Trump’s Solipsism Doomed COVID Fight

The story played out just as we all thought it would.

The headline of the long New York Times feature written by Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman, Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere and Mark Mazzetti simultaneously says it all and reveals nothing we haven’t known all along: “Trump’s Focus as the Pandemic Raged: What Would It Mean for Him?

The lede is as tragic as it is predictable:

It was a warm summer Wednesday, Election Day was looming and President Trump was even angrier than usual at the relentless focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’re killing me! This whole thing is! We’ve got all the damn cases,” Mr. Trump yelled at Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, during a gathering of top aides in the Oval Office on Aug. 19. “I want to do what Mexico does. They don’t give you a test till you get to the emergency room and you’re vomiting.”

Mexico’s record in fighting the virus was hardly one for the United States to emulate. But the president had long seen testing not as a vital way to track and contain the pandemic but as a mechanism for making him look bad by driving up the number of known cases.

This was literally his approach from the beginning. The very first articles here at OTB looking at the US response to what was then known simply as the “novel coronavirus” noted this.

In a comment on February 28, @Ski summarized it nicely: Trump was “treating this as a PR problem, not a public health crisis.” That prompted my post this next day, “No, Mr. President, COVID-19 isn’t a Democratic Hoax,” pointing to the disastrous consequences that would flow from that mindset.

On March 1, Steven Taylor wrote “COVID-19 and the Trump Administration,” lamenting that the crisis was being managed with “clear concern about how the outbreak, and specifically its effects on the stock market, make Trump look.”

My March 7 post “Coronavirus Has Been Politicized to Dangerous Effect” pointed to Trump’s childish relations with Democratic governors and observed, “It’s literally impossible to imagine any President in my lifetime acting this way during a public health crisis” and noted “aside from breaking confidence with the states that depend on federal coordination and subverting the world-class CDC’s ability to do its job, this is sowing confusion with the American public.”

A follow-up the next day, “Coronavirus Has Been Politicized to Dangerous Effect II,” pointed to Trump’s disputes with CDC and other public health officials with the dry observation “it would be preferable to have a more stable President at a time like this,” adding, “Amplifying particular recommendations from the bully pulpit of the White House could help save lives and provide reassurance.”

Steven weighed in with “The Narcissist in Chief,” noting that “The way in which the president makes the situation about himself and his political fortunes is continually stunning.” A follow-up, “The Narcissist in Chief, II,” marveled, “The fact that all that seems to matter to him is the [Dow Jones Industrial Average] is also a clear sign of his lack of qualification for the office he holds.”

Finally, on March 9, I wrote a post making it all about him: “Coronavirus Could Kill Trump Presidency.” Granting that his losing was overdetermined, that thankfully proved prescient.

The rest of the New York Times story is worth reading as a chronicle of the most epic mismanagement of a crisis imaginable. But the self-absorption of Trump at the root is not by any means new news.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jax says:

    It feels like we’ve been walking on the thin ice of catastrophe the entire Trump presidency, crossing our fingers that nothing disastrous like a terrorist attack or global pandemic happened on his watch, because we all KNEW, from the very beginning, that he was not up to the task.

    The even crazier part is that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, there’s a good chance he would’ve been re-elected. The cost of ridding ourselves of Mad King Trump could go as high, or higher, than 500,000 American lives by the time anything gets back to any semblance of normalcy.

    We’re still not out of the woods on a terrorist attack, either, it’s pretty obvious to the world we are without a sane leader until Biden’s inauguration.

    I haz an edit button!!!! 😉

    14
  2. CSK says:

    Speaking of the Dow Jones industrial average, here’s what Trump Tweeted 10 hours ago:
    “Finished off the year with the highest Stock Market in history. Setting records with your 401k’s (sic), just like I said you would. Congratulations to all!”

    3
  3. Teve says:

    “He’s a terrible president in part because he’s a horrible person.”

    —K-Thug

    12
  4. Mikey says:

    @CSK: Let’s poll the families of the 350,000 dead and see if a fat 401k makes up for the empty seat at the holiday table. Maybe they’ll be happy their loved one gave his/her life for the Dow!

    As I said yesterday, there’s one word for this: evil.

    10
  5. Teve says:

    Krugman makes an interesting point that Trump screwed up the pandemic so badly because his mindset is fundamentally about hurting people. So when it comes to sending troops to bash protesters, (smear the FBI, insult casualties of war, attack POWs,…) he’ s on it, when it comes to helping people, it’s just foreign to his mind. He has no interest in it, or skills for doing it.

    13
  6. Michael Cain says:

    Granting that his losing was overdetermined, that thankfully proved prescient.

