The grownups on the federal coronavirus task force (Fauci, Birx, et al.) frantically try to keep the ship of state on course even as Captain Trump careens wildly from assertions of total authority to his latest avowal that the governors will call the shots. He seems utterly uninterested in the concrete steps that will be needed to effectively confront the virus and permit restarting the economy without risking a renewed wave of infections and deaths.
Thus, critical shortages of essential supplies of masks, gowns and other equipment to protect medical personnel just don’t seem to register. That we lack the capacity to administer tests to millions of people daily, when such testing is prerequisite to a safe reopening, is waved off. The states, or individual hospitals are to seek out those supplies and often must bid against each other, driving up costs to astronomical levels. No help is coming from the Feds.
Faced with a real crisis, not one that he manufactured, not one he can resolve, he cannot muster the capacity to lead the whole country.
Indeed, federal authorities (FBI, FEMA, for example) are often seizing the supplies and denying them to the entities that bought and paid for them. The President says the states are responsible, that he can’t help them. But when they try to exercise that responsibility by independent purchasing, their supplies are seized by federal authorities.
The effect is to make the governors and hospitals (and not Trump) responsible for what may go wrong, but to block their efforts to meet that responsibility, so that they will have to plead on bended knee for the President to help them.
The governors are doing their best to confront this deadly pandemic as advised by scientists. Does the President have their backs? No. Instead, he tweets, in ALL CAPS, of course, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!!” or any of several other states headed by Democratic governors, to encourage an orchestrated wave of right-wing demonstrations demanding that their states be “opened up” again, no matter the risk posed by the virus.
From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Trump has appealed to his solid base, even when it drove the rest of the country away from him. That base sufficed for his Electoral College victory in 2016, even though he lost the popular vote. His entire presidency to date has been about the care and feeding of the base. That has kept his approval ratings steadily in the range of 40-45 percent for three years.
Now, faced with a real crisis, not one that he manufactured, not one he can resolve, he cannot muster the capacity to lead the whole country. Instead, we have repeatedly seen him allow the adults in the room to have their say (maintain social distancing, stay at home, we need much more testing, etc.), then he will wink to his base: “This doesn’t apply to me—or to you.” We saw it when he recommended warning masks, then said he would not wear one. And we saw it again with “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!!”
Weirdly, even half his base agrees with getting a handle on the virus before opening up. Only about 20 percent at most support these demonstrations. Trump is making himself a hostage to that 20 percent.