The past is past, but with Donald Trump tweeting this morning on good practices to hold down the spread of coronavirus, it’s important to remember how dismissive he was of the crisis for weeks, time when the government could have been acting. An excellent rundown by the New York Times’ David Leonhardt.
And get a load of Sen. Tom Cotton, worrying more about working folks than monetary policy.
Some of his devoted admirers are continuing Trump’s early messaging that virus alarm was a hoax generated by Democrats and media to harm Trump politically. The facts never supported that view and Trump’s actions in the intervening weeks placed his political wellbeing over public health. (A problem with U.S. policy in general.)
As Leonhardt recounts, Jan. 22 Trump said everything was under control.
In the weeks that followed, Trump faced a series of choices. He could have taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He could have insisted that the United States ramp up efforts to produce test kits. He could have emphasized the risks that the virus presented and urged Americans to take precautions if they had reason to believe they were sick. He could have used the powers of the presidency to reduce the number of people who would ultimately get sick.
He did none of those things.
I’ve reviewed all of his public statements and actions on coronavirus over the last two months, and they show a president who put almost no priority on public health. Trump’s priorities were different: Making the virus sound like a minor nuisance. Exaggerating his administration’s response. Blaming foreigners and, anachronistically, the Obama administration. Claiming incorrectly that the situation was improving. Trying to cheer up stock market investors. (It was fitting that his first public comments were from Davos and on CNBC.)
Now that the severity of the virus is undeniable, Trump is already trying to present an alternate history of the last two months.
Speaking of tune changes, check Sen. Tom Cotton’s Twitter feed. Yes, he continues his not-so-subtle practice of injecting race into the issue by repeatedly defining the global epidemic as Chinese. But I credit him for common sense rather than his normal hysterical fear-mongering. For example:
Legislation must ensure workers and their families who can’t earn a paycheck because of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic will get federal aid to do things like make car payments, pay mortgages, and generally help make ends meet.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 15, 2020
He’s even said this morning that the House aid bill crafted by Democrats doesn’t go far enough. And he also tweeted:
Please don’t ridicule people for “overreacting” to the Chinese coronavirus. They’re just trying to protect their families, workers, students, athletes—all of us, really. Instead, think how you can help those in need.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 14, 2020
OK then. Empathy from Tom Cotton. And he even acknowledged a Federal Reserve interest rate cut isn’t much of a virus fighter or even an economic boon in such times.