Saturday, March 07, 2020


Matthew Yglesias asks:

We can debate whether this is sociopathy or malignant narcissism, but either way, Trump is openly admitting that his primary concern is ensuring that the infection and death numbers don't increase significantly. The health of the passengers? Who cares?

The Washington Post's Philip Bump makes the obvious point:
What’s particularly alarming about Trump’s focus on the numbers is that it seems as if it might offer an explanation for the government’s slow rollout of testing systems. The United States has only completed a couple thousand tests for the virus, according to reporting from The Atlantic. In South Korea, nearly 67,000 people were tested in the first week after community spread was discovered.

The U.S.'s testing was hobbled by a faulty test produced by the CDC, something that has apparently been corrected. But it’s hard to uncouple that delay and the slow testing from Trump’s obvious desire to keep numbers low. Sure, there are only a few hundred known cases in the United States, but the key word there is “known.” Experts think the virus has been in the wild in Washington for weeks — meaning many cases that haven’t yet been detected there alone.

If you don't test for the illness, you can't know how many people have it. And if you don't know how many people have it, the low numbers you tout on Twitter are obviously incomplete.
I keep thinking about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. For nearly a year, the official death toll stood in the double digits, until studies confirmed that the storm killed thousands of people.

You have to understand that Trump believes that reporting delay worked for him. By the time the real numbers emerged, most Americans weren't paying attention. Trump is right -- that did work for him. Maria should have been Trump's Katrina. It wasn't.

Trump isn't the only recent president who's tried to prevent the public from gaining access to embarrassing statistics. We had to turn to private organizations rather than the Bush administration if we wanted a real assessment of the death and injury toll in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, particularly with regard to civilian casualties. Bush eventually left office in disgrace, but the refusal to release statistics worked for Bush for a while.

It seems likely that reality will catch up to Trump -- it was impossible to conceal the catastrophic failure of the Iraq War, and it's likely that it will be impossible to conceal the toll of coronavirus in America once it's obvious how widespread and dangerous it is. But Trump is playing for time, hoping the virus will abate in the spring and summer, hoping a treatment will emerge, hoping the lethality will be lower than expected, hoping that Americans will be distracted by other news. I don't see how Trump can outrun this, but he's gotten away with so many things for so long that you can't blame him for thinking that his lifelong lucky streak will continue.

Already there are signs that Trump's base believes him when he says the whole crisis is overblown:
Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent threat to the United States, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this week....

Poll respondents who described themselves as Republicans and did not see the coronavirus as a threat said it still felt remote because cases had not been detected close to home and their friends and neighbors did not seem to be worried, either.

“I haven’t changed a single thing,” Cindi Hogue, who lives outside Little Rock, Arkansas, told Reuters. “It’s not a reality to me yet. It hasn’t become a threat enough yet in my world.”

Many of the U.S. cases that have been reported so far have been in Washington state and California, more than 1,000 miles away from Arkansas.

... About four of every 10 Democrats said they thought the new coronavirus poses an imminent threat, compared to about two of every 10 Republicans.
Here's what I wrote late last month:
Most Americans never travel. Trumpism is popular among the untraveled; they're suspicious of people who gad about the planet rather than settling into a small town or gated retirement village. They'll regard this as a disease of rootless cosmopolitanism -- or, rather, as a disease rootless cosmopolitans have spread to simple, decent, travel-averse Volk.
And if they never get real numbers from the federal government, they'll learn to mistrust the numbers from state and local governments, from "the fake news," and from private organizations. If they don't have real numbers from the one source they trust -- Trump and his government -- they'll experience a combination of denial and (if the virus shows up where they live) scapegoat-blaming.

Trump might not be able to avoid coronavirus accountability forever -- but with some lucky breaks and careful misdirection, he might avoid it until November, the way Bush avoided accountability on Iraq in November 2004. Avoiding accountability is all that matters to Trump.


UPDATE: Holy crap.

We're doomed.

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