As a growing number of states issue “shelter in place” orders, businesses shutter and Americans everywhere are told to limit outings and practice social distancing, Donald Trump may be having second thoughts.
For more than a week, Trump administration officials and state leaders have been talking of the need to “bend the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak, limiting the spread of the illness to prevent the American healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The steep economic toll, however, is becoming increasingly apparent.
Last week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin predicted that US unemployment could reach 20%. On Thursday the Treasury Department will release last week’s new jobless claims, and the numbers are sure to be in the millions. A Goldman Sachs report estimated that the nation’s gross domestic product in the second quarter could shrink by 24%, dwarfing the previous 10% record decline in 1958.
But at Monday’s White House coronavirus news conference, the president said: “America will again and soon be open for business.”
In the late hours of Sunday night, Trump had vented his concerns.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he tweeted, using the all-caps he reserves for matters of apparent urgency. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
The 15-day period the president referenced began on 16 March, when the White House announced new Centers for Disease Control guidelines encouraging all Americans to work from home when possible and limit gatherings of more than 10 people.
As is often the case, the president’s tweet may have been prompted by watching a segment on Fox News. On Sunday evening, host (and former advisor to then-British PM David Cameron) Steve Hilton warned that an economic collapse would itself result in avoidable deaths and other hardships – that the “cure” could be worse than the “disease”.
“Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown,” Hilton said. “Working Americans can’t. They’ll be crushed by it.”
Trump’s faithful may be inching back to the view they held a few weeks ago, that the virus is being used by the president’s political enemies to damage his political standing by damaging the economy.
On Monday morning the president continued on this theme, with a flurry of retweets of accounts (some with only a few hundred followers) who were calling for Americans to be allowed to return to work after the 15-day period ended.
I suspect that Trump all-caps tweet is a livetweet of Fox from tonight (though obviously @MattGertz would know for sure). Host Steve Hilton used similar language. (No way that Trump read that Medium piece) pic.twitter.com/VS0I29Xgqx— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) March 23, 2020
Former top Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn also joined the chorus, albeit somewhat obliquely.
“Is it time to start discussing the need for a date when the economy can turn back on?” he asked on Twitter. “Policymakers have taken bold public health and economic actions to address the coronavirus, but businesses need clarity. Otherwise, they will assume the worst and make decisions to survive.”
There’s no chance in hell, he will not screw this up for us…We are safe the way things are now!