Somebody should tell President Trump there’s a viral pandemic and a terrible recession. We could use some help getting to the other side of both.
Trump spent the week waging rhetorical war on media critics, China and Twitter, while the tally of death and distress reached alarming new levels. More than 100,000 Americans have now died of COVID-19, while 41 million workers have lost their jobs in the last 10 weeks. A black man in Minneapolis died after a white cop knelt on his neck for 7 minutes, prompting protests and riots in Minneapolis and other cities. There’s discord everywhere.
Trump’s response? Make it worse. About the Minneapolis rioting, Trump tweeted, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Tough guy, he is, threatening to send National Guard troops to mow people down (after Minnesota’s governor had already activated the state’s National Guard). Nobody’s condoning rioters burning businesses to the ground, but killing more people is the barbarian’s method of leadership. If there’s any good news, it’s that Trump probably won’t do anything, since he doesn’t like to get involved, because you have to take responsibility when you do that. Easier to criticize other people who take responsibility, like mayors and governors.
Trump is also in an escalating battle with Twitter, which has started calling out a few of his lies and also put a disclaimer on his looting-and-shooting tweet notifying users that it glorifies violence. On May 28, Trump introduced a dubious executive order attempting to limit legal protections for Twitter and other online platforms. It will probably die in court. Maybe Trump will send the National Guard after Twitter.
Developments in China are grave. The ruling Communist Party passed a new law claiming the right to squash any kind of dissent in Hong Kong, which is supposed to be an autonomous region operating under democratic principles. If China enforces the new law, which seems likely, it could have many serious consequences, including bloodshed. Hong Kong is one of the world’s financial centers, but probably won’t stay that way if China cracks down.
In a short address on May 29, Trump announced the possibility of unspecified sanctions on China, while also declaring that the United States is severing ties with the World Health Organization, which is a United Nations agency, not a Chinese one. The stock market, which had been fearing a showdown with China, shot up on the belief that Trump doesn’t plan to do much, for now.
This week’s Trump-o-meter reads SAD, the lowest score, because Trump is harnessing federal power to attack a private-sector company for personal reasons — and doing nothing else productive. His Minneapolis provocations aren’t an economic issue, but leadership is, and he’s not showing any.
Trump’s multi-front battles are part of his reelection strategy. He wants to deflect attention from the coronavirus and unemployment crises by picking fights on other issues and hoping that dominates the news. He’s good at this, but his approval rating has ticked down a couple of points since the end of March, and polls show Democrat Joe Biden about 5 points ahead of Trump in this year’s presidential matchup.
What should Trump be doing? 1. Spearheading an aggressive federal effort to establish coronavirus testing on a massive scale, which is the best way to speed business reopenings and forestall repeat outbreaks. 2. Offering solace to victims of police violence, along with whatever federal support state and local officials request. 3. Proposing thoughtful legislation to address legitimate problems with disinformation, hate speech and other problematic content on social media sites. 4. Coordinating a unified response to China’s aggression against Hong Kong with all the world’s democratic nations.
Nah. Too complicated. Who else can he attack?
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.