March 30, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump’s Treason Is Killing Us
Need help during a pandemic? First, kiss the ring.
So much for “reopening” the country.
The president spent all of last week talking up the need to rescind the administration’s “social distancing” guidelines so the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic would not be worse than the disease itself. He said restrictions would end by Easter.
Donald Trump’s decision to move ahead despite the outbreak’s mounting death toll came on a single day, according to Bloomberg News, after “he watched a sermon delivered by a prominent evangelical preacher to an empty megachurch. It gained momentum as Trump listened to advice from conservative economists who warned of near-apocalyptic financial damage, a view reinforced by a free-fall in markets.”
If that sounds like quid pro quo, that’s because it is.
Then, late last night, the administration announced the guidelines would be in effect through April. That suggested that “the adults in the rooms” won an internal debate. It suggested that public health officials, who know what they are talking about, were able to convince the president, who does not know what he’s talking about, of the error of his ways. It suggested that in the end, science and pragmatism prevailed over politics.
By spending the week talking about possibly lifting restrictions, the president accomplished a slew of things—all of them cynical, nihilistic and baldly political.
He continued his war against the press. The more reporters asked how he could even think of lifting restrictions before the pandemics peak, the less time they had to ask why his administration dilly-dallied for a month, the less time they had to ask why he didn’t heed warnings of a coming contagion, the less time they had to ask why the president turned down Congressional funding, all making its spread far deadlier.
He signaled to white evangelical Christians that not even an act of God would stop him from representing their interests. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, who does not know what he’s talking about, apparently told his father-in-law, “four days after the stay-at-home advice,” that “reopening” by Easter Sunday would be meaningful to his base.
We have not been thinking of constitutional crises in terms of body count. We should, though.
The president also succeeded in persuading some Americans he has more authority than he actually has. No president can “reopen” a country amid a national pandemic. The US is federalist system of government, not a unitary system, like France. Governors are free to follow, or not follow, Center for Disease Control’s public health guidelines. Guidelines are not federal regulations or federal law. They cannot be enforced legally.
So “reopening” the country was always a farce.
Trump did the same thing over the weekend when he said he was “considering” quarantining New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the pandemic’s regional epicenter. A US president can do no such thing unless he’s prepared to send military troops to establish checkpoints. He wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop him from claiming that he “changed his mind,” as if he ever had that option to begin with.
By claiming powers he does not have, Trump created rhetorical conditions in which governors can appear at odds with his constitutional authority, even as they work to protect their constituents. In such conditions, Trump can blame individual governors, Republican or Democrat, for the coming recession. He can use this inter-governmental conflict to hide his administration’s efforts to undermine state-level containment.
Don’t forget the tip jar! Click here!
States need ventilators. The administration isn’t helping; it is in fact outbidding them, according to the governors of Massachusetts and Michigan, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. One gets the feeling they are not entitled to aid. One gets the feeling they must first kiss Trump’s ring. “I want them to be appreciative,” he said.
If that sounds like quid pro quo, that’s because it is. If that sounds like the same thing Trump did to Ukraine’s president, that’s because it is. And you’re not alone. CNN’s Ronald Brownstein asked Friday: “Trump says the quiet part out loud: after signaling he’d only help governors who praise him, he says so explicitly. Isn’t this essentially what he said to Ukraine: play ball politically or you won’t get your aid?” Yes, it is.
My senator, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, echoed that on Twitter:
“Mr. President, Michigan needs masks and tests. People are going to die if we don’t get them.”
“I would like you to do me a favor, though.”
Americans are notorious for their short memories. For this reason, we have been looking at the coronavirus pandemic as a matter of public health or economics or both. It’s more than that, though. It’s a continuation of our ongoing constitutional crisis.
A president who has been acquitted of betraying his country after extorting a foreign leader into sabotaging our national elections is just the kind of president who would betray his fellow Americans when the mood strikes him. Who’s going to stop him?
That said, the comparison isn’t quite fair. After all, no one died from Trump’s betrayal. The COVID-19 death toll now stands at nearly 2,500. The CDC expects 200,000 dead and more. We have not been thinking of constitutional crises in terms of body count.
We should, though. Treason kills, too.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.