Listening to our marginally articulate president the other night, I suddenly understood: The economy wasn’t merely his pride. It was more like his lover. He can’t get enough of it. He won’t be kept from it.
Ain’t no mountain high enough. Ain’t no pandemic grim enough.
Briefing after briefing, I see it, sense it: how he itches to feel that rush again. He digresses from the terrifying present and uncertain future to revisit the heady past, when he lavished trinkets on the Dow and it purred on cue, telling him how potent he was.
Having it turn on him is more than he can bear. It has addled him — I mean even further. “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” he said during the White House briefing on Monday evening, as if other countries planned their own obsolescence. He repeated those words — “this is not a country that was built for this; it was not built to be shut down” — and then trotted them out yet again at a town hall on Fox News on Tuesday, apparently convinced that their profundity demanded it.
He also boasted — for the zillionth time — about how the economy just before the pandemic was the best economy ever. Those lips! Those eyes! They’d be reunited, he and his amour. They’d be together again when the credits rolled.
My metaphor may be lighthearted but my concern sure as hell isn’t. There are difficult choices ahead, because what’s necessary to save lives and what’s necessary to salvage livelihoods are in tension. Our leaders have to figure out how much disruption is too much disruption.
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That’s the calculus that Trump is signaling with his and his allies’ new favorite refrain: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem.”
That’s what was on his mind when, during the Monday briefing, he insisted that the health and economic threats of the coronavirus were separable. “We are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem,” he said. “It started out as a purely medical problem, and it’s not going to go beyond that.”
News flash: It already has. But that aside, the president is acknowledging a genuine and intensifying debate over whether social distancing, if enforced too rigidly and for too long, could leave so many people destitute, isolated and despairing that what America sacrifices rivals what it gains.
“Look, you’re going to lose a number of people to the flu,” he said during the town hall. “But you’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression.”
That unease is hardly confined to the president and to glib conservative supporters of his like Dan Patrick, the 69-year-old lieutenant governor of Texas, who said in an interview on Fox News on Monday night: “I’m not living in fear of Covid-19. What I’m living in fear of is what’s happening to this country. And you know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival, in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”
The issue of trade-offs and of how best to balance epidemiological and economic concerns has informed many articles in the Opinion pages of The Times, receiving more measured consideration from my colleague Tom Friedman, from two academic titans and from a public-health expert, David Katz, who recently wrote, “I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned — will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself.”
That perspective transcends political party. A prominent Democrat, for instance, said to me, “Will we lose more Americans to suicide than to the coronavirus?” That was days before Trump, during the town hall, said that if the country is locked down for long, “you’re going to have suicides by the thousands.”
This is excruciatingly tough stuff, and yet Trump is pre-empting the thorough and thoughtful deliberation that it demands — and painting himself into a corner — with pledges that the economy will roar back and that America will “be open for business very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting — a lot sooner,” as he said on Monday. If you’re an enemy of “soon,” you’re on thin ice with him. I can hear it cracking under Anthony Fauci even as I type.
The president’s obsession with the economy is an extension of his obsession with wealth. He has only two lenses through which he sees the world, two yardsticks by which he measures everyone and everything: money and celebrity. He can’t pretend otherwise because he doesn’t bother to try.
During Sunday evening’s briefing, when he was supposed to be comforting Americans on the precipice of financial ruin, he instead lamented the billions of dollars he had supposedly forgone to be president. Our self-glorifying “wartime president” morphed into a self-pitying Daddy Warbucks.
“I think it’s very hard for rich people to run for office,” he said. “It’s far more costly. It’s a very tough thing. Now, with all of that being said, I’m so glad I’ve done it. Because, you know, there are a lot rich people around. I’ve got a lot of rich friends, but they can’t help and they can’t do what I’ve done, in terms of helping this country.” I’m glad he’s glad. Scratch that. I’m dumbfounded.
It has been observed, accurately, that he’s exactly the wrong leader for this crisis because he has thinned the ranks of responsible professionals in government, because he has hollowed out relevant departments and agencies, because he devalues science, because he degrades information and because he parted ways with credibility years ago.
