Thousands of people are going to die, he knows he will be blamed and he can already see his campaign circling the toilet. Those realizations were all over Donald Trump’s face on Wednesday night as he addressed the nation from the Oval Office. His speech was monotonal, his face so frozen with failure and fear that he looked like the product of taxidermy. He knows he is staring into the maw of a beast he can’t control. It’s going to be impossible to tweet away all the deaths that are coming, and he is terrified.
This article first appeared in Salon.
The question that sprang to mind as I watched him epically fuck up the most important moment of his presidency was this: What’s going to happen when the numbers of coronavirus deaths begin to climb, and his numbers begin to tank? They will. He’s not going to be able to stop the pandemic from killing thousands of Americans, and this lawless maniac is capable of anything. With the NBA and Major League Baseball suspending their seasons, with “March Madness” canceled, with concerts and festivals and parades canceled, Broadway theaters closed, schools shuttered from coast to coast, and the fact that we have no idea how long the coronavirus epidemic will last, Donald Trump is fully capable of making plans to cancel the election in November to save himself.
Trump tried to keep the whole thing secret at first, ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to hold its meetings about the coronavirus in secret — in a goddamned SCIF, for crying out loud! Because those initial meetings were top secret, important experts on epidemiology who lacked security clearances were banned from attending. Testing for the virus was held up by the CDC, which repeatedly refused to release hospitals and independent research facilities from regulations that prevented them from developing and fielding their own test kits. The idea throughout the initial weeks of the virus was to follow Trump’s lead, keep the numbers of coronavirus cases as low as possible, and hope for the best.
Trump appointed himself as the man in charge of the message and started lying.
On Jan. 22, he said: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine!”
On Feb. 2, he doubled down and started laying blame: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
On Feb. 10, he puked one of his “a lot of people” lies out of his cakehole: “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in.”
Later that day, he marched out his acting budget director, Russell Vought, to reassure the nation with this jewel: “Coronavirus is not something that is going to have ripple effects.”
On Feb. 24, he tweeted: “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA … Stock Market is looking very good to me.” (The Dow Jones was at 27,900 that day. On Thursday, it closed at 21,200.)
On Feb. 26, Trump said: “[The number of people infected is] going very substantially down, not up.” “The 15 [cases] within a couple of days, is going to be down to zero.” (On Friday, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. passed 1,800. The total number of cases probably exceeds 10,000, according to the Los Angeles Times, and could be much higher than that.)
On Feb. 27, he said: “It’s going to disappear one day. It’s like a miracle.”
On March 6, during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control, Trump bragged: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. . . . Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.” Later that day, he marched out his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, to say: “We stopped it, it was a very early shutdown. I would still argue to you that this thing is contained.” Then he reassured the market: “Investors should think about buying these dips.” (The market closed more than 2,300 points lower than the previous time Kudlow had advised “buying these dips.”)
On March 10, the day before Trump’s disastrous address from the Oval Office, Trump said: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
By Thursday, as the number of coronavirus cases passed 1,000, the market plunged 2,352 points, the largest drop since “Black Monday” in 1987, into”bear market” territory. Wall Street has spent three years holding its collective breath, praying that nothing would happen to cause the exact “correction” we’re seeing now. The entire time they inflated the market and lined their own pockets, they knew Trump was a criminal and an ignoramus. He’s from New York. They have watched him blow through billions in bad investments and suffer multiple bankruptcies. They got what they wanted from him in the big tax cut that went to players in the financial and real estate markets, leaving pretty much everyone else behind.
Now the proverbial chickens have come home to the proverbial roost. A pandemic Katrina is in the works. Millions of Americans will be infected. Perhaps hundreds of thousands may die. Congress is about to lash together a stimulus that will make what they did after the 2008 recession crash look like a payday loan. We don’t have a clue how low the market will go, how many Americans will lose their jobs or how large the ripple effect of the pandemic will be in sectors like housing, manufacturing, even farming and the food supply. We are on the verge of a recession and could be looking into the black hole of a depression — and the man at the helm of the economic ship is drunk on the four years of lies and thievery that got him into the White House and has kept him there.
On Friday, Trump held a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House that was a coronavirus petri dish: A large gathering of people sitting and standing close to one another. Trump shook hands with random corporate executives and administration officials as everyone used the same microphone, adjusting it with their hands, speaking directly into it and then passing it to the next fool. Reporters passed around a second microphone from hand to hand, using it to ask questions. If one person at that press conference, they were all exposed. That’s Trump, leading by example.We don’t have a president. We don’t even have a cheerleader-in-chief. What we’ve got is a deranged fool who has spent his entire life doing whatever he felt like doing and has never faced a single consequence for his actions.
Now he’s in charge of a government for which he has nothing but contempt and which he doesn’t understand even at a kindergarten level. He’s appointed industry lobbyists who behave like uneducated teenagers to run its various departments, and he has done whatever he could do to damage the ability of government to act in any meaningful way. The biggest chicken of all that’s now roosting atop the White House, and atop the entire Republican Party for that matter, is the Reagan shibboleth that “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” We’re about to learn what the coronavirus thinks of that little jewel of wisdom.
Trump is sitting there in the White House and, as dense as he is, even he can see that every day that passes, indeed every hour that ticks by, is another marker in his long downhill slide. His poll numbers are destined for the tank. He’s going to look into the unblinking eye of the camera day after day during this crisis, and it will be right there on his face that he is clueless and afraid. His ability to “drive the narrative” is over. “Fake news” caught up with him. There is nothing he can do with his tweets and lies to stop what’s about to happen to him, and to us.
The tragedy is that it didn’t have to be this way. Republicans in the Senate had a chance to rid us of Trump, but they were too afraid of him to act. Now we’re stuck with this monster. Their craven cowardice and disregard of the truth is going to cost us dearly. Companies will go bankrupt. People will lose their life savings, their houses and, sadly, their lives because this man is in the White House.
His re-election campaign is in the emergency room waiting to see a doctor, but they’re all busy treating the people who are sick or dying from his criminal negligence, cruelty, ignorance and shame. It’s only March, and Trump already needs a respirator. He’s finished. He’s a dead man stumbling toward a certain political grave — and the brutal judgment of history that he is the worst president this nation has ever had.
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