Thursday morning brought the news that U.S. jobless claims for last week were 3.3 million. Previous week? It was 281,000. What’s it going to be next week, and the week after that? And next Friday, April 3, we’ll get our first monthly jobs numbers since this was officially declared a pandemic on March 11. That should be fun.
We are approaching an economic death spiral here. March, April, and May, too, and if we don’t get our act together maybe June and July, are going to be economic disasters.
And Donald Trump wants to make it worse. He already has made it worse. Way, way worse than it needed to be. Imagine that he’d paid attention to the experts (I know, I know, but imagine) back in January. Trump brags about his China travel ban at the end of January, and yes, that was good, but imagine we’d started taking real safety measures, thinking about ventilators and PPE in February. Or imagine that we’d gone on lockdown a month before we did, or even two weeks in that time window when each week was crucial. Where might we be now?
We’d be a hell of a lot better off than we are today, that’s where. Maybe we’d even have started flattening the curve. Other societies managed to do that pretty quickly. But no, not us. Why? One reason and one reason only. What’s that reason? I’ll give you some hints. He said that it was totally under control. He said it was only 15 people who had it and it would soon be down to zero. He said—on Feb. 28, rather late in the game—that the whole thing was the Democrats’ “new hoax.” Enough hints?
Some people, in an excess of fair-mindedness, will say: But wait, this is a global pandemic; Trump didn’t create it. Of course he didn’t create it. So what? He had a job: Contain it. Make it cause the least amount of harm and death and disruption possible. Instead, he’s made it worse. And we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Consider this grim juxtaposition. Look at the third chart here on this Financial Times coronavirus update page (not behind the normal paywall). It’s a chart of country-by-country case trajectory comparisons. The United States is the worst. The single worst. Our line is the steepest, steeper even than Italy and Spain, in terms of being closest to having our number of cases double every two days. Iran’s line is flattening, and China’s, and even Italy’s now, a little. But not ours.
Now, read this. It’s a Feb. 27 report from Johns Hopkins University, one of our best monitors out there of this horror. It summarizes a study JHU released last October, the first-ever comprehensive global study of pandemic preparedness. That’s right, specifically on pandemic preparedness.
It ranked 195 countries on 34 different indicators across six categories. The average global score, out of 100, was 40.2.
Where was the United States, you ask? We scored 83.5. And we ranked No. 1. One.
So we have literally gone from the most-prepared country in the world last fall to the country with the highest rate of spread of the virus in the world today (the FT graphic, also based on JHU data, seems to include about 50 countries).
How do you fuck that up?
OK, I’ll take a stab at an answer. You have as your head of state a man with narcissistic personality disorder who spent the crucial first weeks denying the reality of this because he just couldn’t face it; couldn’t accept that something this forbidding and terrible could be happening, couldn’t understand it, didn’t seek to understand it, wished it away, dismissed it, mocked it, called it a hoax. That quote, from that Feb. 28 rally, may go down in history as the most morally unforgivable set of words uttered by a sitting president of the United States in our lifetimes, and beyond. Trump’s dismissal of this as a hoax (needless to say, to thunderous cheers at the rally at which he said them) is leading directly to the unnecessary deaths of who knows how many Americans—deaths that are happening because of his inaction and denial.
But back to the economy. This, too, is going to be much worse than it might have been. With a responsible president—and yes, goddammit, you bet I mean Hillary Clinton—we’d have been on this far earlier. Tests and ventilators would be out there. Based on the timelines we’ve observed in other countries, we might well be close to flattening that curve right now.
That, however, is not our Trump-imposed reality. And yet, out of still further denial, he is pretending it’s under control and rushing people back to work. And to church. You know that’s what’s in his head: He wants millions of parishioners to fill those pews on Easter Sunday. He wants to see that footage of them shouting “God Bless Trump!”
They’ll be shouting it on Easter. And some of them will never give up shouting it. But a strong majority of Americans will be shouting something else. It, too, will end with “Trump,” but the first two words will be pretty different.