With Trump’s Second Huge Pivot on the Virus, We Are Headed for a Dangerous Red/Blue State ‘War’
As people with memories longer than those of Trump-worshiping Fox News commentators easily recall, President Donald Trump’s first take on the coronavirus was that, here in the United States, it was totally contained and not a big deal. The threat of it was even, sort of, a “hoax.” Then, once that position became politically untenable, especially in an election year, Trump made the most dramatic governmental pivot in modern times by declaring himself a “war-time” president who was facing the biggest domestic challenge in our country’s history.
Most presidents could never get away with such an audacious flip-flop. But we already knew that, because of the cult-like loyalty of his base, Trump is able to play by a completely different set of rules. But even a cynic like me did not think that Trump would even seriously contemplate a SECOND massive pivot back in the other direction, at least not for several months, or until there was some evidence to suggest the coronavirus might be starting to significantly fade.
However, after what was a truly bizarre serious of public statements on Monday, that appears to be exactly what Trump is now doing, and it is both baffling and dangerous on multiple levels.
Now, out of fear that the economy, and with it his realistic chance at reelection, is headed towards complete ruin, Trump is starting his double reverse. He is suddenly telegraphing that we are going too far in restricting life in an effort to contain the coronavirus, and that the federal government will likely be recommending returning to somewhat of a normal routine in about a week.
As a “Never Trump” conservative who has been concerned that we might be taking some extreme measures which are counter-productive and an overreach of governmental authority, I come at this topic from a unique perspective. In some ways I am the target audience for Trump’s third separate attempt at striking the right level of response, but even I am nearly horrified by what the president seems to be doing.
The first big problem is the horrific timing. In the last couple of days, the number of Americans confirmed to have the virus, as well as the number of deaths we have suffered, has suddenly exploded. This very well may be, in part, due to increased testing and a result of cases which were contracted before the country was on high alert (as well as a remarkable eruption of the virus in New York), but there is no doubt that things are not close to getting better, and are very unlikely to be doing so dramatically a week from now.
Then there is the pure political stupidity of Trump telegraphing this move BEFORE his gigantic economic stimulus package has been approved. How can you effectively convince Congress of the extreme urgency of this move if you are claiming that we are going to be back in business in a week or two?!
But the most politically perilous element of this dramatic second reversal is that Trump is now creating the narrative that he will essentially own, rightly or wrongly, a huge portion of the deaths that will inevitably occur after he orders us back to business. Unless the number of people dying is on a steady and continuing decline, those deaths will now easily be pinned on Trump’s decision to, at least in perception, lighten the level of alert surrounding the spread of the virus.
From a practical standpoint, this also sets up an obvious and canyon-like divide between the red states that voted for Trump, and the blue states that despise him. One which could easily lead to us to essentially creating two separate countries in this “war” against the virus.
In the “red” states, which have already been generally less restrictive and, so far coincidentally, in most cases suffered less medical damage due to the virus, they will abide by the president’s edict and try to go along with life as normal, while bracing for the potential human cost of doing so. The “blue” states, some of which have already been hit the hardest, will not accept Trump’s authority and will very likely go even further in the other direction, both to show the world how against Trump they are, but also out of a not-irrational fear of how the relaxed behavior of the “red” states may end up negatively impacting them.
One of the many obvious problems with this incredibly dangerous societal divide is that, unless you somehow ban travel from one state to another, there is no way to totally isolate any one location from what other areas of the country are doing. This will create a cultural powder keg which will have plenty of opportunity to detonate, especially once tensions get even worse than they already are.
From my hardened perspective, Trump’s third position would have been theoretically workable if it had been his first. While it would not have been at all easy, had he leveled with the American people from the beginning and tried to make the case that, due to the coronavirus, there will be heavy costs for our way of life and that, while we should do whatever we can to mitigate the human toll, we cannot destroy ourselves (economically, or via collateral medical damage) in the futile attempt to illuminate all deaths, that might have worked.
Now it is far too late for that tight-rope strategy, however. Not just because of the complete lack of trust Trump’s flip-flopping has induced, but also because him embracing the “this is the worst thing humanity has ever faced” narrative has altered the all-important expectations game to the point where America losing over 100 people a day to a virus which targets the old and unhealthy is now suddenly considered totally disastrous (when it is actually not at all catastrophic by historical measures).
In order to belatedly make this “cost/benefit analysis” argument Trump used (the often and wrongly mocked) analogy of pointing out that we don’t ban all car travel in this country even though doing so would instantly save about 100 healthy lives a day. This is rather ironic because the car analogy works in a very different way for Trump right now: when you are lost, it is far better to make decisions on where to go next based on where you currently are, rather than from where you first started.
Trump isn’t asking for directions, and is instinctually moving forward based on what he now thinks he should have done from the beginning. In this case, that means he is now choosing a path headed for likely disaster.
The only way I see Trump getting away with this is if three hopeful realities all turn out to be true. There is something unique about New York (widespread public transportation?) which won’t be broadly duplicated elsewhere, the current data is badly skewed because of increased testing and the lag time before a case becomes a statistic, and there is some legitimate discovery with regard to a drug-related cure.
Barring that series of breaks going his way, Trump’s legendary luck appears to have finally run out. More critically, the United States is finally going to be paying a very real and possibly permanent price for having elected an unfit conman to its highest office.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.