But it’s worse than that. He’s facing judgment calls that require an emotional depth and a moral finesse that simply don’t exist in him. America is relying on him, of all presidents, to care as much about vital signs as about dollar signs.
He did that when he asked the nation to stand still for 15 days, but can he continue to do it? I’d have doubts if the economy were merely the biggest of many bragging points for him, if it were just a major part of his political profile.
But it’s all-defining and all-consuming, the repository of his vanity and an expression of his virility. And clear thinking is sometimes impossible — and conscience inaccessible — when you’re this crazy in love.
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Share your thoughts.
If they are worried about their grandchildren and I don’t believe they are, then they should be worried about climate change. They aren’t because they really don’t care about their grandchildren.
Does a bear relieve itself in the woods? I know, most of the responsible news networks still treat Trump with respect, despite his never having done anything (that I can think of) that warrants it. I guess it is just too ingrained in our psyches to realize that even the president of the US can be a complete failure at leadership. In this crisis the only thing he cares about is how to bring the stock market back so he wont lose as many voters. Whether I get the virus and die, or you do, matters not one iota to him. With the number of cases still expanding almost exponentially, he is perfectly willing to reduce travel restrictions despite the consensus of all medical staff trained in handling viral epidemics in hopes that the stock market will rebound.
I have heard people say that this is a black swan event- to use a Wall Street financial term. The combination of a worldwide pandemic and depressed economy. I would add that it is really a “triple” black swan event. The depressed economy, the pandemic and a President that does not care about our country– only himself. We are in serious trouble folks.
Tens of 1000s of people die in the US every year from the flu. This flu is much weaker. Only 20K have died globally AND there is no vaccine. Easy solution. Isolate the old and vunerable and everyone else go back to regular life.
Do you really have to ask that question? In the late afternoon’s press briefing/campaign rally, trump took credit for the rise in the stock market today. Of course, he accepts no responsibility for the greatest and most rapid decline in history over the last several weeks. And after trump suggested that chloroquine is a valuable treatment for coronavirus, a couple in Arizona ingested a form of the chemical used to kill parasites in aquariums. The husband died. The wife was hospitalized. Does trump bear any responsibility for that? His statement was, at best, dangerously uninformed. At worst, he could be the next Jim Jones.
The answer to the headline is YES.
Perhaps no one has told Mr. T: Dead people can’t vote. But then, given the depravity of the republican party at this point, if they could find a way for a corpse to vote, they would.
RE: your headline. Why ask questions we all know the answer to?
Answer: Trump would personally shoot half of us on Fifth Avenue to get re-elected.
His selfishness and low-intelligence level defies explanation.
I’ writing from Italy. A lot of people here are dying and dying from the coronavirus. Most of them are old people, retired for a long time, already undermined in the body by major diseases. Even before it cost us a lot of money to care for them; now even more so. We’re getting into debt to do this. We know very well that the economic and social costs that we will face in the years to come will be enormous. And yet we are doing it. Are we unconscious? Are we unresponsive? No, we are doing what we are doing for our old people and for all the other sick people, because it defines us as civilisation. I remind you that the Nazis did what they did because they had made the principle of “survival of the fittest” their own, both on an individual level and on that of entire peoples and states. So ask yourselves: what kind of civilization do you want to be? Kind regards from Padua (EU)
Yep, pull the plug on Granny. Death Panels to be guided by the stock market.
Just like President Clinton paid insufficient attention to Al Queda’s preparing for an attack on the United States (1998-2000), so too the Democrats, in their obsession with impeachment, likewise too their eyes off the ball.￼
Can dead people spend money?
“And clear thinking is sometimes impossible — and conscience inaccessible — when you’re this crazy in love.” … with yourself.
Is this man insane? Time for blue states to close their borders and follow the science, let red states follow their money-worshipping leader into Coronavirus oblivion. But, we’ll be happy to take your old folks into our protective hands since you value your dollars a tad more than you value them. Sounds harsh? Well… yeah.
Of course he will. It’s what his corporate overlords, and his rabid constituents, want. Profit uber alles!
Hasn’t the malignant narcissist activated a legal tripwire yet?!
his dollar signs…your vital signs…you actually think there is any competition in the trumpkins’ mind?
