Beware of Trump's coronavirus pandemic profiteering

The Connecticut Labor Department saw unemployment benefit claims jump 100 percent over four days, from a norm of 3,000 or so filings in a typical week ending Friday to nearly 30,000 on Tuesday. I asked yesterday what the economic indicators were to justify the president’s $1 trillion stimulus package. Well, there they are.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

But knowing how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is doesn’t detract from my reluctance to trust the president to do the right for its own sake. He is a totalitarian in the sense that everything—truth or democracy, loyalty or disease—revolves around his enfeebled ego so that even obeying the law might put you on the other side of Donald Trump. He seems to care far more about juicing the economy, thus calming Wall Street and covering his ass, than providing the leadership a nation needs in a crisis.

As of cue this morning, Trump confirmed my suspicions. He said, and I quote:

95% Approval Rating in the Republican Party, 53% overall. Not bad considering I get nothing but Fake & Corrupt News, day and night. “Russia, Russia, Russia”, then “the Ukraine Scam (where’s the Whistleblower?)”, the “Impeachment Hoax”, and more, more, more.... Also, according to the Daily Caller, leading Sleepy Joe Biden in Florida, 48% to 42%.”

Don’t get me wrong. It does not feel good to distrust an American president at a time like this. It does not feel good suspecting that he’s more focused on “the numbers”—whether it’s the number of sick or the S&P 500—than he is on real human beings who are really going to suffer thanks to a real pandemic his White House really did nothing to stop early on because he really did fear its impact on “the numbers.” It does not feel good, and yet here we are. Worse, the president today is basically saying I’m right.

Perhaps I’m looking at this wrong. Perhaps I need to stop trying to see a leader who does not exist at the moment. Maybe I need to see what’s not there. No crisis on God’s earth, even one as great as this one, is going to turn this president into a leader. He cannot rise to the occasion. There is no occasion he feels bound to recognize if it does not serve him. Whenever this crisis ends—and that may be 18 months from now, according to a new report—it will be in spite of, not because of, Donald John Trump.

The president’s Twitter id isn’t the only thing telling me I’m right to distrust him. The White House is putting all its political capital into a giant stimulus bill when it has not yet done nearly enough to stop, or slow down, the spread of the novel coronavirus.

For one thing, Trump’s foolish ban on travel from Europe forced Americans to return en masse, turning airports around the country into huge petri dishes perfect for spreading the virus. For another, cities and states do not have a sufficient tests, ventilators, hospital beds, medical staff and more. The closest he got to meeting that ballooning demand was a vague promise made during a presser about the stimulus plan.

About that plan. The Post tells us it (so far) calls for sending some Americans $1,000 depending on need and income (some will get $2,000 checks). That’s fine on its face, as is allocating $300 billion in cheap loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. A closer look, however, suggests Trump and the GOP are creating conditions in which special-interests—and even the president himself—will benefit from the legislation.

Some $50 billion would be set aside for the airline industry. (Boeing put its hand out for $60 billion.) That’s on top of tens of billions for “unspecified stabilization measures” to prop up other sectors, “which could include hotels,” according to the Post. I don’t need to remind you Donald Trump is in the travel and hospitality business.

Now, I’m no economist. But I do know what bullshit smells like.

Here we have a global disease outbreak about to trigger an international recession, and here’s an American president proposing a law to paper over the damage he’s already done while seeming to profiteer from mass sickness and death. If I’m reading this right, the Democrats are not only trying to steer him in a patriotic direction. (They want “restrictions on firms that receive emergency assistance to assure that employees aren’t laid off while executives pocket large bonuses,” per the Post.) The Democrats are also trying to stop Trump from enacting a law allowing him to skim the public till.

This president is what he is. A leader? No. Thief? Yeah, that sounds right.