And perhaps that’s just as well. On the occasions when President Trump actually tries to do his job, he tends to make any bad situation measurably worse. Better that he be an observer than an actual actor, however unmoored from reality his increasingly incoherent running commentary may be.
The nation is beset by the covid-19 pandemic, unprecedented economic dislocation and historic social upheaval sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd — a trifecta of tumult that would challenge any president. Trump is woefully overmatched. The realistic best-case scenario for the nation is that he rants and raves until Election Day, suffers a massive loss to former vice president Joe Biden, and then spends the months until Inauguration Day noisily nursing his wounds. If that sounds unpleasant and even dangerous, consider the alternative. Imagine if Trump tried to perform his duties rather than script daily episodes of his imaginary “President Trump Reality Show.”
Emergency federal unemployment assistance of $600 a week has expired, with disastrous implications for millions of bereft workers and the economy as a whole. A real president would call congressional leaders of both parties to the White House and hammer out a deal. Instead, Trump uses Twitter to blast “Do Nothing Democrats” (who have a unified position on new aid); says nothing about Republicans (who are hopelessly divided); and delegates negotiations to administration officials who themselves disagree about what to do.
That is insane. But recall what has happened on the rare times when Trump tried to forge bipartisan consensus: He always drives the parties further apart. Counterintuitively, it is better if he just lets others grapple with the problem, even without coordination or leadership.
The covid-19 pandemic has entered what Deborah Birx, Trump’s task force coordinator, called a “new phase.” Daily deaths have risen to levels not seen since May. The out-of-control surge in cases in the populous Sun Belt states may have peaked, but there are alarming increases in the Midwest and elsewhere.
The fundamental problem — unmistakable when U.S. numbers are compared with other industrialized countries — is that Trump refused to even consider a proper nationwide shutdown to drive infection rates to very low, manageable levels. This is why, for example, consumer spending in Germany has recovered to just 3 percent below normal levels while spending in the United States remains down 15 percent.
Trump’s “solution” is a flood of nonsensical verbiage. He pretends — or, chillingly, may actually believe — that the tens of thousands of new covid-19 cases reported daily would not exist if the country were not doing so much testing. He hectors governors and local officials to rapidly open all schools for in-person instruction, which would make a bad situation much worse. And he continues to tout what is proven to be a quack treatment for the disease, citing the endorsement of a weirdo doctor who believes in “alien DNA” and “demon sperm.”
Yes, the country desperately needs a national strategy to contain this horrible disease so we can safely reopen the economy. But a strategy based on Trump’s views would lead to unmitigated disaster and much more needless death. States, counties, cities, businesses and individuals — we’re all basically on our own. And that, sadly, is better than the alternative.
All of this is happening as the nation grapples with systemic racism following the killing of Floyd. A competent president could help lead us through a process of recognition, reconciliation and healing. Trump, whose personal racism is by now firmly established, refuses even to acknowledge the problem. Instead, in a desperate attempt to fire up his loyal base, he orders the use of shocking force against peaceful protesters near the White House, sends a federal goon squad to Portland, Ore., threatens other Democratic-run cities with similar invasions — and scream-tweets “LAW & ORDER.”
Again, we are on our own. Localities are reviewing, and changing, their policies governing the use of force by police. Corporations are pledging new commitment to diversity and inclusion; Major League Baseball teams are taking a knee. Polls show that “Black Lives Matter” is no longer just a slogan but a majority view.
We desperately need an actual president. I hope we have one in January. Until then, unfortunately, the lesser evil is that Trump spends his time rage-watching Fox News and howling at the moon.