President Trump’s theory of reopening businesses and other public venues rests on the assumption that government’s intervention to protect the public by instituting social distancing rules was forced upon an unwilling public; remove the rules and people will return, Trump insists. When they return — presto! — the economy will bounce back, and he will get reelected. None of that is accurate.

The public remains more cautious than politicians even in red states. Steven Rattner, former “car czar” in the Obama administration, writes that “Georgians (and residents of other early opening states) have mostly continued to hunker down. Good news for public health — but bad news for the economy.” In other words, it is not big, bad government that is keeping them locked away at home; it is the virus, which absent a cure or a vaccine, will restrict their range of activities. “Even though the state was among the last to impose a stay at home order, time spent away from home fell by roughly the same as it did nationally — a 20% to 30% drop at its worst,” Rattner explains. “After Georgia began to lift its restrictions on April 24, time away from home in Georgia began to climb but only modestly. Indeed as of May 13, the most recent figures available, Georgians’ time out of the house was still down about 16 percent, just a small amount less than the national average of an 18% fall.”

Consumer spending is still down in Georgia (15 percent lower than January levels), but that is up from its low point, which was 30 percent lower than in January. In addition, “the falloff in job listings in Georgia has been identical to the national decline, down more than 36%. Other statistics, like new claims for unemployment insurance, paint an even grimmer picture of the employment situation in Georgia.” Rattner’s conclusion is that “state decisions about re-openings will be of limited help to a crippled economy until Americans are confident that it is safe to leave their homes.” In other words, Trump is mistaken that the economy will bounce back simply by lifting restrictions.

Some industries are worse off than others. “Most Americans expect the coronavirus to upend summer vacation plans with few saying it is likely they will be staying in a hotel (32%), going on an airplane (23%), or going to a concert or sporting event (19%) in the next 3 months,” a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds. Majorities of independents and Republicans say they will be “getting back to some usual activities in the coming months such as going to the doctor, going to a barber or salon, attending larger gatherings, or eating in a restaurant.” Aside from going to a doctor, most Democrats say they will not. Entertainment, hospitality and travel industries will continue to lag until there is a cure or vaccine.

Trump’s wishful thinking — lift restrictions and a recovery begins — ignores the fears and concerns of Americans (unsurprising for a world-class narcissist). Despite Trump’s partisan, angry efforts to demean state and local officials who instituted stay-at-home measures, the latter are following public opinion and conduct. Haranguing careful, conscientious mayors and governors (whose approval far exceeds his own) is not going to change that.

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