WHERE’S THE PLAN!?
This is what Americans by the millions should be asking the White House. Five weeks after President Trump declared a national emergency, he still hasn’t issued a comprehensive plan for containing the virus and establishing conditions for people to go back to work.
A lot of other people have plans. Bill Gates published detailed guidelines this week describing what it will take to corral the virus and give people the confidence they can go out again, without getting sick. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb continues to update his stepwise formula for getting back to normal. Congress even approved $25 billion to set up a national testing program, even though Trump has said it’s not his administration’s job to do testing.
Trump spends hours talking about the coronavirus each week at his daily briefings, but he says almost nothing important about combating the virus itself. The briefings have become a circus of bogus medical advice, disinformation and contradictions. Trump often ignites some new controversy that distracts everybody from battling the virus for 24 hours, until Trump takes the podium the following day and the farce begins again.
On April 23, Trump suggested there must be a way to inject household bleach into people, to kill the virus once it’s in the lungs. He downplayed the fact that sure, bleach and other disinfectants will kill the virus, but also the patient. Future generations will look back on the idiotic humans of the Trump era the way we look back with scorn on prehistoric rubes who treated illness with leaches, mercury and holes bored into the skull. Trump also wants to know if there’s a way to get ultraviolet light inside the human body, since like bleach, UV light kills the virus. Alas, there isn’t, although it probably couldn’t hurt if you faced the sun and opened your mouth for a minute or two.
Let’s get to it: This week’s Trump-o-meter reads FAILING, the second lowest score.
Why not SAD, the lowest score? Because Trump, for now, is allowing at least one competent person in his administration to do what needs to be done—Secretary Treasury Steven Mnuchin.* With Trump, it’s always necessary to put an asterisk next to things that seem to be going right, since there could be some scam going on behind the scenes we don’t yet know about. But for now, Mnuchin is doing a solid job implementing the small-business bailouts Congress has funded, and this week he helped get an extension passed that provides an additional $310 billion for smaller businesses seeking help from the new Paycheck Protection Program.
Mnuchin’s Treasury Department has pressured publicly owned companies able to get financing elsewhere not to apply for PPP money, even though they’re technically allowed to. That came after some large restaurant chains with access to banks and other lenders secured PPP loans, effectively blocking the money from smaller firms that don’t have the same access to capital. Regulators often have to make up the rules as they go along, especially for huge programs Congress passes quickly with broad guidance but no detailed rules. Mnuchin, a former banker, is shrewdly trying to avoid the corporate bailouts that were deeply unpopular in 2009.
Some states are making progress containing the virus, which means they’re beginning to contemplate how to gradually allow businesses to reopen. Here, too, Trump is shambolic. Last week he encouraged “LIBERATE” protests in Michigan, Washington and Virginia by people upset that businesses are shut down. But this week he said he didn’t agree with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who is actually reopening some of the state’s businesses. So Trump supports the protests, but not the actual cause the protesters are advocating. Got that? Neither does anybody else.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.