February 28, 2020

Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax,” as Trump said, perpetrated by Democrats eager to tank his presidency. That would explain the dramatic drop of the stock market this week as nothing but an emotional reaction to “fake news.” It would mean that the strong economy Trump has hyped as his major contribution to the country—he denies that his predecessor Barack Obama had anything to do with it, although economic numbers under Obama were as good or better than today’s—remains intact, so long as people will ignore those dastardly Democrats... the Democrats that Donald Trump, Jr. says are hoping the coronavirus “comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”

This is one heck of a gamble, and it reveals the corner into which the administration’s reliance on a false narrative has painted it. Under Trump, the country is great again… so the virus can’t be a problem. The rising stock market has proved that the economy is brilliant and Trump gets all the credit for it… so the falling stock market must be fake, or else the fault of jealous Democrats.

But the virus isn’t playing Trump’s game. It is spreading. Today, after we learned there are more than 85,000 known cases in the world and more than 2,900 known deaths, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program warned “every government on the planet” to “wake up. Get ready. You have a duty to your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be ready.” The WHO raised its risk assessment of the virus to “very high,” and just tonight, we have learned that the United States has its third case of coronavirus in a patient who has had no known contact with the infection, which indicates the virus is spreading within the community. Since we have not yet tested extensively, how far it has spread is unclear.

The stock market isn’t buying Trump’s rosy assessment, either. It has slid for seven days, shedding more than 13% of its value, taking $4 trillion from global stock values. Worried, White House officials are talking of tax cuts to boost consumer confidence, but consumer confidence cannot address the fact that the virus has interrupted supply chains; cut into air travel, tourism, and entertainment; and hobbled economies as people stay home. Fears of infection are starting to slow down air travel within the U.S., too, as companies are calling off conferences and Americans stop traveling for vacations.

Reports tonight suggest that China’s draconian quarantine measures actually worked, slowing the spread of the virus to enable health-care facilities to manage cases, but those measures also slowed economic production. Trump is depending on a strong economy to be reelected this fall. So, rather than encouraging us to take the simple precautions that would slow the virus enough to stagger our dangerous cases so healthcare facilities can manage them, Trump is urging his followers to adopt a religious view of coronavirus: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” To make sure the administration’s message cannot contradict him, government scientists may not speak directly to the media; all news about the virus must be cleared through Katie Miller (who recently married White House advisor Stephen Miller) at Vice President Pence’s office.

Trump’s increasing insistence on ignoring the coronavirus reminds me of Nixon’s increasing paranoia when he became convinced “enemies” were working against his reelection in 1972 (and, of course, Roger Stone is a common denominator between these two presidents and their reelection campaigns). Nixon hunkered down with his own men around him and turned more and more toxic toward those he thought were working against him.

Today, Trump announced he would nominate Texas Republican congressman John Ratcliffe to be his permanent Director of National Intelligence, despite the fact that when he tried to insert Ratcliffe before into the position to replace Dan Coats, lawmakers of both parties expressed concern about his lack of qualifications and his role as one of Trump’s key partisans in Congress. Since the DNI will be in charge of protecting the 2020 election against Russian interference, Trump’s insistence on reintroducing Ratcliffe into that role now suggests Trump is worried about his reelection, and is less interested in protecting our nation than in having a loyalist in a position key for the upcoming election.

People are asking me a lot about that election, especially about whether or not Trump will call it off, or whether he will refuse to leave the White House even if he loses. My take on it is that I think it’s way too early to worry about either of those things. So much is happening in America these days we cannot predict even what will happen next week, and that election is more than eight months out. Want proof of how fast things are moving? The Ukraine Scandal broke slightly more than five months ago. And I looked back over these Letters to see when I first dedicated one to the coronavirus. It was forever ago, right?

It was Tuesday.

We could all use a break.

Aside from everything else, tonight’s big takeaway is: wash your hands a LOT, don’t touch your face, eat right, get enough sleep (I know, I know…), read reputable sources about how best to handle public health...

And we will ride this out together.

——

Notes:

Trump “hoax”:

Mulvaney, hoax: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/mick-mulvaney-accuse-media-harm-trump-coronavirus

Don, Jr.: https://www.businessinsider.com/don-jr-dems-want-coronavirus-to-end-dads-streak-winning-2020-2?fbclid=IwAR3kQA5fDNtG-1Yv6j-I-fWVcs53UiB4S1yUV0ONE7y-4I0pKJUWrgVSfoE

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/28/trump-south-carolina-rally-coronavirus-118269

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/02/28/coronavirus-live-updates/

stock markets: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2020/02/28/stock-markets-tumble-because-coronavirus-this-time-feels-different/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/02/28/coronavirus-cancel-travel/

miracle: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/28/politics/donald-trump-coronavirus-miracle-stock-markets/index.html

numbers:

Ratcliffe: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/28/politics/john-ratcliffe-dni-nominate/index.html

Wake up:

China’s measures worked: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/covid-19-china-epicurve-1.5479983

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/27/politics/pence-messaging-coronavirus/index.html