You always know it’s something he feels strongly about when the tweet appears in capital letters:
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
The decision is a foregone conclusion, of course. The way America is going at the moment, it’s going to be an absolute bloodbath in 15 days time:
Meanwhile in Florida…
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) March 22, 2020
And that’s with the restrictions, remember.
There’s no way any restrictions are going to be lifted in two weeks, whatever Trump might be telling himself, or others. The US is a couple of weeks behind Italy and Spain – but a much, much, much bigger country. If and when they get to where Italy is today, it won’t be hundreds of people dying every day – it’ll be thousands.
Trump is clearly wrestling hard with the fight against the virus, because it goes against all his instincts, and the instincts of many Americans. Telling people in the “Land of the Free” that they’ve to stay in their own houses and not go anywhere is a bit like telling your cat not to sit in that cardboard box, or your dog not to chase that bird. It’s what they do – it’s instinctive.
And for Trump, there’s the added complication of a re-election campaign, which, until this struck, was going to be wholly geared around the record growth in the economy. But now:
“Goldman Sachs economists on Friday forecast an unprecedented 24% decline in second quarter gross domestic product, following a 6% decline in the first quarter, based on the economy’s sudden and historic shutdown as the country responds to the coronavirus pandemic.”
To put that in context, at the peak of the so-called “great recession” of 2008/9, the US economy shrank by…. 2.8%. Over a full year. Now we’re talking about something that’s going to be ten times worse, in a much shorter period.
Nobody’s prepared for the scale of the economic impact – nobody at all.
And so the President will be seeking re-election against the worst economic backdrop of any President since Herbert Hoover, who’s most famous, of course, for getting obliterated by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 election held after the great depression. It’s easy to sneer at him and say he has his priorities wrong, but there’s a fair argument to be made that as many people might potentially die of poverty caused by the coming depression as will die of Covid-19 in the coming weeks. This is why we elect people in the first place – to make these big, difficult, calls.
The other problem Trump has is that he simply doesn’t have the powers that other leaders have. Sure, he’s the most powerful man on earth, if you measure power by things like the ability to push a button and nuke Moscow, but domestically, he’s much less powerful than the likes of Boris Johnson or Leo Varadkar. For example, it seems highly unlikely that the US Federal Government could issue an order forcing businesses to close, or shut down the beaches in Florida. At minimum, such an order would be before the courts in five minutes flat.
To some extent, Trump is relying on the fifty individual states to manage the crisis for him. It’s the United States, remember, and they all have their own Governors and laws and powers. But if they don’t act as one, there’s basically no point.
So, it remains to be seen what will happen fifteen days from now, but Trump has a horrible set of choices. He’s likely to be blamed either for thousands of deaths if he does nothing, or a crippling recession/depression for acting has he has so far. And for all that his critics (including yours truly) might despair of him as a person, they’re all kidding themselves if they think that Joe Biden or Barack Obama or Bill Clinton would have been able to make easier choices.
The restrictions aren’t being lifted in 15 days. There’s no chance of that. But the tweet does show how much economic damage is coming, and we’re not yet ready for it.