“Did the doctors on your team endorse easing federal guidelines?”, an inquisitive reporter asked Donald Trump, at Monday evening’s coronavirus press briefing.
“Not endorse”, Trump conceded. “We talked together”.
The daily media event included William Barr this time, but not Anthony Fauci, whose Sunday interview with Science magazine contains a number of somewhat disconcerting soundbites, including an exchange that finds Fauci telling “Jon” (the reporter) that “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down”, in response to a question about how best to handle situations when Trump says things to the public about coronavirus that are manifestly untrue. “OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time”, Fauci explains, describing his general strategy for dealing with a president whose penchant for going off script is a point of pride.
“I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”, a frustrated Fauci says, at one point during the chat, when pressed on Trump’s (at times) misleading claims.
Fauci’s absence at recent virus press briefings has been noted on social media and also in the news, although he assured CNN on Sunday evening that it has nothing to do with Trump being displeased with him or otherwise attempting to keep the truth from the public.
“I think they’re ok with it, and I’m ok with it”, the president continued on Monday night, effectively doubling down on the suggestion that, after the 15-day period during which Americans have been advised to stay at home expires, the administration will gingerly prod the economy back to life, despite broad agreement in the scientific community around the necessity of keeping somewhat draconian containment measures in place until the “curve” is flattened.
“This could create a much bigger problem than the problem that you start off with”, Trump continued, reiterating points he made in an all-caps tweet over the weekend.
“Because of the magnitude of our economy, the tremendous size of what we’ve built and what we have… so we can’t turn that off”, the president went on to say, referencing the prospect of widespread unemployment associated with the virus containment efforts.
“There will be tremendous death”, he insisted, cranking the fear gauge up a notch. “Death. You know, you’re talking about death”, the president pressed. “Probably, you’re talking about more death than with anything with respect to the virus”.
It seems abundantly clear that there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when Trump clashes with state and local officials over the relative wisdom of lifting the shelter-in-place orders under which around 1 in 4 Americans are now living. The idea that we may eventually need to subjugate the health concerns of a relative few to the necessity of preserving the viability of the economy for the many, was echoed by Larry Kudlow during a Fox interview on Monday and it’s becoming a talking point in right-wing circles on social media.
Trump tried to strike a balance in his rhetoric. “At the same time, we’re going to be watching very closely, the hot spots”, he said. “We’re going to be watching very closely our senior citizens”. It didn’t seem to occur to Trump that he is a senior citizen. As is Larry Kudlow, by the way.
“We can do that and have an open economy”, Trump concluded.
Hopefully, you can see which direction the wind is blowing. States have been on lockdown for, at most, four or five days, and Trump has already seen enough in terms of dour forecasts which show the economy contracting 12% in the second quarter in a best-case outcome.
The general thrust of Trump’s comments on Monday evening was that he isn’t prepared to accept a situation where the economy is hobbled for months.
In fact, he said as much. “America will be open for business” sooner than three or four months, he declared, figuratively pounding the table on the necessity of revisiting protocols after the 15-day containment period announced a week ago rolls off. “Our country was not built to be shutdown”.
Trump said Fauci does not agree on the economic impact and, in a testament to the president’s affinity for quoting things he’s seen online, he compared the virus to driving.
“You look at automobile accidents which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about”, the president remarked, in one of the more unfortunate moments from the briefing. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving”.