At the best of times Donald Trump does not present a picture of coherence and maturity. But lately he seems to have plumbed even greater depths of irrationality and I think that it is because his dysfunctional White House and his utter lack of a measured response to the Covid-19 crisis is being recognized and he is being called out on it. So far he has been able to overcome the dysfunctional nature of his administration by sheer bombast and demagoguery but in this virus he has met something that does not care about him in the least, affects everyone, and cannot be ignored or belittled, and he does not know how to respond.
Trump is a narcissist and is utterly incapable of taking responsibility for anything bad that happens but in this crisis, his patented efforts to lash out at critics and blame others are looking increasingly desperate. He is clearly looking like a cornered wild animal and losing it, though he never had much of it to lose. So we see him lashing out at one target after another. His favorite targets are of course the media, the Democratic party, and the ‘deep state’, all of whom he thinks are trying to discredit him.
But the last two days have seen him really over-reaching to find new ways of putting himself in a good light. The first was when he declared that as president he has the power to decide when the country should relax the measures that have been put in place to slow the spread of the virus, no doubt hoping to bask in the credit when people can try to live normal lives again. This was clearly not the case because the governors in each state have that power. When it became clear that he risked a humiliating defeat on this issue, he backtracked and said today that he would have a conference call will all fifty governors to discuss when and how each state could do so.
Then he announced that he was suspending US contributions to the WHO for its alleged missteps in the early days of the virus and for not being aggressive in its dealings with China for its slow response to the crisis within its borders, even though Trump himself had fulsomely praised China for its response earlier.
The US is the WHO’s biggest donor, with funding over $400m a year in both assessed contributions (membership fees) and donations – though it is actually $200m in arrears.
Theoretically the White House cannot block funding of international institutions mandated by Congress. But the administration has found ways around such constitutional hurdles on other issues – by simply failing to disburse funds or apply sanctions, for example.
The funding could be formally rescinded, but that would require Senate approval, or “reprogrammed” by being diverted to another purpose that the White House could argue is consistent with the will of Congress.
“Whatever form it takes, this is a deeply shortsighted and dangerous decision – at any time, let alone during a … pandemic,” said Alexandra Phelan, assistant professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University.
The decision to stop funding the WHO at this time has received worldwide condemnation and even called a ‘crime against humanity’ because the WHO is the premier global agency that has the ability to collect data and provide aid and authoritative advice to countries around the world. It is madness to undercut its activities at this time. Even the US Chamber of Commerce, that would normally be a Trump supporter, is criticizing the decision.
Trump is clearly making a play for the support of his xenophobic supporters who see the UN as a sinister global agency that seeks to take over the US and also hate the idea of spending any money that should go to hard-working Merkins on foreign aid, even though that ‘aid’ is often a means of supporting US foreign policy and boosting sales of arms and other exports. The US also uses that aid as leverage with countries and organizations by threatening to withdraw funding if they do not obey US dictates
Once in a while, Trump will try to act ‘presidential’ but in his case that does not mean speaking and acting in a reasoned and measured manner. It merely means slowly reading from a prepared script on a teleprompter using a strange sing-song rhythmic cadence that suggests someone who is heavily sedated. But the media would swoon over this sign that Trump was maturing, until the next day when he goes off the rails again.
A few weeks ago, Dan Fromkin wrote that the media should stop giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, that he is actually struggling to do the right thing and that the problem is that he is not succeeding. He says that the evidence is clear that trying to do the right thing is the last thing on his mind.
The evidence is overwhelming that Trump’s only struggles are against the facts, and his only goal is coming out on top. As far as the coronavirus is concerned, everything he has said and done indicates that he simply wants it to go away, ideally with a “miracle.” He has lost any presumption of credibility or reliability.
One of the most devastating analyses, ironically, came well into Friday’s Baker and Haberman article with the horrible headline. It paints a picture of a president who has flat-out lost the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy.
Jonathan Lemire’s devastating analysis for the Associated Press noted that Trump was “struggling for a solution, unable to settle Wall Street and proving particularly vulnerable to a threat that is out of his control.”
And most appropriately, Rucker, Parker and Dawsey wrote after Wednesday night’s debacle that Trump was “struggling to read words on the teleprompter.”
Trump clearly cares about two things, the stock market and his re-election.
Trump’s attempts at avoiding responsibility, shifting blame, pleading ignorance about key missteps (such as dismantling the White House pandemic response team), and instead boastfully preening about non-existent successes are becoming increasingly risible.
The buck never stops with Trump.
Q: Do you take responsibility for the lag in #coronavirus testing?
Trump: "No, I don't take responsibility at all." pic.twitter.com/bbFbZ7cCH3
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 13, 2020