The arguments against prematurely ending social distancing and stay-at-home orders in the United States are being made from both a health care/safety standpoint and an economic standpoint — and some economists have been warning that while shutdowns are painful for many businesses, more infections and a higher death count from coronavirus will hurt the U.S. economy even more. Regardless, President Donald Trump has been calling for states to reopen their economies sooner rather than later — and journalist Catherine Rampell, in her Washington Post column, argues that doing so is a “hail Mary” move by a president who fears not being reelected.
“Public health experts worry that ‘reopening’ the country too soon will be bad for public health,” Rampell explains. “Economists worry it will be bad for the economy. The general public worries it will bad for, well, everyone. So why is President Trump agitating to do so anyway, even encouraging insurrection against his own administration’s stay-at-home guidance? Because it’s the only hail Mary chance he has at reelection.”
Last year during a speech in New Hampshire, Trump asserted that even Americans who didn’t like him had to vote for him anyway because of the economy — which was a departure from Trump’s usual rally-the-base speeches at MAGA rallies. But as Rampell points out, the coronavirus pandemic and all the financial misery it is bringing takes away Trump’s argument that the U.S. economy is strong.
“Pre-pandemic, Trump’s case for reelection could be summed up as: ‘But the economy,’” Rampell notes. “Ignore the racism, misogyny, abuses of power, environmental destruction, kids in cages, the siphoning of taxpayer funds into Trump-owned golf cart rentals. The economy has been good! And, rightly or wrongly, voters credit him. So long as stocks are high and unemployment is low, Americans might be willing to keep him in charge. Now, of course, that political strategy has collapsed.”
Rampell goes on to explain how badly the economy has “collapsed” thanks to the pandemic.
“More than 22 million people filed for unemployment in the past month; economic output is expected to shrink this quarter at its fastest pace on record,” Rampell observes. “Even leaving aside the U.S. death toll of more than 41,000, Trump is dangerously close to failing the ‘are you better off today than you were four years ago’ test on economic metrics alone.”
The “fastest pace on record” part is especially disturbing from an economic standpoint. “On record” includes the 1929 crash and the Great Depression, which led to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s landslide victory over incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1932. Because Americans were getting clobbered economically, Hoover got clobbered at the polls — and 88 years later, bad economies are still a recipe for being voted out of office.
If Trump waits until epidemiologists say that “it’s safe to reopen the economy,” Rampell asserts, that might not happen in time to save his reelection campaign.
“A substantial economic recovery is unlikely to materialize by November if states wait to fully reopen until later this summer or even the fall — which is when Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, suggests broad-based testing will become available,” Rampell notes. “On the other hand, states could reopen before preparedness measures are in place. The likely outcome: things blow up again.”
Rampell elaborates, “That is, we return to pandemic levels of coronavirus spread, which infect and kill lots of people; impose a second round of lockdowns — as happened during the 1918 influenza pandemic, in which the second wave was deadlier than the first — wreck the economy for another year; and have to spend even more taxpayer funds to relieve widespread financial ruin.”
The more desperate Trump feels, Rampell warns, the more “dangerous” that could be for the United States this election year.
“Right now, Trump is a man with almost nothing to lose, and that makes him dangerous,” Rampell asserts. “He’s more than happy to risk the lives of the old, infirm or otherwise vulnerable — even if they’re his voters.”