On his campaign website, President Donald Trump is still promising to “drain the swamp of corrupt Washington bureaucrats,” just as he pledged in 2016. The problem is the swamp creatures Trump himself brought to Washington have helped well-heeled insiders make a killing off the pandemic.
“Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” Trump tweeted on Feb. 24, even as he assured his millions of Twitter followers that the coronavirus was “very much under control.”
But, according to a report this week in The New York Times, that wasn’t what Trump’s top economic advisers were that same day telling a select group of board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, many of them donors to either Trump or the Republican Party or both.
Tomas J. Philipson, then a White House senior economic adviser, didn’t share Trump’s very public rosy outlook, giving the group a more reality-based heads-up about the coming pandemic and its potential impact on the nation’s economy.
Philipson reportedly told those at the three-day Hoover conference in Washington that he couldn’t yet estimate the effect the coronavirus could have on the US economy. It didn’t take much for conference participants to start reading between the lines — lines that certainly didn’t intersect with what Trump or members of his administration were saying publicly about the threat of the virus to public health or to the economy.
A presentation the next day by Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, added another level of uncertainty.
For hedge fund consultant William Callanan, who attended the conference, the message was clear: Every administration official heard from pointed to the virus “as a point of concern.”
Callanan wrote a memo that went to a select group of investors and hedge fund managers, touching off a Wall Street version of Whisper Down the Lane. One investor’s response to hearing about the memo, according to the Times, was that it was cause to “short everything,” that is, bet that the stock market on the whole would dive. By Feb. 26, the market was down some 300 points from its high the previous week, and those who had used the opportunity to short-sell stocks were already counting their profits.
This was at a time when fewer than 20 cases had been reported in the United States, but also a moment when several dozen American cruise ship passengers were reported ill. And it was after Trump’s Feb. 7 interview with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, at which the president acknowledged that COVID-19 “goes through the air” and was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus” — a quote not revealed publicly until the September publication of Woodward’s book.
From then until now, often at large gatherings flouting the guidance of public health experts, Trump has publicly downplayed the dangers of the virus, from proclaiming, “It’s going away. It’ll go away. Things go away. No question in my mind that it will go away,” to the nation is “turning the corner.”
At his rallies before the public, Trump peddles the same old snake oil — touting “miracle cures” (remember hydroxychloroquine?) without evidence and insisting that we’re turning a corner even as cases are rising and more than 215,000 Americans have died of the virus.
Ah, but those insiders who get to rub elbows with members of Trump’s White House team, they get the real deal. They, in the end, get what they paid for — access and information — and profits to boot.
Buying access is hardly a new thing in the nation’s capital, but allowing some people to buy the truth and profit from it while the rest of the public is fed a pablum of lies that endanger their health, jobs, and even their survival sinks to a new low in the swamp, remarkable even coming from this corrupt White House.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.