Trump risks the lives of millions to save himself
Opinion | Trump fans believe him over the media on coronavirus. This is dangerous.
Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health.
Dana Milbank Columnist March 23, 2020 at 8:53 p.m. EDT
People are dying. Businesses are failing. Workers are losing jobs.
But above all we as a nation must keep in mind the terrible cost borne by President Trump.
“It cost me billions of dollars to become president,” he said at a White House briefing Sunday evening that was, ostensibly, about the coronavirus response. He felt so proud of the sacrifice he’d gladly and selflessly made that he repeated the sentiment four more times. “I will say that it cost me billions of dollars to be president and especially with all the money I could have made for the last three, four years.”
Trump had been asked whether he sold investments before the market crash, as several senators did. He responded with self-pity. “Look at my legal costs!” he went on. Calling it “very hard for rich people to run for office,” he noted that George Washington was “supposedly” rich but didn’t suffer as Trump has for his wealth. “I got elected as a rich person, but nobody complained until I came along.”
This soliloquy of self, at a briefing to the nation about desperate hospitals and scarce medical supplies, displayed the utter absence of empathy in the man. In a perverse twist on Bill Clinton’s famous phrase, the nation reels, and Trump cries out: I feel my pain.
Previously, Trump’s narcissistic tendencies caused eye rolls, as when he told Gold Star parents about his own sacrifices, said avoiding STDs was his “personal Vietnam,” and claimed no president “has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
But it’s different now. As basic humanity demands that he minimize death and destitution, he seems more set on protecting his political standing and rewarding cronies. This isn’t America First — it’s Trump First.
Who cares if the leaders of Canada, Britain and Germany on Monday took severe steps to restrict movement in their countries to slow the spread of the coronavirus to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe? Who cares if studies show more than 2 million would die if the spread isn’t slowed?
Trump’s reelection depends on a booming economy.
And so on Monday night he made the ultimate gesture of selfishness: Defying the pleas of scientists and public health experts, he said he would reopen the economy in the next few weeks.
“I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now,” he announced at the White House on Monday night. “We’re going to be opening up our country,” he added.
Missing from the podium in the White House briefing room was Tony Fauci, the infectious disease chief from the National Institutes of Health who had criticized Trump in an interview Sunday. Trump on Monday dismissed “the doctors” who would “shut down the entire world” and “keep it shut for a couple of years.”
So this is what it has come to: To preserve political viability, he’s willing to risk the lives of millions.
In a macabre reprise of Rahm Emanuel’s “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” we see the Trump administration and its Senate allies exploiting a public-health crisis to push through a long-standing, to advance pet causes:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is attempting to use the crisis to get rid of the Dodd-Frank protections enacted after the financial collapse in 2008.
The Justice Department wants to allow people to be detained indefinitely without charges or trial.
The administration used the coronavirus not just to evacuate 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers but to fire them.
Trump’s team used the surgeon general’s public-health pronouncement to deny due process to asylum seekers.
The administration also cited the crisis in trying to make it easier for federal workers not to have union dues withheld from their paychecks, the New York Times reported.
And now, Senate Republicans, working with the White House, are attempting to push through a stimulus measure that offers a bonanza to corporations. It gives $50 billion to the airline industry without preventing layoffs. It expands corporate tax cuts. It gives Mnuchin a $500 billion blank check to hand out to businesses.
No-strings-attached welfare for big corporations won’t fight the virus and the economic suffering. That would require dramatically more support for small businesses (in exchange for no-layoff promises), vastly expanded payments and a huge investment in the public-health infrastructure. “If people are not safe to live and work, the economy won’t recover,” observes Byron Auguste, a former Obama economic adviser who now runs the labor-market group Opportunity@Work.
That bit of common sense hasn’t found a place into the Trump First plan, as he prepares to reopen the economy. Apparently, Trump is only concerned about the virus’s effect on one person: himself.
When Deborah Birx, coordinator of the coronavirus response, said at Monday evening’s briefing that she had a low-grade fever over the weekend, Trump, standing next to her, spoke a theatrical “uh-oh” and took a step away. When she said she tested negative for the virus, he gave an exaggerated “phew.”
But then, this is a president who, when asked what he would “say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared,” replies: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.”
There is no empathy inside this broken man — nor in his feeble response to this disaster.