Mr. Bruni’s MALEVOLENCE does not help the situation ONE BIT.Now is not the time to attack the president’s character or motivations which you and your colleagues have been doing for the past 3 years.Present crisis should bring us together as a people, as citizens, help to close us up, but you seek to separate and divide the American people further. But I overlook your cattiness, “mechancete” and tell myself at least he, meaning you, gave a homeless 4 legged pet a home. Apart from that,I see nothing redeemable!You and your colleagues have wished Trump to fail from the outset.Whether 1 is for or against his policies, a sense of fair play is necessary, and you have not shown any.”Il faut ce qu’il faut!”
Trump is a morally bankrupt narcissist. He cares for no one beyond himself.
Yes, Frank, he will. I’ve always thought that President Trump was incompetent and incapable of empathy, but his statements and actions relating to COVID have convinced me that he truly has a mental disorder. This is a man who is both out of his depth, and out of his mind.
Fight or flight. This pretend president has always fled to his golf courses… Fled to his rallies … Those self-pleasuring orgies … Childish bragging, bullying …Tender tantrums. This nation is going through its crucible. He wants to flee back to the cradle.
You voted this obscene child into office. Congress has the power to throw him out. Precisely now is the time, because this is treason.
Bruni – one has to be a MORON not to deal with trade-offs! All very easy for you Frank as you sit isolated from those who suffer and will suffer!
In response to your headline:what kind of stupid question is that? We all know what this dotard is going to decide.There is no suspense here. Remember this is the moron who stared into the sun during a solar ecllipse
Thanks, Frank, for a(nother) brilliant view of our reality. If the idiot in charge could fathom your wisdom, we would all be much better off…
There is one way to get rid of him vote!, with your heart & your brain.
Donald Trump is a sociopath who lives by his own set of rules. He has no regard for others. Fools like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx should realize they are only props in a Trump show and are easily discarded. No matter how many die, Trump will declare victory. In the Bible, the devil is described as the “King of liars” I believe he has met his match.
Trump puts his narcissistic self above all else and he spits in the eye of decency.
How can this even be a question? Where have you been the last three years? Lazy reporting.
It’s quite simple really. Trump’s only hope of re-election is/was a strong economy, certainly not his honesty, decency and empathy. Without a national health care system, why would the current administration care how many people get sick? If they do, that’s their problem. If they don’t, everybody wins. So long as they are not a tremendous strain on his bottom line, Trump will keep sending ‘em down into the mines — with plenty of others ready to replace the ones that don’t make it back up.
Quick ordering of priorities: 1. His dollar signs 2. Dollar signs he hopes to somehow acquire. 3. Everything else (this should actually be stated as “nothing else”, because if something is out there that isn’t him, his ego, or his money, it doesn’t actually exist).
Our incurious president will do whatever he can get away with to preserve his shot at reelection. 100 lost lives? 1,000 lost lives? Millions of lost lives? Nothing more than the cost of doing business. The republican donor class has taken a big hit and is putting enormous pressure on their elected minions to restore ‘life as they know it’. The next two weeks will reveal much about the character of our leaders.
Governor Cuomo answered this best today: it’s not a choice of public health or the economy; both can be done. Trump just needs to listen to the governor of his native state. But no one should hold their breath for that one.
Quick as a bunny, Donald Trump believes he can summarily resurrect the economy and his fading hopes for re-election this Easter in his own version of playing God. While he may void the CDC guidelines and sound the all clear to businesses and tell their employees to “hop to it,” his failure to confront the Covid-19 virus all but guarantees that like Pharaoh on this Passover he will end up with rotten egg on his face as workers fall ill and die and hospitals are unable to deal with the crush of new cases from the ultimate plague he couldn’t deal with.
Does Trump think it’s okay for millions to get sick and die if it will enhance the stock market? Trump has no empathy for anyone. The dead are mere obscure numbers.
