President Trump wants to get the American economy moving again in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — and he’s willing to put millions of people at risk to get his wish.
On Monday, at the president’s daily press conference/campaign rally on the coronavirus, he told reporters he wants to get Americans back to work after the White House campaign to promote social distancing, “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” ends. On Tuesday, he said he wants to ease restrictions by Easter, April 12.
“We’ll be back in business as a country pretty soon,” said the president. "Let’s go to work. Our country wasn’t built to be shut down.”
Trump’s words are part of a growing effort within the White House and conservative circles to ignore the warnings of public health officials and focus on the economic costs of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Associated Press and Washington Post, Trump is most concerned about rising unemployment rates, the constantly declining stock market, and the potential impact on his reelection effort.
He is, reported the Washington Post, “growing tired of talking only about the coronavirus.”
On a positive note, at least he didn’t go as far down the rabbit hole of moral depravity as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who suggested that fixing the economy is so important that grandparents should be willing to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, to make it happen.
The first and rather obvious problem with Trump’s call for relaxing social distancing efforts is that no one person — not even the president of the United States — has that kind of power.
At a time when governors around the country are putting in place Increasingly restrictive measures requiring Americans to stay inside, how exactly is the president going to reverse them? Is Trump going to order states to reopen their schools and restaurants and bars to welcome back customers?
Is he going to order people to get on planes? Is he going to tell the NBA, NHL, and MLB to play ball again?
The president can push businesses all he wants to reopen, but customers and employees probably won’t show up. The president, as much as he may want to, cannot wish away the dislocation and anxiety that the coronavirus has created.
In New York, California, Illinois, Washington, and New Jersey, which are bearing the greatest brunt from COVID-19 — and have gone the furthest to fight it — Trump’s words will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.
If Trump is ignored, will his administration, along with Republicans in Congress, threaten to withhold bailout money for blue states that keep stringent social distancing restrictions in place? Or will he simply use it as a campaign talking point to blame Democrats for undercutting the US economy?
The greater fear is that Republican governors, particularly in states that have yet to see major outbreaks, will feel pressured to relax the restrictions they’ve already put in place or resist more onerous ones.
Trump’s efforts, as instrumentally ineffectual as they may be, risk contributing to the growing partisan divide between those in blue states who are taking COVID-19 seriously and those in red states who are not.
Of course, these questions tend to overshadow the far larger and more important problem with Trump’s calls to disregard public health experts: people will die — lots of people.
As of Monday evening, more than 43,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Approximately 537 of those who contracted the disease have died. Because of the lack of testing the actual number is almost certainly much higher. These numbers have gotten steadily worse each day and will continue to rise without drastic measures to limit the spread of the virus.
There is one way to get the numbers to move in the opposite direction — and it’s not relaxing social distancing efforts. To do as Trump wants not only will ensure that more people will be afflicted with the coronavirus and more people will die, but it will overwhelm the US health care system. This situation is already unfolding in New York City, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic.
But it’s quite clear that Trump doesn’t care.
This is a man who weeks ago publicly stated that he wanted to keep thousands of people on a coronavirus-afflicted cruise ship. Letting them off would increase the numbers of Americans who had tested positive for the virus and “I like the numbers being where they are,” said the president.
Then Trump was focused on playing down the crisis for fear that it would imperil his reelection efforts. That deeply narcissistic attitude remains. The president want to win another term as president. If thousands or tens of thousands of Americans need to die to make that happen, so be it.
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Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.