The President Kicked Off a Crisis Week With Misinformation, Golf, and Megadonor Fundraisers

Jack Holmes
Photo credit: JIM WATSON - Getty Images

From Esquire

For more than three years now, we've existed in a state wherein the President of the United States continually constructs a fantasy world around himself and largely gotten through unscathed. In his "radical solipsism," he can constantly mold the contours of reality to better serve his pathological self-interest. Luckily, he's rarely had to contend with real vectors of chaos from the outside. The standout external crisis of his administration so far was Hurricane Maria and his suboptimal response thereto. This included denying the actual death toll in Puerto Rico because, presumably, he didn't like how high it was. The island's residents did not get through unscathed, and they are Americans who paid the price because we collectively decided to install a militantly ignorant game-show host as president. This week, we might all get a more direct taste of the consequences.

On Monday, the financial markets opened in free fall. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than seven percent immediately, prompting an automatic halt in trading. The S&P 500 faced a similar cliff-dive. The sell-off appears linked to a collapse in oil prices and the growing specter of the novel coronavirus—which causes the disease COVID-19—and worries it will gravely damage demand across the hospitality and travel sectors and beyond.

This was probably bound to happen, a genuine external vector for a president whose only concerns are his poll numbers and the stock market. For weeks, he's folded his response into those concerns, downplaying the threat as his administration dragged its feet in terms of the "whole of government" initiative. His advisers (and large adult sons) have often devoted their public messaging to encouraging people to Buy The Dip in the market. Or, as a sweeping Washington Post examination put it:

[The] bungled announcement before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 13 was just one of many preventable missteps and blunders in the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis — the embodiment of an administration that, for weeks, repeatedly squandered opportunities to manage and prepare for a global epidemic that has killed thousands worldwide and at least 19 so far in the United States.

But how, exactly, did the president prepare for what his aides surely must have identified as a crucial week of his tenure? It all began on Friday, when the president visited the Centers for Disease Control—having at one point in the day cancelled the trip—and presented himself thusly.

Is there a reason the president is wearing a 10-gallon baseball cap featuring one of his campaign slogans for a visit to the CDC during a possible pandemic? (Have you noticed that the president's slogan is KEEP AMERICA GREAT, but also MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, an unwittingly revealing look into the Schrodinger's greatness of his snake-oil fantasyland? It's almost like the American mythology he's peddling—this weaponized nostalgia—is linked to a time and place that never existed.) At this point, it's too much to expect that he might avoid looking like a complete slob in his official capacity, much less that he might separate the duties of the job from his campaigning to keep the job. He has never demonstrated an ability to separate his self-interest from the national interest, not least with The Great Ukrainian Ratfuck, but there is a difference.

Moreover, is it necessary for the CDC director to roll out this slobbering praise for Dear Leader that you'd expect from a bureaucrat serving a tinpot dictator in one of those countries we used to think we had standing to look down upon? This guy is supposed to be spearheading our national response to a would-be pandemic using all the tools of empiricism and the scientific method we as a species have developed since the Enlightenment, not telling El Jefe he's doing a heckuva job regardless of reality.

But Mr. Redfield has correctly discerned that the only qualification for a job in Donald Trump's shop is absolute allegiance to Donald Trump. "It's by nature almost impossible for Trump to build an administration of quality," historian Douglas Brinkely once told me, because "it's not about good governance or ethics or even dead-rock patriotism. It's about full-bore allegiance to him, to Trump." The surgeon general, Jerome Adams, epitomized the form on national television this weekend.

Also during his visit to the CDC, the president suggested he is against getting Americans off of a cruise ship so they can get the best possible care in hospitals on shore because he doesn't want "the numbers" to go up.

This was a dramatic exhibition of the president's self-serving distortion of reality, wherein there really are fewer cases if you can just fudge the numbers a little bit and keep people believing. Surely the people whose (often elderly) relatives are aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship will be pleased to know they'll be at increased risk because the president's worried about how helping them affects his re-election prospects. Trump also used his CDC appearance to lie so flagrantly about the availability of coronavirus testing that even the Washington Post referred to it as "spewing falsehoods."

"Anybody that needs a test, gets a test," Trump said with his insanely vertical campaign hat on. "They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful."

Photo credit: JIM WATSON - Getty Images

With the job done at the CDC, it was off to a lively weekend of presidenting. According to his public schedule, Trump spent much of Saturday golfing at his eponymous resort in Palm Beach, Florida. (The president has visited one of his properties on at least 250 of his 1,143 days in office. That's 21 percent. He's on track to well outpace Barack Obama's golf outings over eight years, not that anyone who pretended to care in those days actually does now that the president's golfing is, in part, an advertisement for the private business he's retained ownership over, an astonishing conflict-of-interest that is actively fueling a culture of corruption at the top of our national government. For his part, Obama justifiably faced criticism when he went golfing after a speech on James Foley's murder by ISIS terrorists.) Trump had no public events until that evening, when he had dinner with Jair Bolsonaro, the authoritarian leader of Brazil.

On Sunday, he had another golf outing at his own resort, a habit which at this point has cost taxpayers a cumulative $130 million, followed by an appearance at a fundraiser. Throughout the weekend, he stayed active on The Tweet Machine, retweeting his dumbass media lackeys and sharing a meme of him playing the violin with the words, "MY NEXT PIECE IS CALLED NOTHING CAN STOP WHAT'S COMING." This appears to be linked to QAnon, a deranged online conspiracy dogma that holds, in part, that many or all the president's political opponents are running a pedophile ring. It also serves to create the image of the president literally fiddling amid a national crisis.

But this was all a prelude to Monday, when the markets opened in free fall and the president's only planned event was a fundraiser with megadonors who would fork over hundreds of thousand of dollars to shake his hand. Again, you're supposed to avoid large group events and shaking hands with people right now. Again, he's supposed to be The Voice of America's Forgotten Men and Women, not getting in bed with the same big-money special interests that Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would have. I can't believe he lied to us!

And I can't believe he spent Monday complaining about the Fake News and speculating about the drop in the price of oil and screaming that the Obama/Biden administration was the most corrupt in history. That last part is a level of projection that could power cinemas across this great nation of ours. Then he said falling gas prices are good for consumers—certainly better than a 1,000-point drop in the Dow and whatever knock-on effects that might have—and compared the (almost certainly under-representative) coronavirus statistics favorably with the common flu. People die all the time! the president offered helpfully. If things do get worse, we can rest assured he will take full responsibility for any failures in the government response—and, of course, for any downturns in a stock market the success of which he has claimed full, 100-percent credit for over the last three years. If anyone's a You Break It You Bought It kind of guy, it's Donald Trump.

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