President Trump spent the week telling everybody what a great job he’s doing leading the fight against coronavirus. Financial markets aren’t buying any of it.
Stocks had a miserable week, falling 14% in 5 days, for a total decline of 32% from the peak on February 19. Wall Street almost unanimously declared that a recession has arrived, with Goldman Sachs forecasting an astonishing 24% drop in GDP from the first quarter to the second.
Economists think the coronavirus outbreak will vaporize 3 million to 5 million jobs by summer. Congress is working on bailouts to save airlines, hotels and other firms hit hardest. Millions of Americans will get bailout checks of their own, probably in April.
But Trump now faces a worst-case reelection scenario. Just a few weeks ago, Trump’s plan was to campaign against Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, on a strong economy. That economy is now fevered and bedridden. Trump says he hopes for a quick defeat of the virus and a robust, “V-shaped” recovery. Experts doubt it. With an almost unimaginable economic wipeout unfolding, this week’s Trump-o-meter reads SAD, for the second week in a row.
Focus in Washington has shifted to gigantic bailout measures, but the most important thing remains testing for the virus—and the United States is woefully behind. The United States ranks seventh in terms of total tests administered, behind China, South Korea, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and the U.K. On a per-person basis, the United States ranks 22nd. Nobody can claim the United States exerts any leadership at all in its response to the virus.
Tests are crucial because they determine who’s infected and who isn’t, allowing targeted isolation instead of the mass shutdowns ordered this week by the governors of California and New York. Widespread testing would also help determine who needs urgent medical care and who can stay home. For now, some patients with glaring symptoms of the disease can’t get tested, and neither can people they’ve been in contact with. That forces everybody to default to self-quarantine, worsening both the economic and the public health disaster.
Trump, at least, is no longer denying the dangers posed by the virus, as he was until a couple weeks ago. Yet the daily coronavirus briefings he leads from the White House are cringeworthy displays of hubris and naivete. Trump typically begins by declaring what a great job he and his team have done, asserting, wrongly, that nobody could have seen the virus coming. Sometimes his advisers announce new developments, such as an increasing role for the Defense Department providing ventilators and other equipment. Then Trump officials such as Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar suck up to Trump, saying with no apparent embarrassment that he’s doing a great job. Then Trump argues with the press and blames the media for making him look bad. You can almost hear the vomiting among viewers who haven’t flipped it off yet.
What Trump should be doing, every day, is talking about testing—explaining why we’re so far behind and giving real details on how we’ll catch up, and when. It would be better if he weren’t even there, allowing experts from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control to explain, with more credibility.
We’ll get a handle on the virus eventually. The recession will end, a recovery will begin and someday things will feel normal again. It may not happen while Trump is president, however. He may be the last to know.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.