I am an unabashed and unapologetic non-Trumper conservative who has been waiting for more than three years for an occurrence that would, even to the most faithful Trump fanatics, expose the incompetence of the person we elected to be our 45th President. I have long believed that Donald J Trump would be brought down by a self-created crisis and many times he has come close. More than once have I tweeted “give the man a long enough rope and he will hang himself”. But so far, he has been saved by an implausible streak of good luck and a servile, subservient conduct of the GOP majority in the Senate. It looks as if his luck has finally run out.
We have Nassim Nicholas Taleb to thank for coining the notion of the “black swan”. A ‘black swan’ is an unforeseen external event that has an earth shattering, course altering, effect on life’s expected routine. The surfacing of the COVID-19 virus is technically not exactly a black swan, because it cannot be said that it was outside the realm of regular expectations. We have known for a long time that a pandemic could come out of the blue and get out of hand because of initial failure to recognize the symptoms and as a result of the human inclination towards denial. But the Trump administration has managed to be caught flat footed and utterly unprepared to deal with the threat, even though it had ample warning from the initial appearance of the corona virus in Wuhan, China and the spread outside of China in the following weeks. Only the last two days has the President changed course and determined that he now has a veritable crisis on his hands that requires government intervention.
The occurrence of the virus is explainable and predictable, and so is the failure of the Trump administration to address it timely and effectively. From day one it was clear that a pandemic would have a serious health, social and economic impact that, in turn, in an election year would threaten the re-electability of Donald J Trump. For this reason – and, likely, for this reason alone – the President himself chose to ignore the warning signals, downplay the risks, pooh-pooh the seriousness of the threat and hope that his luck would hold and that the thing would blow over before the primary season would be there and the people would ponder the political implications.
No one can argue that the President is responsible for the outbreak of the corona virus epidemic in the USA. As has been said, the virus knows no borders, gender, age, creed, race or social status. It would have arrived on our shores regardless of any early government intervention and it would have arrived here under any other occupant of the White House. But as the head of the federal government, the President is certainly responsible for the state of unpreparedness with which the nation now has to face, deal with, and overcome the health, social, and economic threat the COVID-19 represents.
This would be true of any other President, but it takes on particular meaning with a President like Trump, who likes to brag that he knows more and has a better handle on issues than anyone around him, including the press and experts inside and outside of his government. Remember when he said (be it in another context): “I alone can fix it.”?
As David Remnick observed in The New Yorker on March 16, “the President has squandered the most precious resource in a pandemic: time.” He did so in the mistaken belief that this storm would blow over in short time and could be ignored at no peril to his political future.
This is no hurricane. It is not a replay of Katrina that impacted the Texas Gulf, a region, or Maria that devastated Puerto Rico, a US territory. COVID-19 is a storm of national scope and impact. Trump got away with the mismanagement of the Puerto Rico hurricane relief, because Puerto Ricans do not influence the outcome of national elections. He will not get away with his misjudgment and mismanagement of the corona crisis, which impacts the whole country and is certain to push the US economy into a recession. His statement during a March 13 press conference: “I don’t take responsibility at all” will not absolve him. On the contrary it will be held against him come election time in November. How can any responsible chief executive of any institution not hold him/herself accountable for any action or omission of the organization he/she leads? In COVID-19 Donald J Trump has met his Waterloo! Only a complete collapse of the Democratic presidential campaign can now salvage his chance to be a two term President.
It is a long way between now and November 3, and there is a lot of time for mischief in the interim. Given Trump’s conduct so far during his first term in office, with his authoritarian and self-serving style, and given the fact that a servile GOP will let him do just about anything, we are entering a dangerous phase that will call for extreme civil alertness and oversight. There is no telling how much harm this President can do for as long as he has majority support in the Senate; and the jury is still out on how much the Supreme Court will let him get away with. Now that he finds himself deprived of the opportunity to hold mass rallies, he is likely to say and do just about anything to rile up his fanatic base of support in the run up to the election. And his narcissistic, egocentric, profile suggests that he may go berserk once he becomes convinced that he might lose the election, defeated by a faltering economy that went into recession at just the critical time (and as a result of a black swan for which he does not bear responsibility).
He still has time – until January 20, 2021 – to impose his will on a variety of his favorite targets by executive orders, pardons, and simply by testing the boundaries of the executive branch authority. The danger is exacerbated by his realization that, once out of office, he loses the protection against indictment for criminal conduct in his business before or during his tenure in office.
I may have given this President the twitter handle #IMPOTUS45, in large part because of the incompetence of his administration as exposed by the onset of the COVID 19 epidemic, but I know full well that he is not so impotent that he could do no more serious harm to our republican democracy. Caveat emptor!