He put a boundary on that recommendation of 15 days but even on Tuesday insisted that any decision to rescind those recommendations would be “based on hard facts and data.”
So far, the data suggest that the spread of the coronavirus in the country continues at a torrid pace. That’s to be expected; the incubation period for the virus and the slow increase in testing means that we’re only now detecting infections that occurred before Trump’s announcement. But the data clearly do not, at this point, suggest that scaling back the distancing efforts is warranted.
Trump, though, appears to have grown frustrated with the freeze on much of the economy. He has complained about the broad shutdown repeatedly in recent days and told an interviewer from Fox News on Tuesday that he wanted most things up and running by Easter, including that he’d like to see churches packed with parishioners. Were the virus sentient, it would probably agree with that particular goal.
On Wednesday, Trump took a new direction in his push to scale back the closures. The media has been a frequent target of his irritation since the shutdown went into effect. He has now decided that the media deserves blame for opposition to reopening much of the economy — something the media opposes because it wants him to lose in November.
“Real people,” Trump says, support getting the economy back to normal as soon as possible.
It’s clear that Trump sees a link between the shutdown and his reelection bid. He believes a healthy economy is necessary for his reelection, probably for good reason. Before March 16, he insisted that the coronavirus posed little risk to the country, apparently in an effort to assuage the concerns of investors. When the investors grew concerned anyway, he embraced the stricter recommendations. Now, as The Washington Post has reported, friends and advisers are pushing him to scale back the shutdown — and he’s listening.
Most Americans, however, support the efforts to contain the virus. A poll from the Economist conducted by YouGov this week found that two-thirds of Americans supported even the strictest measures requiring that people remain at home. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans supported that idea; nearly 7 in 10 supported closures of bars and restaurants.
It’s safe to say that most people do, in fact, support getting the economy back on track as soon as possible. Where health experts disagree with Trump is on the definition of “possible”: An economy in which tens of thousands of people are hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, is not an economy that’s running at full steam. Scale back distancing measures, and the virus can spread more easily, even among younger people, who are more likely to survive but may still need critical care.
It’s worth noting that most of the measures that have been put in place to restrict interactions have been implemented at the state level. It’s governors who are telling people they need to stay home and mandating business closures. In recent Monmouth University polling, governors get better marks on their handling of the pandemic than does Trump.
Trump’s framing on Wednesday afternoon was of a hyperactive media pushing the country to a position aimed at hurting him personally, over the objections of the American people. (That the shutdown is harming news organizations, which are also businesses, probably doesn’t worry Trump too much.)
Most people don’t agree, viewing other Americans generally as not overreacting to the pandemic. About a third of Republicans said they thought most people were overreacting, but two-thirds said either that most people were reacting appropriately or underreacting.
The role the media plays at this moment is to convey messaging from health experts, including those on the front lines of addressing the pandemic, and to share with people the scale and danger of the pandemic. That this might conflict with a push to return to normal is obviously frustrating to Trump, but it is a function solely of a desire that Americans actually understand what’s happening.
Among those not in the media who are advocating for restrictions aimed at the coronavirus is Narendra Modi, prime minister of India. He implemented a three-week ban on people leaving their homes to curtail the spread of the virus in his country. Whether Trump believes that Modi, too, is thinking primarily about the U.S. election is unclear.