Trump’s choice: A tragedy in three acts

public health advisors Coronavirus, Trump, automakers, ventilatorsMIH83 / Pixabay

We’ve all been watching this play unfold before us. The protagonist, President Donald Trump, has had many more bad days than good days, but throughout the first two acts, he has remained at center stage. He is listening to his public health advisors, but the delay has been deadly.

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Trump's Complete Denial Of The Pandemic

Throughout Act I, he was in complete denial that a deadly pandemic was silently spreading through his realm, while making ill-informed pronouncements of the dangers it posed for his subjects.

January 23rd: We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.

February 14th: There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm – historically, that has been able to kill the virus.

February 26th: We’re going very substantially down, not up. (He’s referring here to the number of new cases.)

Just as the curtain begins to descend, the sky darkens. The president, who had been all smiley-faced, has begun to frown. Clearly, something was amiss.

As Act II begins, it’s two weeks later. By now, President Trump has become well-aware of the spreading coronavirus, but he has some very good news.

March 15th: This is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible! But it’s something we have tremendous control of.

March 17th: I’ve always known this is a real – this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.

Invoking the Defense Production Act

But enough talk! It was time to act. We needed test kits, which, because of the lack of preparedness of his predecessor, President Obama, they were in extremely short supply. Still, he added magnanimously, anyone who requested a coronavirus test could get one.

Oh, and there was also a great shortage of facemasks and ventilators. No problem! The president would simply invoke the Defense Production Act, which he could use to basically order large manufacturers to produce the needed supplies and equipment.

Somehow, more than a week later, the governors of many states were complaining that they still faced severe shortages. The president smiled, knowing how some people are always trying to shift the blame for their own shortcomings on to other people.

He marveled at how far he had come. Once a draft-dodging young man during the Vietnam War, here he was, a septuagenarian self-proclaimed war-time president.

Trump Finally Listens To His Public Health Advisors

Now, he finally embraced the advice his public health advisors had long been urging upon him – to order a series of social and economic regulations that would soon stop the spread of the deadly virus. Since it was spread mainly from person to person, everyone was urged to stay at least six feet away from other people.

This required the closure of hundreds of thousands of businesses, while tens of millions of employees were asked to work from home. Schools and colleges, most stores, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, and other social gathering places were also closed.

These measures were put in place in mid-March for fifteen days, and would be reviewed for renewal by March 30th. While they would be highly disruptive and economically devastating, if they saved lives, then they would be well worth their cost.

The president had listened to his expert public health advisors. He looked forward to ending these terribly costly restrictions as soon as he could. But, as he had long proclaimed, the safety of the American people was always his foremost concern. Keeping the virus at bay was at least as important as keeping all those Mexican rapists and drug dealers from pouring into our country.

Future historians would marvel at how this brilliant, well-educated man had more than fulfilled his destiny. The president had been enjoying the hour-and-a-half daily press conferences he was granting. Backed by a clutch of public health officials, he was in his element, answering questions, bantering with reporters, and seemingly confident that the “China virus” would be quickly conquered so that the nation could get back to work.

The Final Curtain

As Act II ended, there were once again dark clouds visible on the horizon. The economy was sinking into a severe recession, the stock market had lost one third of its value, the virus was continuing to spread, and the nation’s death toll was mounting.

As the curtain rises, President Trump is seated behind the Resolute desk in the oval office with a group of men seated before him. None is connected with public health.

“Mark today, the 30th of March, on your calendars. Today’s date is as important as when Abe Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. I’m going to free the American people from these terrible regulations.”

“Sir, you’re saying that the cure for the virus is worse than the virus itself.”

“You said it, Jared! The American people are going to be free to go back to work. They are going to be free to socialize! They are going to be free to go to a restaurant! No more of these stupid rules and regulations!

“And let me let you guys in on a little secret. The American people are gonna love me for doing this. And yuh know what?”

He waited as, one-by-one, they broke out into broad grins.

Then Mark said it for all of them. “Mr. President, you are going to be reelected in a landslide!”

“I’m not gonna wait for a recession. But I’ll just wait till after the stock market closes today before announcing this.

Stock market vs public health advisors

“So, here’s the plan. We loosen the regulations first in all the red states – the ones which have the lowest number of Chinese virus cases. Then, wait another two weeks and get rid of the regulations in the blue states. Let ‘em suffer a little longer.”

“Mr. President, if I may? How do we handle the press?”

“We just hand ‘em a short memo: ‘Watch the stock market tomorrow.’ Trust me, when peoples’ stocks finally start goin’ up again, and when all those rules and regulations are removed, everybody will be happy.”

“What about the virus, sir?”

“Let all those doctors over at the CDC worry about that. That’s their job, isn’t it?”

From off-stage right come the words of the veteran Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming:

There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.

Then, from stage left, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, says that it’s tough to tell people to “keep going to restaurants, go to buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner.”

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About the Author

Steve Slavin
Steve Slavin has a Ph.D. in economics from NYU, and has written twenty math and economics books, including “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It, and What We Can Do to Fix it.” The 12th edition of his introductory economics text came out in September.

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