The cure — social distancing — has been imposed to save thousands of lives. But in Trump’s mind, the resulting economic slowdown and bear market from those measures are worse than a potentially catastrophic death toll. That’s the only reasonable interpretation of his outburst, which coincides with reporting from the New York Times that, “at the White House, in recent days, there has been a growing sentiment that medical experts were allowed to set policy that has hurt the economy, and there has been a push to find ways to let people start returning to work.”
For Trump and many in his party, what matters most is money. (“Some Republican lawmakers have also pleaded with the White House to find ways to restart the economy, as financial markets continue to slide and job losses for April could be in the millions.”) To them, letting medical experts set policy to combat a pandemic is a serious error. “Worse” than the deaths of thousands of Americans, in the minds of the narcissistic president, is the chance that his reelection could be impaired by bad economic numbers. Does it dawn on him that thousands of dead Americans might reflect poorly on him as well?
Trump’s latest spasm of indifference to other humans comes at a time when one of those experts, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, warns that the situation is about to get much worse. In a CBS interview, Adams said: “I didn’t expect to be starting off my week with such a dire message for America, but the numbers are going to get worse this week.” He reiterated, “Things are going to get worse before they get better. And we really need everyone to understand this is serious, to lean into what they can do to flatten the curve.”
Here we see the gap between Trump’s pecuniary and political interests (which he thinks depend entirely on the stock market) and the experts trying to get us to do things that would prevent greater loss of life. Trump’s behavior — denying the crisis, painting it as a threat from foreigners (when community spread is already well underway), constantly lying about progress being made, attacking political rivals and congratulating himself on his response (and forcing recitals of praise from advisers) — tells us that even a pandemic, in his mind, is all about him.
With thousands of families facing a health crisis and millions suffering economic tragedy, Trump whines that he has not received sufficient credit for his actions (which mayors, governors and scientists say were grossly negligent and insufficient). All the while, he remains poised to thrust his hand into the cookie jar of government bailout money.
The experts must be heeded. The governors and mayors must be supported. Trump must be ignored or must delegate all significant decision-making to someone competent and conscientious of the human suffering unfolding before us. Otherwise, we are in grave trouble.