On Monday afternoon, Donald Trump did precisely what many feared he might in the event he emerged from his bout with COVID-19 relatively unscathed: He told voters the virus isn’t something that people need to fear.
“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!”, the president exclaimed, in a tweet sent just prior to another press conference starring White House physician Sean Conley.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid”, Trump went on to say. “Don’t let it dominate your life”.
Some readers understandably take issue with the visual (above) because it compares apples to oranges. But do note: It’s not misleading. It states unequivocally that the death tolls from wars are combat only, each event is clearly labeled, and the statistics are taken directly from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
It is, however, an apples-to-oranges comparison. Of course, any chart that compares historical tragedies of different sorts is vulnerable to that criticism. Surely that doesn’t mean we should never compare death tolls from different sorts of tragedies.
Also, note that even tragedies which ostensibly admit of comparison (e.g., one war versus another war or one epidemic versus another epidemic) are only comparable if they occur within a relatively short time frame. Medical advances mean that maladies which were once deadly are now no longer cause for concern, so side-by-side comparisons are in most cases just a way to visualize medical progress. And, while I’m no military historian, I’d wager that if you could travel back in time and equip historical combatants with modern weaponry, humans would have wiped each other out centuries ago, which means comparing deaths from ancient battles to modern warfare is essentially meaningless.
Finally, it doesn’t matter what percentage of the population perished. You wouldn’t comfort a grieving husband whose wife of four decades just passed away from COVID complications by talking to him about population ratios.
All of that to say this: Please spare me (and other readers) the chart critiques. The visual is meant to serve one purpose and one purpose only: It is a poignant reminder that, contrary to Trump’s efforts to play down COVID-19, the virus has in fact claimed more than 210,000 American lives, and killed more than 1 million people globally in the space of just nine months. It is a tragedy of historic proportions.
That said, Trump is probably correct to suggest that Americans shouldn’t let their fear of the virus “dominate your life”. But he’s turning a multi-faceted health crisis into a black and white issue. Just because you wear a mask to the grocery store doesn’t mean COVID-19 is “dominating your life”. Spacing people six feet apart at events isn’t evidence that you’ve given your freedom over to the virus, it’s just common sense.
If Trump had observed those two simple recommendations (wearing a mask and spacing people six feet apart), there’s a good chance that three GOP senators, one former New Jersey governor, one president of Notre Dame, and one first lady, might not be positive for the virus right now.
In any event, all of that should go without saying and it seems as though it does for most voters and market participants. The price action on Monday was indicative of traders pricing in more stimulus and, quite possibly, greater odds of an undisputed election result.
“As Biden’s election odds drift higher, so too do the prospects for a Democratic sweep of both chambers of Congress and the White House, opening the door to aggressive fiscal stimulus and deeper deficits”, BMO’s Jon Hill, Ben Jeffery, and Ian Lyngen, wrote Monday afternoon.
This isn’t complicated, folks. For the details, see here and here, but as Hill, Jeffery, and Lyngen put it, back-end underperformance “follows intuitively”. Monday’s aggressive bear steepening found the 2s10s and 5s30s wider by more than 4bps each. 10-year yields ended near 0.76%, the cheapest in more than five weeks. 30-year yields moved through their 200-DMA on a closing basis for the first time in 2020.
“Although there are still 29 days until November 3, the more time Biden spends with near double digit polling leads, the easier it will be for the market to price in that outcome (skepticism of the polls notwithstanding), pushing the curve steeper”, BMO’s rates team went on to say, summing up the story of the day.
Equities were buoyant, consistent with higher odds of more virus relief spending and (note) guaranteed fiscal stimulus under a “blue sweep” scenario.
None of this is at all inconsistent with stocks being relieved that Trump is on his way home, by the way.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to say that all Americans wish Trump the best, most market participants do, at least in the very near-term, because an adverse outcome from his diagnosis could have set in motion a (very) messy series of events leading into the election.
That the president told Americans not to fear the virus on a day when New York City moved towards new lockdowns in a handful of zip codes was especially unfortunate given the very real potential for his words to make those lockdowns ineffectual or otherwise prompt those already not following the advice of public health officials to persist in their behavior.
Finally, if you’re wondering whether The White House is, in fact, obfuscating when it comes to the actual date of the president’s initial positive test (or, alternatively, his last negative test), Sean Conley again refused to answer the question. “I don’t want to go backwards”, he said, smiling.
As for Trump, the president tweeted this: “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
(Don’t fear) the reaper. More cowbell.