President Donald Trump went on a rampaging tweet storm last week, just as top health officials made it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was indeed not going away. In fact, they made it clear the dangerous virus is likely to intensify, even as Trump continued irresponsibly to downplay it as he pushed ever harder for "reopening."
But our president's temper-tantrum Twitter conduct is just one more signal that he cannot govern and therefore wants to distract any focus on his dismal handling of the worst public health crisis in a century. That health crisis — with U.S. cases three times those of any other country on earth and a death toll heading toward 100,000 — is pushing jobless numbers to Great Depression levels. And that, especially, threatens Trump's re-election hopes.
His "Keep America Great" slogan is coming back to bite him. Hi 2020 catchphrase is "we will transition to greatness."
Perhaps he understands, though he'll never admit it, that he took an already great American economy and severely damaged it. Now he has to sell the promise of a painful economic restoration at a time when most of us tell pollsters we think he's done a poor job of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
But make no mistake: It isn't that Trump and his administration weren't made aware of the risk. It's that they don't know how to govern.
Trump simply can't grasp that he is not king or CEO. Opening the economy by decree to lift stay-at-home orders doesn't mean John and Jane Public feel safe to motor out and buy, buy, buy. Nor can it force a day's profit at a meat packing factory where more than the half the workforce has fallen ill and tested positive to COVID-19.
As the Bulwark wrote recently, "You can 'reopen' the country all you want. You cannot force people to act as though there is not a pandemic." Some might, but most won't.
Last weekend, Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News Sunday that the unemployment rate — which soared to 14.7% in April — is expected to climb even higher in May. "We could be" in store for Great Depression-era unemployment of around 25%, he said.
It's true that Congress and the Senate — Republicans and Democrats — have voted to spend trillions in response to the pandemic to support businesses, people, state and local governments, hospitals and health care providers. And they may yet vote to spend trillions more. But, as MarketWatch put it last month, this is money intended for rescue — life support — not an economic "stimulus."
This didn't have to be the case. Our president could have ramped up testing, social distancing and supply chain improvements in January when the U.S. was first warned by the World Health Organization and U.S. intelligence officials of the growing pandemic in China. Instead, Trump and his administration ignored the warnings and lied to Americans about the danger.
Democrat Joe Biden and his campaign understand, and they're on the hunt with an ad released Monday night that eviscerates Trump over his handling of the pandemic and the economy.
It's a long ad — 2 minutes and 42 seconds — titled "Timeline," and it highlights key moments of Trump's missteps and fantasies.
"Early January. Donald Trump is first warned of the virus. He ignores it. Defends the Chinese government instead" comes the narrator's voice-over. Video follows, with Trump saying things will be fine: "We have it totally under control."
The voice, again: "January 30. Trump's own cabinet secretary warns of a pandemic, raising concerns that the Chinese government isn't being transparent. Trump calls him an alarmist." Footage shows Trump saying, "We think it's going to have a very good ending for us."
The voice: "The next day, the Dow plummets 600 points." As days fly by on a February calendar, "Trump continues to deny the threat and praise the Chinese government," says the narrator. There is footage of Trump claiming that when the weather warms in April the virus will "miraculously go away."
The voice: "But global cases more than double, spreading to over 24 countries. February 25th: One of the CDC's top experts, Nancy Messonnier, speaks out, warning it could soon become a full-scale pandemic. Mr. Trump was 'furious' as he watched the stock market crash after her comments. Trump didn't want to upset the markets, so for the last five days of February, the Trump administration took to the airways to deny the truth." Video rolls with Trump officials calling the virus "contained."
"February 27," the voice intones again. "The market sees through the denials. The Dow continues to plunge. But Trump keeps up the false message." Video from March 10 shows Trump saying, "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."
The voice, over haunting strings and dramatic bass tones, hits the final chord:
"April turns into May. The virus doesn't disappear. There is no miracle. The cases mount. The death toll grows. More than 33 million Americans lose their jobs to the pandemic. Unemployment reaches Great Depression levels.
"Donald Trump doesn't understand. We have an economic crisis because he refused to act.
"Donald Trump didn't build a great economy. His failure to lead destroyed one."
A "Biden for President " logo flashes on the screen.
It's very effective. And very right.
It is Trump, his cabinet and the bulk of his advisers who should be unemployed. Let's make it happen.