Trump Speaks on Coronavirus…

...and confusion (and a further market tumble) ensues.

Last night, President Trump addressed the nation in regards to the Coronavirus pandemic. In a speech that was delivered in a near monotone, Trump created confusion by seeming to ban all travel and trade with Europe (it was later clarified that he was only banning travel of non-US citizens from the EU and that trade would not be affected). He also provided some modest policy proposals more appropriate for fighting a mild recession than for dealing with a global pandemic.

Like most of Trump’s non-rally speeches, this one felt perfunctory and as if it was the first time he was reading it aloud.* I did not watch the speech live but watched it in full this morning. It was lifeless and was very much too little, too late (and that assessment is kind as it requires ignoring the Europe policy debacle, the general air of xenophobia, and the lack of any discussion about testing).

Some of it was anodyne boilerplate, such as:

The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus. The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.

In particular, we are strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits. In general, older Americans should also avoid nonessential travel in crowded areas.

Then there was this, which is risible given the way Trump himself has been dealing with this issue for weeks:

We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family.

I cannot think of a single way in which this president has sought to unify the nation, and he has clearly treated this as a partisan issue (or self-protection) from the very beginning.

The actual policy moves in the speech are a combination of ineffective at best and nonsensical at worst.

Let’s start with nonsensical:

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.

[…]

These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

Several thoughts occur all at once.

First, it is too late for travel bans (and to suggest that travel bans are a solution is to not understand how diseases spread–the virus is already here). I could understand and would support a more thorough screening process for international travelers, but a further ban is the proverbial fixing the barn door once the horse has come home.

Second, if a ban is a good idea, then why exclude the UK? Why not ban all travel? It really makes no sense. (If one checks out this list, one would note that many European countries have profiles no different than the UK).

Third, the discussion of Europe elided the entire issue of under-testing here in the US:

The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.

The problem for this logic (that the low number of cases in the US relative to Europe is due to the ban on Chinese travel) is that we really do not know how many cases there are in the US because we have not been prepared to test. The more we start testing, the more cases we are going to find.

Fourth, the travel ban was certain to cause an already jittery market to react even more negatively (especially when Trump seemed not to understand his own policy proclamations). It is never a good thing when the executive branch has to issues corrections to a major policy pronouncement immediately after the president has made said pronouncement.

Also, the whole speech smacks of xenophobia:

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.

(Emphasis mine).

Virii have no nationality (but xenophobia is on-brand for this administration).

Other issues from the speech include misleading information about insurance coverage:

Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.

While it is true co-pays for testing have been waived, treatment is another matter. There have not been any offers to waive copays on treatment.

Also, this is the land of utter denial:

This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.

Tell that to the market. More significantly, tell it to the tourism industry, the airlines, the NBA, and so forth. The virus is clearly creating a global economic crisis and while it is strictly not a financial crisis such as that which sparked the Great Recession, it could have extremely significant ramifications. While I certainly agree that panic should be avoided, downplaying the situation is problematic (and that has been the administration’s approach from the beginning).

This situation is just another example of why treating Trump like a business genius is utterly laughable.

One last thing: the following policy moves seem to me to be both inadequate and poorly chosen for the current moment:

Effective immediately, the SBA will begin providing economic loans in affected states and territories. These low-interest loans will help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. To this end, I am asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.

Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted. This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.

Finally, I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly.

These feel like warmed-over recession-focused policies. They do not address where the real problems are likely to be: workers without benefits who will struggle to survive without paychecks if they get sick or if they are not able to work due to their industries (e.g., sports, tourism, festivals) going on hiatus.

As many have noted: a payroll tax cut is worthless if you aren’t getting paid. Also, while they may be stimulative in the aggregate, the individual help to a waiter or other member of the service industry is small.

Competence matters and this event illustrates that fact. We are witnessing a truly incompetent administration in action.


*Look, I know that reading a speech and speaking extemporaneously are different skill sets and all of us likely sound worse reading. But goodness, he is terrible at it.

FILED UNDER: General
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Second, if a ban is a good idea, then why exclude the UK? Why not ban all travel? It really makes no sense.

    It does when you consider that Trump has two golf resorts there, which are already losing money, and are being supported by US Military spending.

    20
  2. gVOR08 says:

    The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus. The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.

    I do not regard that as anodyne, it is dangerous. He’s saying if you’re young, don’t worry about it, if you get sick, no big.

    But a young, infected person is a young, healthy CARRIER. He understands nothing about this and won’t listen to people who do. He should be telling everybody, young, old, red, blue, to be careful, wash their hands, and practice social distancing. South Korea and Italy are showing us what we should do, what we’ll be forced to do soon, and should do righ now.

    19
  3. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    But…but…Trump has claimed that “doctors” (unnamed, as always) are astounded by his vast knowledge of the coronavirus.

    4
  4. MarkedMan says:

    Another example of pathetic incompetence comes not from Trump but from his lackeys and enablers: the need to preface every comment or answer with a cringe inducing display of fawning toadyism praising Trump. This can go on for several sentences before they finally settle in to deliver their misinformation

    15
  5. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    But a young, infected person is a young, healthy CARRIER.

