The coronavirus scare looks bad for Trump right now because he really has mishandled things. But things will turn around for him. Maybe not next week, but soon enough. Perhaps two weeks from now. Perhaps two months.
The important thing to understand is this: Most people are not rational
. They use their powers of ratiocination to justify narratives to which they feel emotionally
When the layoffs mount up and the eviction notices decorate doors, the public will turn against all the well-meaning liberals who argued in favor of destroying the economy in order to combat a not-so-terrifying virus.
At this writing, the coronavirus has taken fewer than 75 lives in the United States and roughly seven thousand lives worldwide. Not so bad, as pandemics go. Yet everyone has gone mad
Compare the current numbers to the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968-89: That outbreak took 100,000 victims in the United States. At the time -- and I can attest to this personally -- few people talked about the disease. They discussed the war, the hippies, the protest marches, the presidential race, but they didn't talk about the Hong Kong flu, at least not often.
I was in grade school then. Any mention of the words "Hong Kong flu" caused kids on the playground to break into an imitation of Bruce Lee as Kato. (Frankly, the attempts at humor were even more racist than that
.) Nobody seriously considered shutting down movie theaters or sports arenas or restaurants. By the end of 1969, most people had forgotten all about the flu. At least, such was the case in our household, even though we were acquainted with an old vaudevillian who had been good friends with Tallulah Bankhead, the most famous victim of that flu.
By the way: If there was a shortage of hospital beds in 1968-69, nobody mentioned that fact on the news. Nobody was talking triage. Again: 100,000 deaths.
When I think back to the way our society reacted then, the current situation seems utterly ridiculous.
I think that many people are overreacting to the current problem because we've all seen too many horror/disaster/science fiction movies, and we secretly want to live in one. We are addicted to melodrama.
But when this hysteria exacts a terrible economic toll, the disaster will become real. At that time, attitudes will change. The public will direct their rage and fury against those who told everyone to stay indoors.
Will Trump benefit from that?
He's a master of populist rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Eventually, he and his far-right confreres will find the right verbal formulation to blame liberalism (and perhaps democracy itself?) for our economic woes. Through trial and error, they will find the correct admixture of fact and falsity to make a "Blame the Dems" narrative seem plausible to millions.
That prediction may seem outlandish right now, because the administration is flailing.
Stop thinking like a chess player who can't see beyond the next move. You have to think at least five
Within hours, the state of Maryland will shut down all restaurants. For a couple of days, the fast food joints have been pushing out all the old farts who like to sit and read while sipping coffee -- as if that
policy will have any impact on the coronavirus statistics. As if the stats justified extreme measures.
Will your local Mickey D's continue to issue paychecks to all of their current employees? I don't see how.
Extreme economic times always benefit the political extremes -- usually the extreme right.
History offers no clearer lesson.
Biden is riding high now, but that situation won't last. A politician of his sort -- rational, decent, middle-of-the-road -- cannot appeal to a fearful citizenry facing privation and loss. Mad times elevate mad leaders.
That's why I believe that Trump -- or perhaps someone even worse than Trump? -- will benefit from the coronavirus scare. The current critiques of his administration will fade from memory when the job losses mount. The public will turn.