Donald Trump toured a Honeywell plant in Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon.
It was the first time the president traveled outside Washington in at least a month.
He wore goggles, but no face mask. The irony of inspecting N95 respirators without following the CDC’s guidance on face coverings did not seem to occur to him. Or if it did, he didn’t care. And neither did the senior officials who accompanied him. Factory workers and the press, on the other hand, followed protocol.
As he wandered the facility, Guns N’ Roses’s “Live and Let Die” blared in the background.
It was a somewhat surreal scene, to be sure. During remarks at a roundtable event Tuesday, Trump described Americans as “warriors”, whose duty it is to reengage in economic activity for the good of the country,
“I’m not saying anything is perfect. Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes”, he conceded. “But we have to get our country opened and we have to get it open soon”.
The administration is entering what the president characterized as “phase two” of the fight against COVID-19. The White House’s task force will be dissolved, apparently. That means the days of Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx being forced to deliver press briefings alongside a president who, at times, disavows science, are numbered.
Speaking to ABC’s David Muir from across the room (Trump has shown a willingness to practice social distancing during interviews, if only for show), the president reiterated that reopening the economy will likely cost more lives.
“Do you believe the reality is that lives will be lost to reopen the economy?”, Muir asked.
“It’s possible there will be some, because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is”, Trump remarked. “But at the same time, we’re going to practice social distancing. we’re going to be washing hands”.
Trump then suggested the consequences of keeping the economy shuttered are similarly macabre. “People are dying the other way, too”, he ventured. “When you look at what’s happened with drugs, it goes up. When you look at suicides, I mean, take a look at what’s going on”.
We’ve apparently pivoted back to the “cure” being “worse than the disease” talking point. And you can’t totally blame Trump. After all, governors are already in the process of haphazardly reopening high-contact businesses like salons and tattoo parlors in multiple states, so this is a case where the proverbial horse has left the barn.
Speaking of “cures”, Trump also suggested that while a vaccine is desirable, the virus “will pass” on its own.
“There’ll be more death. The virus will pass, with or without a vaccine”, he imagined. “And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal”.
Last week, media reports indicated the administration is pushing forward with a slapdash effort codenamed “Warp Speed” aimed at cutting vaccine development time by as much as eight months, no matter how wasteful the project turns out to be. Taxpayers will shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden for any failures, in what was described as a deal with big pharma.
In an unusually candid assessment considering it emanated from CNBC, Christina Wilkie didn’t mince words on Tuesday evening. “There is no evidence so far that, in the absence of a vaccine, the virus ‘will pass’ in a way that allows the country to return to a pre-coronavirus ‘normal'”, she wrote of Trump’s comments. “In fact, it’s the opposite”, Wilkie added, on the way to reminding the nation that “Trump’s own top scientists say they believe the virus will come back in the fall and may even prove to come back every season like the flu”.
At the same time, concerns are mounting by the hour that a confrontation between Washington and Beijing is imminent, with the only question being what kind of confrontation it will ultimately be. I’ve discussed this exhaustively, including multiple times on Tuesday (here and here), but it’s worth repeating: The jitters are palpable.
“I don’t see the rhetoric toning down anytime soon. It appears both sides are looking for a fight”, former head of equity derivatives at RBC Dominion Kevin Muir wrote, in his daily note. He cited an Op-Ed in the SCMP called “A US move to seek coronavirus pandemic damages from China might well trigger war”. A Reuters exclusive from Monday had similarly militaristic overtones.
The Trump administration has effectively talked themselves into a corner on this issue with promises to voters that China will be “held accountable”. A menu of options are being considered, with the most likely being an executive order barring the TSP from investing in Chinese equities, but some are pushing for more extreme measures.
As far as Trump ideas go, his efforts to punish China for a laundry list of grievances has garnered bipartisan support over the last two years, even as Democrats generally decry the ham-handed implementation of the trade war.
The international community supports an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, and the “lab accident” narrative is gathering adherents by the day, thanks largely to Trump’s endorsement of the theory.
“There has been a clear shift in the Trump administration and campaign to pin the blame on China, which has stoked fears of economic retribution that could come in the form of tariffs/sanctions”, TD’s senior FX strategist Mazen Issa says, in a note called “Worrisome start”. “We do think it is likely that frictions between the two will escalate and that could easily result in further sanctions”.
“Just the mere thought that US -Sino relations could take a turn for the worse should support gold on dips”, Axicorp’s Stephen Innes remarked.
Muir – the investor, not the ABC anchor – has seen enough. “That’s it for me. I am getting outright short risk assets”, he said Tuesday. “Maybe it’s wrong. I might have just sold into an ugly hole, but I will take that chance”.