Don’t be fooled by snapshot polls.
The strangest part of President Trump’s coronavirus response is that it’s almost certainly damaging his chances of re-election.
I realize that may sound surprising, given that his approval rating has been rising. But when you look beyond day-to-day events — which Trump often struggles to do — you see that he is creating the conditions for a miserable summer and fall, with extended virus outbreaks and a deeper recession. The summer and fall, of course, are the crux of the presidential campaign.
Trump’s virus strategy revolves around trying to make the present seem as good as possible, without much concern for the future. He spent almost two months denying that the virus was a serious problem and falsely claiming that the number of cases was falling. He has spent the last two weeks alternately taking aggressive measures and refusing to do so, often against the advice of public-health experts. Some Republican governors, following Trump’s lead, are also rejecting those experts’ pleas: There are beaches open in Florida, restaurants open in Georgia and Missouri and many people out and about in Oklahoma and Texas.
Altogether, the United States seems to have engaged in the least aggressive response of any affected country. Sure enough, it also now has the world’s largest number of confirmed cases. The American caseload was initially following a similar path as the Chinese and Italian caseloads. But the number of American infections is now rising uniquely fast, with 96,000 new cases in the last week — more than twice as many as in any seven-day period in any other country.
This surge doesn’t cause only more short-term deaths and overwhelmed hospitals. It also leads to more cases in later months, by creating a larger group of infected people who can spread the virus to others. As Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me, “The higher the peak, the longer it lasts.”
And the longer that the country is gripped by the virus, the deeper that the economic downturn will be. Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor, refers to this as the first rule of “virus economics”: The only way to resuscitate the economy is to stop the virus. Premature attempts to restart business activity will lead to further outbreaks, which will cause more fear and new shutdowns.
A bipartisan group of business executives, government officials and others, including former Federal Reserve chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen and four former Treasury secretaries, put it this way: “Saving lives and saving the economy are not in conflict right now; we will hasten the return to robust economic activity by taking steps to stem the spread of the virus and save lives.”
This idea isn’t just theoretical. There is now evidence, from places that have enacted a temporary shutdown of almost all non-essential activity. That’s how Wuhan, where the virus began, reduced new cases to nearly zero. It’s how the New York suburb of New Rochelle seems to have contained its outbreak.
Counterintuitively, these shutdowns also help the economy. A fascinating new study, from researchers at the Fed and M.I.T., has analyzed the social-distancing policies that various American cities enacted during the 1918 flu pandemic. Some cities, like Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis and Cleveland, closed schools and banned public gatherings earlier and for longer periods. Others, like San Francisco, Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minn., were less aggressive.
The first group of cities suffered fewer deaths — and also enjoyed higher average employment and manufacturing output, as well as stronger bank balance sheets, in the following year. The title of the paper — by Sergio Correia, Stephan Luck and Emil Verner — says it all: “Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not.”
The economic costs are still severe. Today, the most effective response would probably be a two-month national shutdown, accompanied by a modestly larger stimulus bill than Congress just passed, both to pay many Americans’ salaries and to bolster the health care system. When the two months were over, healthy people could go back to work, and any new cases could be quickly isolated. That second phase would be similar to the strategy in Singapore and Taiwan.
Had Trump taken this approach in late February, a full month after the first American fell ill, he could have vastly reduced the human and economic toll. Even if he took it now, he could probably get the country functioning close to normally by early summer. Instead, he is talking about normalcy by April — and making it likely that things will still be abnormal in July.
What explains his response? Trump lives in the moment. He is impetuous. He is like a day trader, not a long-term investor. A shutdown sounds miserable to him. He doesn’t have much respect for scientists and their data, but he does pay close attention to his poll numbers. And they’re rising (along with, it’s worth noting, the approval rating of other world leaders). Trump’s approach seems to be working, for now.
I can’t tell you exactly what the future will bring, especially during a crisis unlike any the world has confronted in a century. It’s possible that Trump could somehow luck out and the virus will end up being less gruesome for all of us. But that’s not the likely outcome. And nobody should forget that he is choosing a path that endangers lives and jobs mostly because it feels better to him in the moment.
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous... But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making... Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
- free minds,
- free markets and
- free people.At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright... In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:
- effective deregulation,
- historic tax reform, a
- more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is
- petty and
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
On Friday, after a North Korean official said that Kim was ready to meet Trump “at any time,” Donald Trump, Jr., linked to an Axios story about this statement and crowed, “The Art of The Deal baby!!!”—as if Trump’s decision to cancel the summit had elicited important new concessions from the North Koreans. But that wasn’t the case.
.. Of course, Kim is willing to meet anytime. It was he who requested the summit in the first place.
To sit down one on one with an American President has for decades been a goal of North Korea’s leaders.
.. At the very least, some detailed preparatory work would make it easier to manage expectations in both Washington and Pyongyang.
.. The evidence suggests Trump acted as he did because he didn’t like the tone of North Korea’s statements, particularly those directed at John Bolton, the national-security adviser, and Mike Pence, the Vice-President, after they both suggested that Libya’s disarmament under Muammar Qaddafi would be a good model for the North Koreans to follow.
.. This language suggests the North Koreans have learned the lesson that Pence and many other people around Trump learned a long time ago: the most reliable way to get him to do something you want is to praise him expansively and publicly.
.. the idea that Trump is some sort of master negotiator, or ace business tactician, is a fallacy propagated by himself. Trump’s actual record in doing business deals is one of overpaying, struggling to make them work, and shuffling some of his companies in and out of bankruptcy.
.. The only art he has perfected is promoting himself as a great dealmaker on the basis of such a checkered past.
.. Trump has displayed virtually no regard for the consequences of his actions on American allies, including South Korea and Japan.
.. without giving any advance notice to South Korea, which had worked for months to set up the summit, was shocking even by his standards.
.. To many people who live in Korea or in nearby countries, it seemed like an American President was behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance.
.. Trump looks impetuous and unreliable.”
.. the Trump Administration is demanding that Kim’s regime agree to scrap its entire nuclear arsenal—which it spent thirty years developing—rapidly and unilaterally.
The North Koreans, in talking about “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” appear to be envisaging a much more gradual process that would involve reciprocal measures on the U.S. side.
.. China, which is also a key player, has proposed an initial “freeze for freeze” deal, in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and the United States suspends its military exercises with South Korea.