There is an old maxim that a drowning man will catch hold of even a straw to save himself; meaning that the person is so desperate that he will do anything to save himself. And barely six months to go before the November 3 elections, President Donald Trump, is giving every indication of a drowning man who is willing to go to any extent of politically saving himself even if that meant taking the country with him in the process. At the time of writing some 1.4 million Americans across all 50 states have been infected with the deadly conronavirus and some 84,000 have died. On the economic front, 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment and retail sales are down about 17 per cent for the month of April in what economists believe is going to be very harsh two years for the United States by any optimistic assessment.
Still the man sitting in the Oval Office, knowing that he is drowning, pretends that everything is honky dory. The “scientist” in him says that a vaccine will be found by the end of the year and he will distribute that simultaneously with the help of the military; the “economist” in him believes that the only way to get rid of the deadly pandemic is to throw open schools, colleges and workplaces for the economy to get a kick start for after all no one knows their fate when driving to school or work; and the “management” Professor in the President makes him believe that supply chains were responsible for the disaster, meaning if you did not have globalization, you would not have the coronavirus. The Nobel Committee has its task cut out for 2020—to award President Trump the coveted prize for Science, Economics or Management ( Supply Chain). Or to start a new category in Humor and Delusions.
There is nothing consistent in what President Trump has done in the last three and a half years at the Oval Office and one does not just have to look at his foreign policies—just ask his advisors and aides who have gone through the revolving door at the White House. And the same goes for his statements on China and the Coronavirus. At the beginning of the year Trump was effusive in his praise for the Chinese President, Xi Jinpang and the fashion in which he was handling the virus epidemic. President Xi was the next best thing that happened to the world after a slice of bread. But today Trump is accusing Beijing of almost anything on the coronavirus book—from manipulating information to trying to steal research secrets pertaining to the vaccine. And his latest posturing: cutting off the “whole relationship” that would not only end global supply chains but also save America some US$ 500 billions by way of erasing the bilateral trade deficit.
The coronavirus, according to the Oval Office Management Professor, proved the stupidity of supply chains. In an interview with Fox Business, the President said, “ …there is nothing good about what happened with the plague, OK?. Especially the death. But one thing is, it said, Trump was right. These stupid supply chains that are all over the world… where they’re made in all different parts of the world and one little piece of the world goes bad and the whole thing is messed up. I said ‘ We shouldn’t have supply chains. We should have them all in the United States”. Trump went on to make the point that American companies that made products outside the country should be taxed and even went on to boast of the “billions of dollars” that have come by way of tariffs during his Presidency. The economist in him does not stop to realize that adding tariffs means higher prices for American consumers—that would be for others to figure out!
Nothing seems to faze the President, but it would be wrong to say that his advisors are not worried about what is unraveling before their eyes. Health specialists of the administration like Anthony Fauci who specializes in Infectious Diseases and others at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been apprehensive of throwing open schools and colleges anytime soon that would put to risk some 70 million kids in elementary, middle and high schools together with those in institutions of higher educations that would include some one million foreign students with Indian students showing up for about 200,000 of this at the Under Graduate, Masters and Doctoral programs. But Trump refuses to take blame for creating an economic and health mess by not acting on time. “Nobody blames me for that”, Trump insists.
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According to US News and World Report, more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment claims since the middle of March; and this is close to 25 per cent of the workforce or the worst since the Great Depression. Add to this the fact that retail sales, or consumer spending, fell 16.4 per cent ( as opposed to an expected 12 per cent) with many sectors except groceries taking a massive hit. Consumer spending, it is being pointed out, accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the nearly US$ 22 Trillion economy of America. The general impression is that the Report for May could be worse than that of April which need not necessarily mean that there is light at the end of the tunnel. “… hitting the rock bottom doesn’t mean we’ll be quickly climbing out of the hole anytime soon”, Nick Bunker, Director of Economic Research at Indeed Hiring Lab has been quoted.
But to President Trump it is business as usual on the outside even as he is feverishly trying to find diversion mechanisms to wriggle out of a mess that is his own creation. And the President has shown that he can stoop to any lengths to get himself out of the hole even if he has to sacrifice Fauci; his Vice President Mike Pence; drag the former President Barack Obama into a make-believe scandal; or say that ‘corrupt’ people like the presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joseph Biden is responsible for the coronavirus for cozying up to Beijing. After all in 2016 Trump played up the “Corrupt Hillary” and “Crooked Hillary” to the hilt even if till date he is yet to explain precisely what he was trying to say! If luck stays his way, he may even get by the same play book in 2020.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)