It has been a dispiriting few months.
We’ve been sitting here watching the earliest stage of what will be recognized in hindsight as one of the greatest crises in American history. Donald Trump is the president and was elected as the leader of a “national populist” revolution in 2016 and has blown the power that he was given.
There is take making the rounds that nationalists have squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. The coronavirus was almost tailor made for a “national populist” president to push through his stalled agenda. It was a foreign threat could only enter the country and kill the old and the weak through uncontrolled travel and immigration. The Left was hesitant to close our borders even to a deadly virus that disproportionately kills non-Whites because of “racism” and “xenophobia.” The nation had been left nearly defenseless by globalists who had outsourced the medical supply chain. The crisis vindicated Trump on the core issues that got him elected: uncontrolled immigration, trade and foreign policy.
There is an election in November and this would have been the perfect opportunity for Trump to win over swing voters, consolidate and expand his base against a sputtering and senile Joe Biden. It is times like this when the public demands strong and competent leadership, not a nanny state “mommy,” but a “father of the nation” figure, to navigate the nation through a major crisis. He could have acted swiftly to impose real travel bans on China and Europe, not an optics ban that allowed American citizens to come and go as they please, and to regulate international flights like every other country that has successfully fought the virus. He could have followed Dr. Bright’s advice and mobilized domestic industry to produce masks. If he had listened to his own intelligence agencies, it is easy to imagine Trump devoting the 2020 State of the Union address to preparing the country for the looming threat of a deadly pandemic.
None of this happened like it did in Hungary and Australia because Donald Trump already had a plan for winning the 2020 election. The plan was that he would be reelected on the basis of the conservative policies – the tax cuts and deregulation – that had created the greatest economy in the world. The stock market was surging to Dow 30,000 in February. He didn’t want to take any bold and controversial actions that would have screwed that up. As a result, Trump downplayed and minimized the virus and wrote it off as “just the flu.” He consulted with his donors and made the call to “ride it out.” In doing so, he ignored the WHO, his own public health team and his own intelligence agencies.
Look at where we are now because of the choice that Donald Trump made at the fork in the road of his destiny: 94,143 dead and 14.7% unemployment in two months. The worst aspects of the liberal Right have been put on public display: the selfishness, materialism and extreme individualism at the heart of their philosophy, a callous disregard for the lives of the weak, the elderly and the poor, the rejection of science and medicine, the embrace of conspiracy theories, obsequious deference to wealthy donors at the expense of the common good, attacking doctors and nurses putting their own lives at risk for doing their jobs in a national crisis, the descent into polarization at the worst possible moment and the scapegoating of foreigners for our inept management of a global crisis.
As bad as things are today, the worst is almost certainly yet to come with COVID-19. The first wave of the Spanish Flu which started in the spring of 1918 was spotty and mild. It did not affect the entire nation. It was not seen as a pandemic. It was not even thought of as a remarkable event. It did not kill anywhere near as many people as this. 195,000 Americans died in October 1918 in the deadliest month in American history. To put this in perspective, only 22,654 soldiers died at the battle of Antietam in 1862.
If Donald Trump had risen to the occasion, he would be coasting to reelection in November. In other countries, trust in government has soared where the crisis has been handled well. It is natural to rally around the leader and to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. This was a golden opportunity for Trump to impress and win over his critics both at home and abroad. It was a legacy defining event which will determine how Donald Trump is remembered in American history. The most tragic part about it is that all it required was for him to act to move on his own instincts and agenda. You would have thought that a germophobe and authoritarian national populist Donald Trump, not Jacinda Ardern, would have gotten credit for the wise decision he made to close our borders to contain the virus. If he had done so as the virus ravaged the world, maybe one day a Trump monument would have been built in New York City. He could be boasting right now that he was smarter than The New York Times.
The Donald Trump that showed up in February was a stock market cheerleader who preferred to relentlessly tweet about the lowest black unemployment rate in history. As a result, the Donald Trump who will be facing voters in the fall will be campaigning during one hell of an October Surprise.
Note: In 7 out of 8 of the major pandemics that have occurred since 1700, a second peak has come approximately six months after the first peak.