Friday, March 06, 2020


Many people in the federal government seem to be taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously. And then, as CNN tells us, there's the guy at the top:
President Donald Trump is receiving a steady stream of sometimes-conflicting information about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that some aides worry is dampening his ability to effectively communicate the realities and risks of the epidemic.

Some of the information Trump is receiving is viewed by his team as qualified and some of it appears designed to downplay the global crisis, people familiar with the matter said. Like he has throughout his presidency, Trump is hearing from outside friends and allies who don't necessarily convey the same information he hears from government aides.
I'm highlighting that sentence because it's alarming -- although it's also utterly predictable. Trump isn't discussing the outbreak with people outside government who know what they're talking about. He's discussing it with self-important old rich guys, men who got rich being good at one thing and now presumably believe they're experts at everything.
Mike Pence ... has made a practice of briefing Trump on the latest about the coronavirus multiple times a day....

But others, such as members of the President's family and his extended network of business associates, also have a direct line and are encouraging Trump to offer a rosier picture of the situation than his officials are relaying.
This brings to mind a 2017 New York Times story that first described Trump's frightening circle of influence.

Some of these people could have useful knowledge to impart to a president. Others, outside their own narrow range of expertise -- which, to be fair, made them rich -- have nothing of value to offer.
Richard LeFrak

Their fathers were developers together in New York, and the two men have been friends for decades....

Steve Roth

A good way to get on Mr. Trump’s side is to do a deal with him, particularly if it means rescuing him from his own financial crisis. That’s what Mr. Roth, a real estate tycoon, did a decade ago when he bought out Mr. Trump’s share in a West Side real estate deal that went sour. Mr. Roth, head of Vornado Realty Trust and a longtime Democratic donor, also helped Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, when he injected $80 million into 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner family property in danger of defaulting on $1.1 billion in loans. Mr. Trump speaks with Mr. Roth frequently....

Phil Ruffin

Mr. Trump has 20-odd business partners, but none is closer to him than Mr. Ruffin, 82, a Texas billionaire who has lent his ear and private jet. The president was best man at the 2008 wedding of Mr. Ruffin to his third wife, a 26-year-old model and former Miss Ukraine....

Carl Icahn

Rounding out Mr. Trump’s roster of wealthy octogenarians is this 81-year-old corporate raider and real estate mogul, who occupies perhaps the most respected perch in the president’s circle of businessmen buddies....

Ike Perlmutter

Mr. Perlmutter, the chief executive of Marvel Comics ... has been informally advising Mr. Trump on veterans issues. The two men are old friends, and Mr. Perlmutter has been a presence at Mar-a-Lago.

Robert Kraft

The owner of the New England Patriots is a Democrat, but his loyalty to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kraft once said, dates partly to the president’s thoughtfulness when Mr. Kraft’s wife died. Mr. Trump loved talking about the Patriots during the campaign, and Mr. Kraft has been a Mar-a-Lago presence since the transition.
It seems likely to me that when Trump contradicts or overrules experts on the coronavirus, it's because he was confirmed in his own biases by one or more of these gentlemen, none of whom have flown in coach, bought their own groceries, or attended a crowded public event (except in a luxury skybox) for several decades.

(Ike Perlmutter, of course, is one of three Mar-a-Lago members who became "shadow rulers" of the Veterans Administration after Trump's inauguration, overruling the agency's officials.)

The CNN story tells us:
When the President is given advice he disagrees with — even if it comes from someone well versed in the field of discussion — he often seeks outside counsel in hopes of reinforcing his own instincts. In the fourth year of his presidency, aides are well aware of the President's tactics, and often work around him by calling outside advisers in hopes of catching them before they speak with the President.
So I guess if you want to combat a deadly epidemic, you have to call up a couple of aging real estate tycoons and beg them to tell the president that community transmission of a frequently deadly virus for which no treatment, cure, or vaccine has been discovered is a bad thing. Otherwise, the whole country is screwed.

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