    And yet, 45,000 votes in the right three states, and Trump would be getting reelected by the House this month after an electoral tie. 67,000 votes in four states and it wouldn’t even get to the House.

    4
  7. Lynn says:

    @Teve: “his mindset is fundamentally about hurting people”

    I disagree — I think his fundamental mindset is what’s good for him. If other people get hurt, that’s simply irrelevant.

    Protests make him look bad – stomp on ’em.
    High Covid numbers make him look bad – lie.
    Stock market up makes him look good — tout the numbers.

    10
  8. Scott F. says:

    Mr. Trump yelled at Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, during a gathering of top aides in the Oval Office on Aug. 19.

    I think it’s important to emphasize that the damage caused by Trump and his solipsism (and not just the handling of the pandemic, but the entire dumpster fire of his presidency) has been heavily dependent on a steady stream of enablers throughout his life. Imagine if Trump had not been born into immense wealth which bought his way into all sorts of business opportunities and which put him into a community of wealthy benefactors. Imagine if his track record of business failures hadn’t been downplayed by profiteers (like The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett) who looked to make money off of Trump’s self-promotion prowess and flamboyance. Imagine if an entire American political party wasn’t willing to turn a blind eye to the destructive potential of embracing the fringe right that Trump has shamelessly excited.

    Trump would be nothing without the sycophants and power groupies he has drawn into his orbit. If we can find it in ourselves to ignore this loser once he is no longer ‘the most powerful leader in the world,’ then he will lose his appeal and the sycophants will find some other idol to worship. There could be no fitter end than for Trump to end his life mostly alone and branded as a has-been.

    8
  9. CSK says:

    @Lynn:
    I agree with you that his primary (and sole) motivation is what’s good for him, but I think he takes a certain sadistic pleasure in hurting people her perceives as his enemies. Recall what he said about suing writers: “It costs me a few dollars and bankrupts them.”

    Trump always punches down. It’s the hallmark of a cowardly bully.

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  10. ImProPer says:

    My first source of good information that I got was here in the comment section via a post by Michael Reynolds. I can’t recall the exact date but he had included the prediction that it would overwhelm our hospital’s capacities, and cause mass casualties. This was the first moment for me having an indication of how serious the virus was. I recall having heard the name “corona” virus prior but it sounded pretty innocuous up to that point. This time period was pretty turbulent with life stuff for me, but I didn’t have my head totally buried in the sand.
    All the classical sources of information were pretty lacking at this time from my perspective.
    Trump being Trump of course deserves an F- informing us, in any reasonable time. He just lacked the forward thinking to realize it was, for better or worse, a time to shine, that even the most mediocre politician should of known, if only for the sake of narcissistic supply.
    The press wasn’t to much better, and I wonder if there was some forward thinking there, and they didn’t want Trump to have a bullhorn at the trade center type bump in the public’s perception thus helping him get a second term I hope this is not the case, but there is a lot of criticism to go around imo.
    Concerned citizen, and OTB commentator Michael, gets the only “A” from me in transmitting the severity of the situation at a reasonable date in hindsight.

    2
  11. liberal capitalist says:

    @CSK:

    Recall what he said about suing writers: “It costs me a few dollars and bankrupts them.”

    No better case has been made for massive taxation of the mega-rich.

    Restore the democratic ideals.

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  12. Lynn says:

    @CSK: @CSK: “certain sadistic pleasure in hurting people her perceives as his enemies”

    Narcissistic rage. .. you don’t treat me like the wonderful person I am, I’ll get you.

    2
  13. flat earth luddite says:

    @Scott F.:

    Imagine if Trump had not been born into immense wealth which bought his way into all sorts of business opportunities and which put him into a community of wealthy benefactors. Imagine if his track record of business failures hadn’t been downplayed by profiteers (like The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett) who looked to make money off of Trump’s self-promotion prowess and flamboyance. Imagine if an entire American political party wasn’t willing to turn a blind eye to the destructive potential of embracing the fringe right that Trump has shamelessly excited.

    Sorry, but as much as I enjoy reading sci-fi, fantasy, and alternative history, this is one even I can’t suspend my disbelief on.

    3
  14. Erik says:

    @CSK: @Mikey:
    Not to mention that quite a few of his supporters probably don’t even have a 401k. But somehow they manage to keep pretending that he is all about average workers instead of the wealthy

    2
  15. CSK says:

    @Erik:
    They call him “the blue-collar billionaire.” They mistake churlishness for alpha masculinity.

    Read Tom Nichols’s “Donald Trump, The Most Unmanly President” in http://www.theatlantic.com.

    1
  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Scott F.:

    There could be no fitter end than for Trump to end his life mostly alone and branded as a has-been.

    The Tiny Tim of politics. I like that.