Trump reverses course as forecasts show 100,000 or more deaths
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus in the Rose Garden at the White House. | Evan Vucci / AP

Welcome to crisis management via reality TV. President Donald Trump spent a good part of his Sunday bragging about the impressive viewership for his daily Coronavirus Task Force press conferences. The president boasted of how he’s matching the season finale of “The Bachelor” and even competing with “Monday Night Football” on numbers. But while he’s obsessed with how many people are watching him and the other “big stars” on his coronavirus team, as he calls them, the rest of the country was focused on a different number: 100,000 to 200,000.

That’s the possible body count the United States could be facing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the country’s top infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Speaking to CNN on Sunday morning, Fauci said current models are predicting millions of cases of the virus will emerge and as many as a couple hundred thousand people will perish by the time it’s brought under control.

That terrifying toll is no doubt what pushed Trump to finally reverse course on his soft-pedaling of the coronavirus crisis. Following Fauci’s interview, the president essentially backed away from the rosy picture he’s been pitching at his daily TV broadcasts and set a new low bar for his eventual declaration of “victory.”

This weekend’s episode: The Great Reversal

The magical “President’s 15-Day Plan to Slow the Spread” we’ve heard so much about for the past two weeks morphed, without much fanfare, into a 45+ day plan on Sunday as Trump admitted that social distancing and #StayHome guidelines will be with us at least until the end of April. The goal of re-opening the whole economy by Easter was downgraded to nothing more than an “aspiration.”

Then, as almost an afterthought, the president said by June 1st “we will be well on our way to recovery.” Does that mean the economy will be closed through the month of May as well? Is that when all of life will be mostly back to normal? Is there any science or actual data behind those dates? If it does go that long, will there be more income support for workers? Trump didn’t say.

Instead, he told us that if we want to find out, we’ll have to watch Tuesday’s episode of his show. That’s when he’ll have a “very important statement…on all of the findings…and the reasons we’re doing things the way we’re doing them.” A classic cliffhanger.

As for the horrendous death toll floated by Fauci earlier in the day, Trump, surprisingly, confirmed it rather than dismissed it. Is he actually listening to the scientists and health experts around him? Perhaps reality has become so grim that even Trump can’t just look the other way anymore.

The political calculation, if not the health calculation, must surely be weighing on him. Does he want to go into the November election with millions sick and tens of thousands or more dead? It may already be too late for him to avoid that, but he’s already moving into damage control mode by changing the goalposts. He said Sunday that if nothing had been done to control the spread of coronavirus, up to 2.2 million would have died; therefore, if the number can be kept to “between 100 and 200,000,” then he will “have done a very good job.”

How far we’ve come from late February (just a month ago) when he told us that we’d be down to zero cases in a few days. But he’d rather we not bring that up. Don’t think about the weeks that were squandered when test kits could have been prepared or masks and gloves piled up in reserve.

That’s the standard we are supposed to accept when judging his handling of the crisis. If only a couple hundred thousand go to the grave, he deserves credit for a job well done. And we are to forget whatever he might have said or done (or not done) previously.

It’s Trump’s typical M.O.: Lower the bar so much that when he does the bare minimum—and mixes it with bravado and hyperbole—we are obliged to applaud, pat him on the back, and give him our votes.

But because Trump is Trump, he couldn’t just acknowledge the danger we all face. No, instead, he had to dive back into the world of accusing others and ducking responsibility. The nation’s governors, who have been his foil for much of this crisis, are still on the receiving end of his barrage of blame whenever someone points out that there aren’t enough tests or masks or ventilators. (He still refuses to even speak to some governors on the phone because they “aren’t nice” and “don’t appreciate” him.)

The governors weren’t alone at Sunday’s press conference, though. Trump’s new villains: hospitals and health care workers. There are plenty of ventilators supplied by the federal government, the president claimed, but hospitals are hoarding them. It’s someone else’s fault, not his. As for the dire mask shortage plaguing the country, the president seemed to suggest that doctors, nurses, or some other hospital staff must be stealing them. “Where are the masks going?” he asked, “Are they going out the back door?” Again, someone else is to blame, not him.

The implied accusation was about as drastic as a commander in chief berating soldiers on the front lines of a war for hoarding bullets or stealing guns. Attacking the health care workers fighting to save us from the coronavirus may well come back to haunt the president as the situation worsens—which it most certainly and unfortunately will over the next few weeks.

The show must go on

The Trump Show: President Donald Trump speaks with Fox News Channel Anchor Bill Hemmer during an interview at the White House, March 24, in Washington. | Evan Vucci / AP

The fantasy world that Trump and the right-wing media have created for their base—a world in which COVID-19 is just a flu that’s been overhyped by the liberal media—came quietly crashing down this weekend. The rapid spread of the virus and escalating death forecasts finally became too real to resist. Don’t expect Trump to admit as much though.

Instead, he will carry on with his usual bluster and pettiness, even when lives hang in the balance. Ego and a focus on politics will no doubt continue to dominate his responses in the days ahead. Policy might change as the situation becomes more grim, but he’ll tell us the new plan is the one he always wanted to implement anyway.

But working-class people should not forget how he, his Republican Party, and their big-money backers were willing to risk our seniors and “essential” workers in order to save profits. We should not forget how they wanted to use the crisis to create a corporate slush fund that Trump could hand out to his business allies as he wished with no oversight. We should not forget how they didn’t want to provide workers with the unemployment support they need to make it when the paychecks stop coming.

We should not forget that our jobs, our health, and our very survival were all just supporting actors in a “hit” show starring Donald J. Trump.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.