenges the country faces, and he detailed his ideas for managing the outbreak. He also aimed to draw sharp contrasts with Mr. Trump a day after the president addressed the nation from the Oval Office, establishing a preview of what Mr. Biden hopes will be a general election matchup. …

… In his remarks, Mr. Biden offered his own plan for combating the virus, with proposals that included rapidly and vastly expanding testing — tests, he said, should be available at no charge — moving aggressively to boost hospital capacity and supporting an accelerated push for a vaccine that he said should be “again, free of charge.” And he argued that “the administration’s failure on testing is colossal.”

This was the day after Trump’s disasterous Oval Office address in which he announced travel and cargo restrictions from Europe, as if the virus wasn’t already spreading like a California wildfire here already. Travel from the UK and Ireland — where Trump owns resorts — was exempted, of course.

Charles Pierce wrote at the time:

This was not a speech. This was a cry for help, an SOS from a guy who knows, as Micheal Ray Richardson once put it, that the ship be sinking. You could almost imagine thousands of tiny feet running for lifeboats behind his eyes. You could see him reacting to storm sirens only he could hear. He is thrashing and floundering and he is surrounded by thrashers and flounderers who owe their entire careers to him now. This isn’t chaos. It is surrender to it.

Trump made so many misstatements in the speech that White House staff spent the next several hours issuing “clarifications.” The big takeaway, though, was that Trump was more interested in “protection theater” than dealing with the hard choices somebody should have been making at the time.

For that matter, here is Joe Biden on February 26 slamming Trump on his inaction on the coronavirus.

And here is Joe on February 1 slamming Trump’s response to the coronavirus.

“We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus,” Biden said in Iowa Friday. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”

The former vice president accused the president of curtailing progress on global health oversight that was made during the Obama administration.

Biden cited “draconian cuts” to the budgets of agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Where was Trump? Let’s review:

Bob Woodward is facing criticism for not releasing the “downplaying” tape sooner, but that would have been the end of his research for his new book. We’re getting other valuable bits of information now, such as Trump’s bragging that he protected Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder. Do tell, Bob? And Woodward provides more information on Russian hacking of election systems in 2016. See also The most outrageous revelations in Bob Woodward’s book ‘Rage’ aren’t the ones you’ve heard about.