A wounded Trump is an especially dangerous Trump: Thoughts on his proposed economic pivot.

March 24th, 2020 at 11:44 am

When I first heard that Trump and some other conservatives were making the case for punting on containment of the virus in the interest of reflating the economy, I ignored it because it made no sense to me. It still doesn’t, but from what I’m seeing, the idea seems potentially serious enough to warrant a response.

There are at least three reasons this pivot idea is nonsensical.

First, Trump may admire and aspire to emulate authoritarian leaders, but he has no such powers. He did not close my workplace and he cannot reopen it. To be sure, I’m not discounting his bully pulpit and he surely has the capacity to undermine containment efforts with deadly consequences by telling people to get back to work and go out to restaurants, etc. But especially if many more people get sick—the predictable result of his pivot—and if other authorities, including governors, the CDC, school systems, etc. tell people to continue to distance, his admonitions won’t matter as much as he thinks they will. To put it succinctly, I ain’t going back to normal until Dr. Fauci says so, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Second, he can’t stop a deep recession because it’s already here. The key indicators, like GDP and unemployment, are lagging but they will soon reveal that the U.S., if not the global economy, has already begun to contract. More timely indicators confirm this dire forecast. For example, claims for Unemployment Insurance are expected to reveal 3 million layoffs in the past week. At the worst of the last recession, we lost 2.3 million jobs in the worst quarter (2009q1). True, the length of the downturn is not yet known, but as the next point explains…

Third, any pivot would likely backfire and exacerbate the length and depth of the recession. A significant reduction of containment efforts that resulted in spiking cases of Covid-19 would lead us right back to where we are now, with people distancing to protect themselves, but this time, with an overwhelmed health care system and far more deaths than would otherwise occur. Not incidentally, from Trump’s skewed perspective, if I’m correct about this scenario, the markets would tank even further. The essential principle, and the sad truth, is that putting the economy in deep freeze is necessary to have an economy capable of rebounding once containment is achieved.

So, summarizing: Trump couldn’t enforce a return to normality even if he wanted to, it’s too late to stave off a recession, and any attempt to do so would likely lead to a longer and deeper downturn.

Of course, such logic, which appears to be shared by the majority talking about this, may not prevail. Trump’s populism has long been driven by his remarkable ability to identify and exploit this space where elites (e.g., the health professionals he’s now inveighing against) tell the masses to do something that’s costly to them. Trump then goes after these elites on behalf of the people, arguing that the elites think they’re better than the rest of us and we shouldn’t have to suffer because of their agenda. This has proven to be a powerful force in his ascendancy, and I hear it as a clear subtext in his tweets and statements advocating for the pivot. His alleged loss of patience with Dr. Fauci is an example of this dynamic.

But even more pointedly, Trump recognizes his reelection bid is at serious risk. He may be free of the virus, but it has wounded him politically, and a wounded Trump is an especially dangerous Trump. He’s clearly especially rankled by his inability to move the stock market around, something he’s done far more than any president. Right out of the gate, he made the rookie mistake of making the stock market his report card, and the massive selloff, wiping out all the gains over his presidency, has be driving him nuts.

Despite the faulty logic of the pivot, which is far more likely to backfire than enhance Trump’s fortunes, is it conceivable that he and his coterie would trade hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives to get re-elected?

Of course it is.

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5 comments in reply to "A wounded Trump is an especially dangerous Trump: Thoughts on his proposed economic pivot."

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    Don’t overlook the fact that Donald John Trump, as distinct from President Trump [1] is currently losing a lot of money (roughly several millions) every day that his revenue properties are closed. It’s doubtful that he’ll be getting any slack on the payments, either, and from past history he’s leveraged to and past the hilt — any hit to his revenues and it all goes *poof*.

    Which concerns me almost as much as I’m concerned for the millions of Americans who are having trouble getting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. A bit less, since he’s not missing any meals.

    [1] A distinction that he almost certainly doesn’t make but we should be careful to.

  2. Robert Palmer says:

    The Trump phenomenon is a media creation. In media land, entertainment is the core value. Reality, truth, honesty, and all that other stuff is oh so boooring. Trump won the last election because he thrives in that space. But he is struggling now because reality has intruded into his space. Whether he can evade the consequences and restore unreality or not will determine whether he gets anther four years.

  3. bt says:

    Come on. This is pretty obvious what he’s doing right now.

    Trump is just creating the impression that he is trying to save the economy, the greatest economy in history by the way. But those terrible doctors and big-city mayors and socialist governors are dead-set on destroying the Trump Economy.

    Trump is just working the refs so that when the wreckage is clear, he can try to put the blame on someone else – he wants to be able to say that it was someone else who shut our economy down and pushed the budget deficit over 3 trillion dollars. It has been his playbook over and over and over for his whole life.

    This is just another Trump con job, and if you think anything Trump says is anything more than another con job, you are just one more sucker, like the ones who signed up for TrumpU.

  4. Dave says:

    The election of a president has cost tens of thousands of lives before. Think Viet Nam.

    As bad as that horror was, the death toll from this WILL be worse.

    The horror of human against human is not at play, so there is a difference.


    If you thought this guy was bad, now’s the time to confirm that thought!