Given his desire to be rich, he was lucky to have a rich father. Then, when he over-leveraged his business and sank into bankruptcy, he was lucky to fail just as reality television was hitting its peak. Instead of being a successful businessman, Trump could make a fresh bundle by playing one on TV.
Then he got into politics, and — talk about lucky! — he found himself running against Democrats. Some of my best friends are Democrats, and they have many admirable qualities. But from the standpoint of pragmatic politics, let’s be honest: They often resemble the Three Stooges marching through a field full of garden rakes. Will Rogers famously quipped that, as a Democrat, he belonged to no organized party. The joke still works.
Just 10 days ago, it appeared as though the Democrats were allowing themselves to be hijacked by an elderly man waving an imaginary gun. How lucky could Trump get? Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, promises to take away everyone’s health insurance and replace it with much higher taxes — an idea that was actually tried in Vermont not long ago and failed dramatically.
Not only that, Sanders is a candidate who finds it easy to describe life in the United States as “unacceptable,” having once called life in the old Soviet Union “reasonably happy.” And not only that: The vast movement of new voters that Sanders claims to be leading is, in fact, much smaller than the insurgency he led, to little effect, in 2016. For Trump, the chance to run against Sanders was as fortuitous as inheriting another $400 million.
But then the president’s luck soured. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) looked around at his hand-wringing fellow Democrats, heaved a sigh and told Sanders to put down his finger-pistol. Clyburn then loaded former vice president Joe Biden onto a stretcher across the seats of the Democratic bus, climbed behind the wheel and floored it through South Carolina and across Super Tuesday.
Perhaps you’re thinking that running against Biden is just a different kind of lucky. Fair point. Biden’s wrestling match with the English language has not gone well this campaign season, and many of the party leaders who have rushed to endorse him are afraid that his excellent victory speech in South Carolina was a fluke — like an eager Labradoodle jumping up on a piano and accidentally banging out a few bars of Chopin.
But Biden is not the only reason to think the president’s luck might be turning. Along comes covid-19, the nasty little coronavirus that threatens to knock the wind out of Trump’s robust economy.
First, what covid-19 isn’t: This is not the Andromeda strain. It’s not going to kill us all. For most people who get it, the symptoms are no worse than the other crud that creeps through the human population each flu season.
But it is a very serious matter. Chinese authorities aren’t known for their frivolity. They didn’t shut down a major city and blockade an entire province over the common cold. The Federal Reserve Board didn’t order an emergency cut in interest rates just to fight the sniffles. The global organization of health-care information experts didn’t cancel its annual meeting for the first time in 58 years over nothing. Covid-19 is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease for which we have no vaccine and, until recently, no good tests. The only way to fight such an outbreak — as China has demonstrated — is to keep people apart. Covid-19 has a slow incubation period, so you have to separate people for a long time: 14 days.
Commerce brings people together. So commerce and coronavirus don’t mix.
At the sight of this particular black swan, Trump’s beautiful, perfect stock market has lost roughly 4,000 points — and that’s before the World Health Organization called on governments everywhere to pull out “all the stops.” Let’s assume those stops resemble the ones already pulled in East Asia. Travel stops. Industry stops. Entertainment stops. Dining out stops. Tourism stops.
Eventually, the virus stops. But the economic damage is done. The authoritative Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted week that covid-19 will cut global growth in half if the virus spreads beyond East Asia. Since then, it has spread.
Trump’s going to need a new campaign script. And this one won’t be called “Mr. Lucky.”
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