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Opinion: Donald Trump fails in coronavirus crisis

  • March 31, 2020

His now almost daily coronavirus press conferences are intended to demonstrate confidence and decisionmaking powers. But they are almost unbearable for people seeking orientation or people interested in facts. During his appearances, the US president often spreads half-truths and even outright lies and attacks reporters who ask probing questions. His messages are contradictory, and his crisis management could cost many American lives.

When his own intelligence agencies warned of the coronavirus in January, Trump played down the danger. When the virus spread unchecked due to lack of testing, he vowed he had everything under control. He has now declared himself a “war-time president” fighting an invisible enemy. But it is not Trump who is acting with courage and determination in the crisis, reassuring an insecure nation, but Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the US.

Read more: Coronavirus in Spain: From tourism hotspot to contagion hotbed

Conflicting messages

While the number of infections is rapidly on the rise in New York and other parts of the country, and more and more American hospitals are pushed to the limit, Trump wants to get the economy moving again soon. As doctors in New York City prepare to face the possibility of perhaps having to decide whom to save and whom to let die as a result of a shortage of ventilators, Trump prattled on fairly recently about crowded churches at Easter.

von Nahmen, Alexandra

Alexandra von Nahmen heads DW’s Washington bureau

On Saturday, he announced that the White House was considering imposing exit bans for the states of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Only a few hours later he withdrew that idea. Instead, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation to residents of the affected regions to refrain from unnecessary travel.

Approval ratings are up

New York’s Governor Cuomo reported having received calls from panicked New Yorkers who were considering leaving the city in the nick of time. All of this makes you want to cry out, “America, who did you vote into the White House?”

And yet Trump’s approval ratings are on the rise. The shaken and frightened nation is rallying around its president, as is customary in times of crisis. And he is promising that the country will emerge stronger than ever from this crisis because America is America, a great country that can accomplish anything. Pathos and confidence — there are moments when Trump fulfills the role intended for the president in the US. Unfortunately, however, these moments usually last only a few minutes before Trump once again proves to be a vain self-promoter who boasts about the ratings of his press conferences and whines that the media and nagging governors do not pay him enough respect.

Read more: Coronavirus: Germany to centralize supply chains, set prices on masks, protective gear

A check from the president?

His supporters don’t care. They believe in “their” president. After all, many Americans will soon be receiving a check for $1,200 (€1,077) from the government, direct aid in the crisis that has the US economy reeling. Rumor has it that Trump would very much like to see his own signature on the checks. It’s hard to imagine a better present to gain voters.

The money is part of the most comprehensive stimulus package in US history, passed by Congress last week across party lines. It includes billions in aid for workers, but also grants and loans for small businesses, hospitals and particularly hard-hit industries, such as aviation.

Read more: Will coronavirus spark a wave of food nationalism?

Presidential contender fighting for attention

Both Democrats and Republicans had to stomach a lot to get this bill on the way so that America can survive this crisis economically. That seems to be the priority for a US president who has always defined himself through economic growth and stock market records. If the economy picks up and unemployment figures drop again in time for the elections in fall, his voters will remain loyal to him, according to Trump’s way of thinking.

Meanwhile, his likely challenger — the former Democratic vice president, Joe Biden — is having great difficulty garnering any public attention at all in the current situation. The fact that he has so far shown more empathy and expertise in the crisis than the current incumbent does little to help him in these exceptional circumstances.

It’s times like these when everybody looks to the man in the White House. Thanks to Trump or in spite of Trump — if America masters this crisis, the president stands a good chance of being re-elected to office in November.

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