Mr. President, It’s the Response that Matters the Most
Trump by no means has a calm demeanor or a penchant for saying just the right thing when needed. He speaks from the cuff, is brash and bold, and often turns every speech into an event or game. In times where he is competing this may serve him well, but in times of trouble and fear the country needs a leader who is calm, measured, and thoughtful.
Trump has long bragged about going into negotiations without any notes. He reacts from his gut. Even in the midst of his administration’s coronavirus response he told Sean Hannity that his “gut” was telling him that the statistics regarding the disease would be different than reported.
He was slow to respond and that cost the United States valuable time to prepare tests the healthcare system needed. The denial, more denial, slow response, surprise, and then lack of focus is what the American people have seen.
On January 22nd, in response to a question about the coronavirus Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that “we have it totally under control.” On January 23rd the CDC told reporters that they worried the Chinese government would not release transparent data about the virus, but Trump disputed this by tweeting thanks to the Chinese government for their transparency the very next day. It would take the Chinese government several more days to tell the world that may people are infected with the virus before or without showing any symptoms, making it harder to detect.
Trump announces a coronavirus task force on January 29th and tweeted that his experts are “on top of it.” The travel ban from China is announced on January 31st. On February 7th, he tweeted that “China will be successful” in stopping the virus. He added that “as the weather starts to warm and the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone” The CDC almost immediately rejects this notion as being too early to tell. On February 10th, he told a political rally that, Iit looks like, but April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” On February 11th he stated at a rally, “We only have 11 cases and they’re all getting better”
As the number of cases around the world approached 80,000 in the next two weeks, Trump responded on February 24th by tweeting, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” The very next day CDC officials were telling reporters that the spread to the U.S. was likely and we need to do a better job to prepare. Trump was in India and stated that the virus is “a problem that’s going to go away.”
At a press conference on February 27th he stated, “whatever happens we are totally prepared.”
After the first death in the U.S. on February 29th, Trump told the press, “not do anything to incite panic because there’s no reason to panic at all.” At a major speech on March 3rd, he stated when referring to the coronavirus, “It’s got the world aflutter.”
At a press conference on March 4th, he stated that “it’s safe to fly. At a trip to the CDC on March 6th he stated, “I like this stuff, I really do. People ask me… how do you know so much. I tell them maybe I should have done this rather than run for president.”
At a March 11th meeting with the press he stated, “We’re having to fix a problem that 4 weeks ago nobody thought would be a problem. This came out of nowhere. It actually came out of China.” That night, in an Oval Office address he blamed the European Union from the spread. Trump went on to say that, “this is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”
On March 12th the stock market had its biggest point drop in history and all indexes entered bear market territory. The 20 trading-day drop into bear market territory from the peak was the fastest in U.S. history.
At a March 13th press conference Trump assembles the team, states that Google would take care of a website directing patient traffic (was not built), talked about adequate testing but only one company recently approved by the FDA for additional tests (Roche). There was no specific plan detailed as to exactly how testing or quarantines would work. There was no mention of whether additional travel would be restricted or whether public gathering would be further diminished.
After the press conference on March 13th, Trump sent out a talking points memo with a graph showing how much the stock market increased after he spoke.
March 14-16, — governors across the country cancelled schools, public gatherings, shutting down bards and restaurants.
On March 15 the Fed cut the interest rate to zero.
On March 16th, the stock marking started limit down, circuit breakers kicked in wiping out any gains from Friday and continuing the overall losses, then finished at the lows of the day down 13%.
The Chinese government outside of Wuhan, as well as the South Korean government, provided a roadmap for the U.S. to take. There were massive amounts of tests issued, containment of outbreaks with quarantine, and a coordinated response from government and healthcare workers. That is precisely why the death rate of those diagnosed in South Korea is roughly 0.6%, which is similar to those Chinese provinces outside of Wuhan (compare that to other nations with death rates of 3-8%). The government’s coordinated response identified the potential spread early and was able to take appropriate measures.
This administration could have reacted the same way, had a proactive and targeted response, and possibly avoided panic and a market meltdown. This administration put the private sector and state governments in control to stop the spread because they failed to act quickly. The governors and mayors were then in a position where they had to use a blunt instrument instead of a scalpel, resulting in economic damage that may carry well beyond the peak of this virus.
The economy will almost certainly enter into a temporary downward spiral, but it could have been prevented with proactive and precise measures. Now the federal and state governments will have to play catch up, not only in their healthcare systems but also in their economies, and just hope that the situation gets better sooner rather than later.