During another week in which Americans across the country struggled for their lives and livelihoods, Donald Trump frittered away valuable time by obsessing over his image and the pandemic’s effect on his reelection prospects. When the country is most in need of a unifier-in-chief, Trump continues to sow discord and mine conflict whenever and wherever he deems it to be in his favor.
The Trump White House and its Republican allies seem determined to undermine subject matter experts at every turn, creating an intellectual vacuum that Trump attempts to fill with his political agenda rather than data and facts. The stories we’ve collected this week illustrate all this and create a stark picture of a president who is incapable of reining in his own temperament in order to do what’s best for this country and its people.
- One of Trump’s newest attempts to distract from his poor leadership during the novel coronavirus epidemic is to threaten, in his words, to exercise his “constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress” in order to push through judicial and executive branch appointments without Congressional approval. In addition to being a flagrant attempt to pack vital positions with Trumpist allies during a nationwide health emergency, this newest announcement is a fundamental challenge to the separation of powers – and is supported neither by the Constitution nor by legal precedent.
- This is far from the first time during this public health crisis that Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s turmoil to further special interests that he considers either important to his allies or to his campaign. Back in March, Trump tried to argue at a rally that the border wall with Mexico could have prevented the coronavirus, a claim for which there is no scientific evidence. This week, Trump took steps to weaken a rule forcing coal-fueled power plants to curtail their mercury emissions. The rule is a vital environmental protection that energy companies have been complaining about for years – and Trump is using this moment to make good on a pledge to these energy companies when he assumes few others are looking. Additionally, Trump has rejected an increase in air quality regulation standards, despite the mounting evidence that high levels of air pollution puts people at a higher risk for coronavirus.
- Even though each one of Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings is a publicity stunt, the briefing that took place on Monday was a particularly clear example of why networks are considering limiting or cutting their airing of these spectacles. Trump used this two-and-a-half-hour press conference as a venue to list grievances against critics and to tout his own propaganda, including airing a bizarre anti-media campaign video.
- Trump’s spat with state leaders continued unabated this week, with disagreements ranging from how to address election security to the amount of testing needed before beginning to even consider reopening the economy. Governors nationwide, including Republicans, have begun vocally supporting expanding vote-by-mail initiatives and support structures in advance of the general election, a safety measure that Trump continues to denigrate. Then, after two regional groups of governors announced that they were starting to create plans for eventually easing coronavirus-related restrictions, Trump claimed that his “authority is total” with regard to deciding when, how, and if the restrictions should be eased. A number of his usual Republican allies (including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Liz Cheney) sharply criticized him for that comment. The next day, Trump walked back his position, saying that governors would “call [their] own shots” on plans to reopen.
- Relatedly, Trump’s growing insistence that he will be “reopening the country” on May 1 has resulted in the White House strategizing to find ways to shift blame from the president if and when greater numbers of people die because social distancing initiatives are lifted too soon. The strategy, according to reports, includes attempting to enlist prominent business leaders and other authorities in support of reopening, so any responsibility for negative consequences is widely shared.
- One focus of Trump’s complaints this month has been the World Health Organization, and this week he made good on last week’s threat to revoke W.H.O.’s funding. Although he praised W.H.O. in February, the organization of health experts has become one of Trump’s favorite scapegoats as he has sought to diffuse blame for his bad leadership during the epidemic.
- Although the GOP is still united behind trying to retain power through Trump’s reelection in November, fractures are starting to show between party members over coronavirus responses. Republican governors and members of Congress are beginning to outwardly disagree with Trump’s calls to reopen the country at the start of next month, with even Trump’s staunchest ally, Speaker Mitch McConnell, flatly contradicting Trump’s recent statement about his being able to adjourn Congress.
- Trump’s normally reliable allies in the business community have begun to push back against his recent actions, particularly his moves towards prematurely opening the economy. On a call designed to curry favor with and establish his alliance with business leaders, Trump received significant skepticism and pushback for his overly aggressive timeline, making it seem unlikely that they will back him should he go forward with removing federal social distancing guidelines by May 1.
- In an especially self-serving move that wasted valuable time in getting relief to millions, Trump made a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to have his name printed on the coronavirus stimulus checks being sent to Americans, despite the fact that the president can’t be an official signer on Treasury Department checks. The Internal Revenue Service team in charge of dispensing the checks has had to race to print Trump’s name on the memo line, so Trump can use relief allocated by Congress as a campaign tool.
- To conclude this week’s list, we’re going to leave you with the fact that since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States on January 20 through April 3, Trump has made 356 false claims related to the coronavirus. And in the two weeks since that date, which was also the date of this series’ first post, that number has only continued to grow. The limited actions Trump has actually taken to address the coronavirus crisis have been too few, too late; a new report suggests that had the U.S. acted to increase testing capacity nationwide two weeks earlier than he did, COVID-19 deaths could have been reduced tenfold.
Sen. Lindsey Graham recently told Trump that this November, “your opponent is no longer Joe Biden – it’s this virus.” However, pandemics are not political opponents and they don’t respond to bullying, lying, or misdirection. Trump can’t beat the coronavirus into submission, and while he tries to do so, he’s forcing millions of Americans to suffer far greater harm.