    We just cancelled a large competition event for K-12 students, which would have had ~5000 kids and adults in and out of a middle school over an entire day. You would not believe how many repetitions it took me to convince some of the decision-makers that just telling the grandparents to stay home would not eliminate the risk to them.

    13
  6. Hal_10000 says:

    The good part is that I think of lot of Trumpists will now be taking it seriously and he emphasize hygiene and social distancing. The bad part is that it was an exercise in self-justification and back-patting mixed with some xenophobia. A week ago, this speech and these steps might have been appropriate. Now? No.

    9
  7. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    But a young, infected person is a young, healthy CARRIER. He understands nothing about this and won’t listen to people who do.

    It’s truly astonishing. I could understand him not understanding this a few weeks ago. But it’s inexcusable that it hasn’t been banged into his thick skull by this point.

    @DrDaveT:

    You would not believe how many repetitions it took me to convince some of the decision-makers that just telling the grandparents to stay home would not eliminate the risk to them.

    A huge chunk of Americans get their news from Fox and Rush.

    14
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Shorter Trump speech:

    “Everything I’ve told you up to this point was a lie. Ditto everything Limbaugh and Hannity are telling you. All lies. Everything #Cult45 has been repeating? Lies. Mike Pence? Liar. Larry Kudlow? Liar. All lies. I blame foreigners.”

    13
  9. An Interested Party says:

    But wait a minute! Rich Lowry is telling us that Trump is striking the right tone…surely he can’t be wrong about that? Oh wait, this is the same guy who thought Sarah Palin was sending him starbursts through the TV screen…even worse than Trump himself is this parade of toadies and lickspittles…very few Republicans/conservatives seem to have any self-respect or dignity anymore…

    3
  10. Mister Bluster says:

    A huge chunk of Americans get their news from Fox and Rush.

    Not that it matters to his shallow heads, Brush Lintoff has stated repeatedly that his show is for entertainment purposes only. It is NOT a news program.
    This relieves him of any responsibility for truth and accuracy.

    (You need to brush the lint off your brain if you believe his tripe.)

    4
  11. Teve says:

    Charlie Sykes
    @SykesCharlie
    Profile picture

    Before TrumpWorld tries to memory-hole this… a Thread –>

    January 22:
    Trump: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

    February 2:
    Trump: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
    February 10:
    Trump: “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in.”

    February 24:
    Trump: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. . . . Stock Market starting to look very good to me.”
    February 27:
    Trump: “It’s going to disappear one day, it’s like a miracle.”

    February 28:
    Eric Trump: “In my opinion, it’s a great time to buy stocks or into your 401k. I would be all in . . . let’s see if I’m right.”
    March 2:
    Trump on a coronavirus vaccine: “I’ve heard very quick numbers, that of months.” [Note: Immunologist Anthony Fauci, has repeatedly said that a vaccine will not be available for a year or 1 1/2 years]
    March 6:
    Trump: “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

    Trump: “I didn’t know people died from the flu.”
    Trump on whether or not to bring coronavirus patients on a cruise ship to shore: “I like the numbers being where they are.”

    March 10:
    Trump: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
    Trump [in response to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta asking what he would “say to Americans who say you are not taking this seriously enough and that some of your statements don’t match what health experts are saying”]: “That’s CNN. Fake news.”

    15
  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    While it is true co-pays for testing have been waived, treatment is another matter.

    Also note that waiving co-pays is not the same as waiving deductibles, which could be a far more significant cost for many insured people.

    17
  13. PJ says:

    Comment of the day:

    I think if someone gave Trump coronavirus on 5th Avenue, that person would probably get away with it.

    6
  14. Argon says:

    Waving the payroll tax is stealing from employees to pay the owners.

    7
  15. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Actually, there’s now a lot of worry that people are most contagious before the symptoms show up and that’s how a lot of the virus is being passed.

    Honestly, I suggest the best way to deal with this is to totally isolate people who fall in the high-risk categories and let the virus stampede through the rest of the low risk population until it dies out. THEN work on a vaccine for the high-risk individuals.

    1
  16. Matt says:

    @grumpy realist:

    THEN work on a vaccine for the high-risk individuals.

    Well people have been working on a vaccine for MERS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1 for 17 years now with no success.

    BUT there is some promising work recently on a vaccine but the earliest we’ll see trials is late this year.

    https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jmedchem.9b01828

    1
  17. Kathy says:

    @Matt:

    And work on an HIV vaccine goes back even longer.

    Some bugs aren’t amenable to human designs.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Matt: The expected length of time before we might manage to develop a vaccine is why we can’t just be told to hold our breath, self-isolate, and pray to survive until the vaccine shows up.

    Honestly, you’d think the Decrepit Orange Tangerine in charge would realize this.

  19. Lounsbury says:

    @CSK: Actually in some ways Trump may be reporting truthfully… except of course ‘astounded’ not meaning what he thinks it means. Not impressed, horrified and gobsmacked. That would be in keeping with Trump taking anything and converting it – unless painfully undeniable – into praise for himself.