Thursday, March 12, 2020

Trump's Address to Nation Fails to Reassure Nation Anxious About Coronavirus

Last night, President Donald Trump addressed the nation to outline his administration's response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  The underlying purpose of the speech was to calm the nerves of jittery Americans whose overreaction to the virus (more on that at the bottom of the page) is on the verge of sending the economy into a steep recession.   Trump's address was an attempt to replicate the fireside speeches that President Franklin Roosevelt gave during the depths of the Depression.  In those radio addresses, FDR projected calm and competence as he outlined programs designed to save the American economy from the worst downturn ever.  An objective look at those FDR programs reveal that most of them failed to improve the situation.  But the addresses did succeed in giving people confidence that they had a competent leader in office, someone that cared deeply about their welfare.

Trump's address to the nation last night, however, did not project confidence or competence..  It left people with the impression that the President does not understand the public health crisis the nation faces and lacks the personal skills to lead the country during such turbulent times.  The stock market has the same impression which is why every time Trump speaks out about the crisis, the Dow Jones drops another 1,000 points.

When talking about his business leadership style, Trump would brag that he did not have a daily agenda.  Nor did not engage in short or long-term planning.  His approach was to simply react to things as they happen.  While that might be a passable approach in running a family business, that is certainly no way to run a country dealing with a pandemic.

The nation can survive an unfit, incompetent chief executive.  That is, until there is a national crisis, like a pandemic.  Trump's incompetence, ignorance and inability to learn, however, may not be the worst things.  Trump's inability to tell the truth, means he now has zero credibility when he tries to reassure the public during a crisis.

Trump is not wrong that the coverage of Coronavirus and the public fear it is generating is out of proportion to the threat the virus poses.  On television yesterday, I heard an announcer say that Coronavirus was the worst pandemic the nation has ever faced.  Really?  How about the Spanish flu of 1918?  It killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide (some estimates say as many 100 million), including a half million people in the United States.  In just 24 weeks the Spanish flu killed more than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years.  Unlike Coronavirus which is most threatening to older people, the Spanish flu killed mostly younger people.  (The theory as to why is that older people had experienced a variant of the virus decades  earlier and had developed antibodies that protected them from getting the Spanish flu.)  In 1917, life expectancy in the United States was 51 years.  Because of all the people who died in 1919, life expectancy dropped to 39 years.

So, yes, people are overreacting to Coronavirus.  But is that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The preventive steps people are taking will help stop the disease so we don't have a repeat of a horrific pandemic like the Spanish flu.

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