Will Covid-19 stump Trump?

| April 21, 2020

In just over three years in office, President Donald Trump seems to be operating in a perennial state of chaos, bringing crisis after crisis upon himself, all threatening his prospects of re-election in November.

However, the President is now in the midst of the a crisis that, for once, is not of his making and is out of his control, and this may be one that costs him a second term in office.

With more than 650,000 confirmed cases and the death toll surpassing 31,000 at the time of writing, the United States has overtaken Italy and China to become the new epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis that’s spread rapidly across the globe in a matter of months.

As the COVID-19 death toll mounts beyond those recorded in the most devastating national disasters and terrorist attacks to hit the country, Trump continues to struggle to accept the significance of this health and economic crisis, instead choosing to stumble through a chaotic series of reactionary responses that are further harming the economy and the people who have, so far, been immune to his tendency to attract and stoke crisis and chaos.

Failing the test

A consistent lack of testing and the slow initial response by the Trump administration are two reasons most often cited by medical and political experts seeking to explain the country’s battle with COVID-19. Even as the reality of the situation has become clearer and increasingly dire, neither testing nor Trump’s response are at the level needed to bring about a permanent end to the pandemic in the US.

As the first signs of the crisis emerged in China in January, Trump’s preoccupation with his impeachment trial in the Senate, as well as his economically-driven unwillingness to paint China in any kind of negative light, meant the pandemic and its inevitable march towards the US was pushed aside until its devastating effects could no longer be ignored.

Six weeks later, in March, when Trump was forced to implement social distancing measures and facilitate stronger means of testing, he insisted that no one could have known that COVID-19 would become the pandemic that it was always expected to be.

This initial resistance to the threat meant testing in the US was severely lacking. While efforts are now being made to regain the lost ground, the demand for testing is much higher and more difficult to meet than it would have been had the administration been quicker and more willing to respond when the crisis first emerged.

However, even now, as state leaders and medical experts continue to call for more testing capabilities and resources, Trump’s focus seems to be fixed on preparing the country for its inevitable reopening, rather than dealing with the present state of the crisis.

Drivers queue up to be tested for COVID-19 at an American checkpoint

Trump’s blame game

In what has become one of his most recognisable coping mechanisms in times of crisis, Trump has taken to blaming anyone but himself for the predicament the US now finds itself in. Anyone acknowledging the reality of the situation and choosing to challenge Trump’s response appears to be in the firing line, from political opponents to medical experts, as well as the very organisation tasked with coordinating the global response to the pandemic.

As the danger posed by the pandemic rapidly approached, he was quick to frame it as a hoax devised by the Democrats and being peddled by the so-called “fake news” media. While he was later forced to abandon that position, he continues to clash repeatedly with both the Democrats and the media, accusing them of withholding support for his various attempts to combat the crisis.

Despite this predictable antagonising of the media, however, Trump relies on it to gain approval for his COVID-19 response through the broadcasting of his daily press briefings, and reporting on his combative interactions with supportive members of his administration, as well as with his many challengers.

“As the situation in the US has continued to spiral out of control throughout April, Trump has shifted his accusatory focus towards the rest of the world, no longer willing to associate himself with the actions of China and the World Health Organisation.” 

As the situation in the US has continued to spiral out of control throughout April, Trump has shifted his accusatory focus towards the rest of the world, no longer willing to associate himself with the actions of China and the World Health Organisation.

By publicly shifting his previously positive stance on China’s handling of the outbreak of COVID-19, and suspending funding to the World Health Organisation, he seems to be at pains to make it clear to those he hopes will re-elect him in November that this crisis, for once, is out of his control, and that his reactionary response strategy is more than can realistically be expected when so many forces are working against him.

Whether this reasoning has any merit will only become evident in the November election.

To reopen or not reopen

It seems that no sooner was Trump forced into gradually shutting down the country throughout March that he’s made every desperate attempt to reopen it at any given opportunity. Disregarding evidence and cautionary warnings, he’s repeatedly announced arbitrarily identified dates to reopen, each time met with minimal support and worsening case figures.

His first goal was to reopen the country after Easter, mere weeks after being forced to call for a shutdown. However, as confirmed cases and deaths rapidly multiplied into the thousands, this idea eventually had to be abandoned.

president trump holding a news conference

President Trump holding a news conference on the coronavirus.

This need for speed is driven by Trump’s priority, which is to be re-elected for a second term. His most effective selling point, at least until the COVID-19 crisis, has been the strong performance of the US economy.

Therefore, while the human toll is devastating, it’s the potentially long-term downward spiral of the economy that seems to spur the President into premature action after an initially slow response to the pandemic, often against the advice of medical experts.

While his self-imposed Easter deadline to reopen the country has come and gone, leaving even worse COVID-19 case figures in its wake, Trump doesn’t seem deterred in his seemingly solitary mission to restore the economic functioning of the US to its full capacity.

Setting a new target of 1 May, he’s now engaged in a rhetorical battle with state governors and medical experts who remain unwilling to sacrifice human lives for what is only predicted to be slightly less economic instability should the country reopen sooner rather than later as the President desires.

The rocky road ahead

Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been chaotic at best, initially appearing to be too resistant and reactionary, evolving into what’s now a desperate push to regain control.

While one decisive move made by the President in the form of increased rates of testing, closer cooperation with state governors, or a faster realisation of the need for social distancing measures may have been sufficient to contain the spread of COVID-19, it’s up to Trump to now combat a crisis that could come to define his presidency beyond the likes of impeachment or any other disaster of his own making.

It’s time for him to realise that his re-election isn’t what is most at stake in an election year where thousands are losing their lives, and millions more are economically impacted. How he choses to protect these people will be reflected in the economy, and will deliver him his goal of a second term – but only if he proves he deserves it.

This article was published by Lens.