Opinion | Trump Was Too Focused on the Economy to Fight the Coronavirus


Court is the appropriate word. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said this week. Prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York to the timely reminder, “We don’t have a king in this country.”

The thing is, Trump is the king. He’s Mark Twain’s king, more precisely. He’s the great American swindler, relying on the vastness of American space to afford him the opportunity to stay just ahead of disaster by conjuring up one more tall story. Twain’s king and duke in “Huckleberry Finn” — claiming to be the dauphin of King Louis XVI of France and the usurped Duke of Bridgewater — lie and scam their way down the Mississippi in the quintessentially American story.

“I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” Trump says on March 17. Twain would have seen material in the grotesqueness of that. The more fantastic the story, the more it muddies the waters. Trump needs very muddy waters because he’s a petrified coward.

In his whole born-on-third-base life, he has never been held accountable for anything. And so of course he walks back from his claim of absolute authority and tells governors to “call your own shots” on reopening the economy. His guidelines give him a veneer of authority without actual responsibility. No buck should stop in the Oval Office.

In his daily TV ramblings, he tries to blame anyone and anything, the World Health Organization being the latest. Trump’s genius lies in a sinister capacity to ignore reality and create another by getting people’s blood up in a whirlwind of chaos and distraction. That is how he got to the Oval Office and how he could remain there.

Plan B is already evident. The disparaged virus that could sink the market and blow up the path to victory is now the pandemic with electoral potential. Doesn’t corona mean crown, after all? It gives Trump a daily reality TV show. It attacks cities more than rural areas, where his vote is concentrated. It permits him to have the Internal Revenue Service send out stimulus checks for $1,200 with Trump’s name on them. It creates potential scope for him to claim emergency powers that allow electoral skulduggery. He knows that the Mitch McConnell-stacked Supreme Court will either rule for him or make sure things are slow-rolled enough to protect him. That’s his ultimate source of impunity — not what the founders had in mind.

The other Plan B element is the great attack on China. Trump, grotesquely, praised China’s “transparency.” Forget that. China-U.S. tensions will ratchet up in the next six months.

“Beijing Biden” is the new Trump offensive. He will hammer the presumptive Democratic nominee for supposed weakness on China. He has some ammunition. Trump is weak on American democracy, which is why Biden needs to shape up right now and save it. His focus, cutting through the Trump turbulence, needs to be more unerring than we’ve seen to date.

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