Terry H. Schwadron
March 10, 2020
Could it really be that Donald Trump and team are looking at coronavirus and public contagion with an eye for political opportunity? I don’t mean just ignoring the early missteps and policy potholes, but actual new programs.
Could the White House not only show itself as incompetent in managing problems and truly prove so heartless about the effects on people and so short-sighted about the effects of spreading disease on public life as to use the situation to promote its own unrelated political interests?
In the midst of predictable (to anyone but the White House) spreading disease counts, the widening spread of event cancellations, the instant downturn of the airlines and tourism industries, plunging financial markets, we have a president who not only speaks unfounded untruths about disease, but seems to be maneuvering to promote new tax cuts, more border and immigration blocks and less reliance on Chinese manufacturing lines.
At rallies and in his asides during his on-the-fly interviews while announcing his “hunches” that overrule the scientific information from medical and epidemiological staffers still struggling to get a handle on coronavirus, Trump has been dropping increasingly broad statements about how stringent anti-immigrant vigilance has helped contain the illness, and how more tax cuts would help struggling markets.
“Shutting down borders or cutting taxes would not halt the spread of the virus, which is now being spread person-to-person within the U.S. and which scientists are still struggling to understand,” argued Politico.com in noting the White House press on the emerging agenda. “The ideas, however, are central to Trump’s popularity with his base heading his 2020 re-election race, and the outbreak gives both the president and his top aides a new space to re-introduce their favorite approaches amid the uncertainty.”
Of course, we are simultaneously facing an emerging economic crisis as well as a medical one. Trump is promising to act more swiftly on the economic issues than the medical ones, in fact, as early as later today.
And previous administrations, including that of Barack Obama, have taken advantage of addressing real problems, like the global economic crisis of 2008, to promote desired goals, like needed health care legislation as part of an overall set of solutions.
But this time the efforts are coming in the face of actual illness and deaths by an administration that went out of its way to end scientific preparations for pandemics and that sought big cuts for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health.
— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close Trump ally, is calling for a one-time tax credit for companies that move manufacturing, including drug production, from China back into the U.S. among several stimulus proposals to address economic downturns from virus fears. Trump has long advocated that companies return to the United States, with little to show for it.
— Trump is promoting another round of tax cuts, a temporary payroll tax cut, though the White House has been pushing for a cut over months. Among other things, these proposals seek to make the 2018 tax cuts permanent.
— The president also has used coronavirus as an excuse to call for the Federal Reserve to further cut interest rates, which it actually did last week, though not to the degree that Trump wants.
— Still what Wall Street and Main Street seem to want is certainty first, and financial help that comes in the form of bailouts. It is unclear where Trump, who has opposed such targeted bailouts in the past, will come down on those requests.
— Of course, this is the same Trump who wants to explode Obamacare and has not firmly vowed to cut Social Security. Medicare and Medicare — just as we are facing a public health crisis. So, it would be out of character, however needed, for him to support sick leave requirements f9or businesses or wider medical coverage for the uninsured.
To me, it is most interesting that all of these ideas are about promoting economic results to burnish Trump’s reelection record, even if they do not forestall a global recession, which looks more likely the longer the confusion over disease goes on. None of these proposals actually are aimed at helping to contain or control disease spread or work with international health agencies or even address the current day disease threats facing health care workers.
Trump is not looking to give Science a better berth in policymaking or moving to explain what will happen to cover the costs of uninsured Americans or to force more sick leave beyond the handful of states that currently require such coverage. Trump is not even looking at testing at the borders, recognizing that disease knows no immigration law barriers.
Meanwhile, Trump takes no responsibility for serious lapses in distribution of testing kits and guaranteeing supplies for disease prevention. Instead, he sees this as a public relations problem, and spends his valuable bully pulpit efforts at public insults for would-be political opponents and the news media rather than showing leadership in a crisis.
He sees no reason to cancel Trump rallies, of course.
For that matter, Trump does not even acknowledge that we have an economy that is based more on consumer spending and service-oriented jobs than on manufacturing. He does not acknowledge that the illness is a continuing threat, that there will be another disease after this one finally ends.
Let’s Make America Safer.