I’m going to suggest a far more sinister motive. All the worst-hit states are Democratic and almost certainly won’t vote for Trump in November. For example, New York’s main Dem voting bloc is the City…It’s like he really, really wants people in Blue states to die. There. I’ve said it. Trump has put the economic consequences as “worse” than the virus. What’s worse than death? The market crashing as long as those dying are “other” people, especially people who didn’t vote for him. How can I see such a dark sentiment? LOOK at what he’s saying, who he’s encouraging, not condemning the eugenics of Tex Lt.Gov Patrick! These are terrifying times and NOTHING will get Trump’s attention focused on doing the right thing unless he or his family gets sick with this virus.
￼￼Any conversation about re-opening the workplace must wait until after we have tests. Duh.
You do understand that even Trump is just a pawn in the billionaire’s game, right?
We have to build a wall.
“Money & Celebrity” Yep, you nailed it, Frank. Those are Trump’s elixirs of choice, and going cold turkey is killing him. He doesn’t even drink. Perhaps he should, as I could use a stiff one every time he opens his mouth. We’d all like to see the country re-open for business, but doing that prematurely will cause the number of cases and deaths to skyrocket, overwhelming under-staffed and under-supplied U.S. hospitals. In case Trump forgot, that’s why we’re sheltering in place!
Republicans and a Trump trotted death panels to try to derail the ACA. Now they are the party of death. His Texas campaign manager is happy to die for Trump’s economy and says the rest of the country’s seniors are happy to follow vin the Pied Piper. Sorry I’m not going to put my life on the line for the most incompetent White House in my memory. The most hard hit states are Democratic so it sounds like withholding vital supplies is revenge – too harsh – no not for Trump and his base. McConnell is playing the spoiler with the relief package. President and Senator Death. You own it.
The proposition that a de facto destruction of our economy based on models that change daily and deal with the hypothetically possible, may, could and so on scenarios simulated by playing what if games based on daily changing info is utterly preposterous. Public will not allow it. Those trying to impose it would get punished politically. Media is now past the Trump derangement syndrome, they plainly lost it. Country will move towards finding a balance between hysteria and wishing the problem away. Prudent and balanced risk management specific to epicenters and populations involved will prevail.
If Trump opens the economy knowing it will cause fatalities, as clearly appears to be the case, who will call this what it truly is? Involuntary mass manslaughter. Passive genocide.
“He has only two lenses through which he sees the world, two yardsticks by which he measures everyone and everything: money and celebrity.” Which is an extremely sad way to live. Take away one or the other–of in the case of death, both–and you’re cooked. So much for legacy: “He died thinking he was the richest, most famous man in the world.” But what I don’t get about his insistence he’s going to “reopen the country” by Easter is this: how can you force people back to work if they’re sick? He may want everyone to help ignite American consumerism, but what if people just don’t feel like celebrating because their best friend just died of coronavirus, or feel like flying because, gee, there are so many great places to visit right now, right? It’s easier to ask for sacrifice to save lives than it is to demand people now sacrifice theirs. With all due respect to the Lieut.Governor of Texas.
I believe and I know , Discussion in Europe or just north of our Country is not like this. Again American political club of right wing find new demon. “If Corona virus is a pandemic in a century so what , it is worst socialist thing send to us from Communist China.” Right there we already wedge the public deeply in two piece. Trying to avert disastrous death and sickness group Trying avoid loosing any money group. That is my friend Right wing lunatic is going play from now on. Are you against America, so you are with Coronavirus. In rest of the world entire ide a, how we can optimize the damage, it is serious and very challenging but they are trying to unify the public. That is not the case in US, Trump is already put split in our national psyche. Do you want economic death or real death? Choose one. That is our president and that is republican party. What we are expecting? These very people ridiculed Sandy hook Massacre and sided with NRA.
A man without a heart or a brain in charge of healing the sick, and caring for the disadvantaged. The closest political analogy we can find in History is when Caligula was Emperor of the Roman Empire, and he had his horse named a Senator. The Fates can be so cruel, can’t they?
I have zero respect for this “man.” He is devoid of empathy, and cares about nothing but himself. He may be the least intelligent person to ever hold the presidency. He considers himself smarter than anyone, about everything, which is a sure sign of ignorance. He has zero self-awareness. And yet, almost half of America still supports him. That is the real tragedy.