Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Paul Krugman: It’s a MAGA Microbe Meltdown

Trump utterly fails to rise to his first real crisis.

For three years Donald Trump led a charmed life. He faced only one major crisis that he didn’t generate himself — Hurricane Maria — and although his botched response contributed to a tragedy that killed thousands of U.S. citizens, the deaths took place off camera, allowing him to deny that anything bad had happened.

Now, however, we face a much bigger crisis with the coronavirus. And Trump’s response has been worse than even his harshest critics could have imagined. He has treated a dire threat as a public relations problem, combining denial with frantic blame-shifting.

His administration has failed to deliver the most basic prerequisite of pandemic response, widespread testing to track the disease’s spread. He has failed to implement recommendations of public health experts, instead imposing pointless travel bans on foreigners when all indications are that the disease is already well established in the United States.

And his response to the economic fallout has veered between complacency and hysteria, with a strong admixture of cronyism.

Jennifer Senior: We Need to Flatten the Curve. Trump and Fox Are Behind It.

Your ball, Donald and Rupert.

Donald Trump’s speech from the Oval Office Wednesday night was horrifying for many reasons: It seemed barely thought through, containing three misstatements that had to be clarified (two about international trade, sowing more confusion in an already volatile market); he spoke without humanity, when humanity is precisely what this first-order crisis requires (peel off his back, and I’m convinced all we’ll see are coils and springs); he blew a racist dog whistle while discussing a global health emergency (a “foreign” virus); he humped the same notes of self-congratulation — that his early decision to impose restrictions on travel to China was bold, that America is superbly prepared — when the latter point is obviously untrue, and the former point is moot.

But Trump’s biggest crime Wednesday night was the short shrift he gave to what should have been his core message: Keep your distance. Yes, he mentioned it in passing, but only on the way to rah-rahing himself, denigrating foreigners, and announcing policies that terrified the markets. This was an opportunity to drive home, over and over again, the one message that practically every public health expert says is essential to stemming community spread, lest the pandemic overwhelm our hospitals. He had the command of all the big networks. Yet he didn’t.

Then again, it’s hardly a surprise. For Trump, the whole strategy of social distancing is a nightmare. It’s inimical to his political interests.

Eugene Robinson: The original sin in the U.S. response to coronavirus is lack of testing

Was it the news that Tom Hanks, someone as familiar as a next-door neighbor, tested positive for the novel coronavirus? Was it the NBA suspending its season, or the NCAA’s decision to cancel the March Madness tournament? Was it the World Health Organization’s official designation of the outbreak as a global pandemic? Was it President Trump’s less-than-comforting prime-time address to the nation, which seemed more about vague xenophobia than concrete solutions?

Whatever the trigger, the threat posed by the coronavirus no longer feels theoretical in the least. It is real. And the one medicine that could calm worried citizens and jittery markets — good, solid information — is in shockingly short supply.

Like millions of Americans, I’m working from home. My refrigerator and cupboards are well-stocked. I’ve been washing my hands like crazy, I greet people with nods of the head rather than risk physical contact, I’m avoiding crowds — and somehow none of this seems adequate. I feel uneasy because we’re being given no reliable sense of what comes next.

When the history of the failed U.S. response to this virulent new pathogen is written, the unbelievable lack of testing will be seen as the original sin. As of Thursday, as few as 10,000 individuals across this country had been tested for the virus. By contrast, South Korea — where new infections are tapering off — has been able to test more than 10,000 people per day.

Jonathan Freedland: Trump’s coronavirus ban on travel from the EU is backfiring already

A live televised address from the Oval Office should have reassured the US. Instead it sowed chaos

Such is the reverse Midas touch of Donald Trump, that his attempt last night to face facts, steady nerves and reassure the public succeeded in spreading panic, sowing confusion and ratcheting up the anxiety.

The fact that Trump delivered a rare, live televised address to the nation should, by itself, have induced calm. It suggested that the president was moving out of fantasyland, abandoning the denial that had led him to promise a miracle was on the way and that the threat of coronavirus was likely to recede as soon as next month, when the weather got warmer. (As recently as Tuesday, he was saying, “It will go away, just stay calm.”) That he was ready to deploy one of the US presidency’s most powerful tools, usually reserved for moments of war or disaster – a TV address from the Oval Office – seemed to signal that he was, at last, facing reality. [..]

But no sooner had that hope appeared than it faded away. For in the course of nine minutes, Trump swiftly reverted to type. He described Covid-19 as a “foreign virus”, and took pains to point out that “a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe”. His doctrine of “America first” – a phrase he used once again – forever pits the US against the world, with its implication that America’s purity is permanently under threat of contamination by alien hordes. Trump has used that imagery in the context of immigration for more than four years; it should hardly be a surprise that he uses it now in the context of disease.

Amanda Marcotte: Team Trump can’t even figure out what lies to tell about the coronavirus

Trump and his propagandists are flailing around and grasping at ludicrous lies — they’d be better off shutting up

Donald Trump and the massive propaganda apparatus around him — call them “TrumpLand” — cannot decide what lie to tell about the new coronavirus, COVID-19, that is now exploding into a global pandemic. Simply not lying is of course not an acceptable option. The unofficial motto of the Trump administration is quite clearly “Lie about everything, all the time, even for no apparent reason.” In this case, Trump is facing a very real PR crisis, and the first instinct of this president and his advocates is always to find some way to lie themselves out of their latest pickle.

The problem this time, as many people have noted, is that you can’t lie your way out of a pandemic. Even China, which is an authoritarian one-party state that lies to its population constantly about everything, was unable to bamboozle the public about the virus. (And the epidemic there appears to be receding.) Trump, still saddled with a free press, is stuck snarling “Fake news!” at CNN’s Jim Acosta, when the latter pointed out that Trump’s lies conflict with the statements of health experts.

So what we’re experiencing is a bunch of liars who are way in over their heads, scrambling around like cockroaches, trying to grasp the One True Lie that will somehow make this whole problem go away. It’s not working out, but here are some of the falsehoods they’ve been trying.