The only time America’s narcoleptic Commerce secretary is more out of touch with reality than he is when he’s napping is when he’s awake.
Wilbur Ross has, at various intervals during his tenure in the Trump administration, delivered some of the most mind-bogglingly ridiculous, tone-deaf pronouncements imaginable.
For example, on January 24, 2019, when the border wall stalemate forced a government shutdown, imperiling the livelihoods of furloughed workers, the billionaire told CNBC the following in an extremely unfortunate interview: “I know they are [going to homeless shelters] and I don’t really quite understand why because… there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan”.
And then there was the time Ross marveled at the lack of street protests in Saudi Arabia, a country where protesting in the streets could well cost you your actual head. “The other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there”, Ross told CNBC in May of 2017. “Not one guy with a bad placard”.
Again, carrying a “bad placard” in Riyadh during a state visit by the President of the United States is a good way to lose the hands you used to hoist that placard.
Commenting on the bushels of dates he received from Saudi royals during the same trip, Ross called the gift basket “pretty from the heart” and a “very genuine gesture [that] really touched me”.
I know. I know. It’s fall-in-the-floor funny.
And I could go on. In February of 2018, for instance, a completely serious Ross told Joe Kernen that he (Wilbur) was planning to build a gas station on the moon.
In what still counts as the most absurd interview ever conducted on CNBC (no small feat), Kernen asked Ross what the “actual time frame” is on America landing on asteroids and drilling for mineral riches. “Is it 5 years, 10 years, 50 years? Do you know,” Joe asked a barely-awake Wilbur.
To be fair to Ross, that was a hard question to answer. Wilbur didn’t really know and neither did anyone else because… well, because Kernen was asking about space mining.
But as ridiculous as it already was, it got immeasurably better when Ross actually endeavored to provide a serious answer as follows:
I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a gas station for outer space. The plan is to break down the ice [there] into hydrogen and oxygen, use those as the fuel propellant.
Two years on, and that plan hasn’t panned out. But look – there are still 11 months left in Trump’s first term, and we’ve got “Space Force” now, so you never know, right?
At this point, you might be asking yourself “Why?'”. Why am I bringing up all of these historical episodes of Wilbur Ross lucid-dreaming on national television?
Well, because on Thursday, during an interview with one of his favorite people, Maria Bartiromo, Ross weighed in on the Wuhan virus and suggested it may well be a boon to the US economy.
“You could almost see the Chinese economy coming to a halt”, Bartiromo assessed. That isn’t true, but we’ll give Maria a pass because she was the most rational person in this conversation.
“Well, first of all… I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease”, Ross began. So far, so good. I guess.
“But, the fact is, it does give — loud, octogenarian cough – companies another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain, on top of all the other things”, he continued.
You can see where this is going. Ross is suggesting that a deadly respiratory virus, which, as of Thursday, had killed at least 170 Chinese and sickened more than 7,000, is a positive development because it may hasten the process whereby the Trump administration has effectively forced US corporates to rethink their supply chains.
And it got worse.
“You have SARS, and you have the African swine virus there, now you have this”, Ross mused, depicting China as a disease-infested frontier market, where you can’t even breathe without catching an exotic malady.
“So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America”, Ross concluded.
I don’t think there’s anything else we can add here. Wilbur, like his boss, transcends satire.