It's always nice to come out of a nails-on-the-chalkboard Democratic debate only to find the incumbent President of the United States whining and wailing about how a possible pandemic disease is some sort of conspiracy against him. Yes, the Democrats were all shouting and talking over each other, but have you seen the guy they want to replace? It seems there are some downsides to installing a pathological narcissist as the leader of your country, one being that he processes major geopolitical crises almost solely in terms of how they affect him personally. If the information coming in has to be fed through a kaleidoscope in order to shore up Donald Trump's fragile ego, then so be it.
That's how we arrived at our current state of affairs regarding the so-called coronavirus, which experts have actually labeled COVID-19. On Tuesday, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control, Nancy Messonnier, told reporters that in the United States, the coronavirus "may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe." On CNBC the same day, Trump's top economic adviser—the famously right-about-everything Larry Kudlow—declared the virus "contained" in a way that's "pretty close to airtight." The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf—a name you can trust—got flayed by a Republican senator while testifying before Congress as he failed to offer even basic projections or knowledge of how the disease will spread. On Wednesday morning, The New York Times reported that Europe is preparing for a pandemic.
Amid all this uncertainty, our president is calm, cool, and collected 😎.
Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape! @CDCgov.....I will be having a News Conference at the White House, on this subject, today at 6:00 P.M. CDC representatives, and others, will be there. Thank you!
Oh, joy. A presidential press conference—a festival of delusion and cognitive decline in the best of times—mashed up with a growing global crisis. Set those alarms for 5:59! And of course the leader of our country cannot find it within himself to spell the inaccurate name of the virus correctly. (It's "coronavirus," which is actually a family of viruses of which COVID-19 is a member. Remember: it's spelled like the beer. Find your beach!) It is genuinely exciting, in the most grotesque way, to think about the poor CDC representatives—possibly in lab coats—attempting to communicate what's happening out in the world while the president yells about how the Dow Jones Industrial Average should go back up. Perhaps our leader will once again repeat his suggestion that the virus will simply go away when the weather gets warmer.
And that's the key thing here: there is no evidence Trump actually cares about the virus or public health. What he cares about is whether a pandemic will affect the stock market, which is his only argument for re-election. He has been historically unpopular for three years amid a boom economy, at least for securities, which are still up markedly from 2017 despite a big two-day slide this week. (Half of Americans own no stocks, and while unemployment is low, real wages have not risen in any significant way.) If there is any kind of significant economic downturn, the president could be routed in November. So he rejects the reality that the problem has grown many times worse since he declared the virus "totally under control" in late January and chalks up the reporting on it to a conspiracy against him.
Trump has repeatedly telegraphed his real concerns here, like with this tweet from Monday:
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
He just can't resist. But while he has very little sleight of hand, Trump does have a primal instinct for self-preservation, one which has overridden any other impulse he has to become a governing force in the American federal government's response to COVID-19. Just as Trump saw the political value in apocalyptic fear-mongering about the Ebola outbreak in 2014, he sees the political necessity of downplaying the coronavirus now. But at some point, the self-serving fantasy world Trump is continually constructing around him will likely collide with reality, even if he has somehow mostly avoided that fate over his first term. Perhaps it'll happen at his News Conference this evening, when actual CDC experts will be faced with the decision of whether to contradict any or all of his delusional claims about what is actually happening in the world.
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