It’s just too monstrous for decent people to contemplate. While I realize Ezra Klein’s latest rhetorical trick is to act astonished when horrible people somehow end up doing horrible things, it becomes a real analytical stumbling block. In a recent piece, Klein argues that Trump et alia lack a plan to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic (boldface mine):
It is shocking. More than 60 days after President Trump declared a national emergency over the novel coronavirus, there is still no clear national plan for what comes next. “The lockdown is not meant to be a permanent state of affairs; it’s intended to be a giant pause button that buys you time to get ready for the next phase,” Jeremy Konyndyk, of the Center for Global Development think tank, says….
But the Trump administration wasted the pause. Over the past two months, the US should have built the testing, contact tracing, and quarantine infrastructure necessary to safely end lockdown and transition back to normalcy — as many of its peer countries did. Instead, Trump has substituted showmanship for action, playing the president on TV but refusing to do the actual job. He has both dominated the airwaves and abdicated his duties. As a result, America’s progress against the coronavirus has stalled, even as the lockdown has driven the economy into crisis.
There are, at this point, a slew of reopening plans from think tanks and academics, economists and epidemiologists, liberals and conservatives. They differ in important, controversial ways. There are proposals that go all-in on mass testing. There are others that imagine a vast architecture of digital surveillance. Some rely on states; others emphasize the federal role. And within the plans, details worth debating abound: What level of risk is acceptable? How should recommendations vary between dense cities and rural areas? Who counts as an essential worker? How do we prevent mass unemployment? What is technologically possible?
The Trump administration could have chosen any of these plans or produced its own. But it didn’t. The closest it has come is a set of guidelines for states to consult when reopening. You can read them yourself at the White House’s “Opening America” landing page….
As my colleague Matthew Yglesias has argued, the White House — and thus the country — has not even chosen a goal. The Trump administration has never decided whether the aim is “mitigation,” in which we slow the virus’s spread so the health system doesn’t get overwhelmed, or “suppression,” in which we try to eradicate the virus so as to save lives. It is possible, as Thomas Friedman writes, that the US is actually pursuing neither goal; instead, officials are following Sweden’s laissez-faire approach to the virus, and Trump “just hasn’t told the country or his coronavirus task force or maybe even himself.”
As much as it pains me to say it, Thomas Friedman is very close to being right–we’ll return to that shortly.
To me, it’s become clear during the last week that the issue isn’t solely incompetence. They are capable of competence (not perfection, but competence) when they want to do something. They have been very effective at shredding lots of regulations (the EPA is a hollow shell of what it was, at best), getting tax cuts, and funneling money to large businesses. They also have been pretty good at treating immigrants like shit. They are perfectly capable of planning things they want.
So the Trump administration, along with many of its Republican collaborators, has a plan. It’s just that the plan is so horrifying that many people don’t want to believe the administration would do something like that. The plan is simple. Restart businesses, and let the American Carnage ensue. It will disproportionately affect minorities and lower-income people–and if those people were better people, they would have been wealthier and whiter, so fuck ’em anyway. I think they also believe–likely incorrectly–that the carnage will be confined mostly to urban, Democratic areas. Meanwhile, TEH STONKS! will be doing well, so all is good.
That’s the plan.
Before you make a counterargument, consider this: the Republican Party has spent the last forty years undermining worker protections and environmental protection. Why would they suddenly change their ways? This is what they do because they believe it’s the right thing to do, as horrifying as that is. Sure, this isn’t some toxic sludge, it’s a virus. But they have never cared about workers or public health, so why would they start now?
The absence of a plan to reopen safely as reasonably possible is the plan because they don’t care about your safety or health.
To claim that the scope of the crisis will encourage them to rise above their typical behavior is to make the same mistake many people made in the run up to the Iraq War. Yes, Little Lord Pontchartrain might have lied a lot about budgets and other things, but war–the Most Serious Action a President Can Take™–was too important. Surely, he and his administration wouldn’t lie about war? (narrator: they did). Meanwhile, Trump has an even more strained relationship with reality than Bush did.
That doesn’t mean Trump et alia also aren’t inept. But to lay this at the feet of a supposed inability to plan, when the administration clearly has been able to do so in other contexts, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So, yes, there’s a plan. It’s in plain sight, and it’s monstrous.