Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Why Trump will lose

Megan McArdle writes in the Washington Post:

Republican convention segments … strenuously implied that President Trump had taken the virus more seriously than Democrats … that he’d cut through bureaucratic red tape and PC nonsense to take bold action … that his resolve, plus a hefty dose of American greatness, have put the country in an enviable position, covid-wise.

The moments were exceptionally well-produced, even stirring, if you didn’t know that Trump’s response to covid-19 has been well below average for the leader of a developed country.

Comparing Trump to the Pacific Rim, where the experience of SARS prepared countries for another viral outbreak, is perhaps not fair. Let’s compare him to Europe, where most governments made catastrophic errors.

Still, Trump managed to underperform.

Most European heads of government were slow to recognize the threat from covid; Trump was even slower, and only acted when the plummeting stock market left him no choice.

Many countries struggled to ramp up testing regimens; Trump placidly ignored bureaucratic infighting that left America functionally without testing capacity well into March, while the virus spread undetected and unhindered.

Most of those countries struggled to get their citizens to comply with social distancing measures; Trump actively encouraged Americans to defy them.

Most countries waited too long to tell citizens to mask up outside their homes; as late as Memorial Day, Trump ridiculed reporters for wearing masks.

Trump was not the only culprit here; plenty of mistakes were made by public health officials, and by Democratic mayors and governors. But a great Republican president would have worked to overcome those lower-level failings. Instead, our Republican president exacerbated the shortcomings at every juncture with denial, indecision and belligerence. Even his most touted “accomplishment,” the travel bans, were executed late and ineptly. [Link is to a Washington Post article from May 23.]

A truthful assessment of the U.S. performance against covid-19, even one that aimed for maximum charity toward Trump, would not tout “American greatness.” It would say, “Well, at least we’re not the absolute worst in the industrialized world.” At least four developed countries have lost a higher fraction of their population to covid-19: Sweden, Italy, Spain and Britain. The gap between worst-in-class Britain and the United States is modest but significant: The United States has lost about 1 in 1,900 citizens to covid, while the United Kingdom has lost about 1 in 1,600.

But the UK death rate peaked in April and has fallen to roughly 16 per day. The U.S. daily death rate also peaked in April — and then plateaued near 1,000.

That cumulative difference is steadily closing our gap with other countries we outperformed in the spring. U.S. deaths per 100,000 residents have already overtaken those of France and Switzerland, and unless something changes by Election Day, we will be, by far, the worst-afflicted country in the rich world. Economically as well as physically.

Trump’s machine can spin all sorts of explanations as to why that isn’t Trump’s fault, much as predecessors came up with all sorts of arguments why George W. Bush wasn’t to blame for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina or the financial crisis. Many of those arguments were even valid, but all of them were irrelevant come election time. When things go badly wrong on your watch, the public won’t risk more of the same.