Some political analysts claim that presidential elections are determined by what they call the ‘fundamentals’, meaning those factors that represent the underlying health of the economy like the GDP, job growth, unemployment, inflation, the stock market, and so on, all encapsulated in the mantra of the Bill Clinton campaign workers that “It’s the economy, stupid!” Such analysts argue that all the hot button GRAGGS issues (guns, race, abortion, god, gays, and sex) that make up the news headlines play a much lesser role in determining the outcome
Whether one believes that thesis or not, it looks like Trump, while exploiting the GRAGGS issues with a vengeance, is finding that his poll numbers are still sagging badly and clearly seems to feel that he needs the economy to be good as well if he is to have a shot at being re-elected. Hence his incessant focus on the stock market and any other economic indicator that he thinks is a sign of economic progress.
That is also why, in the teeth of advice from health experts, he is demanding that states reopen their economies immediately and that all schools and colleges open for in-class sessions next month, and he is threatening all manner of repercussions if they don’t. In support of this demand, vice-president Mike Pence says that children are being harmed educationally, socially, and cognitively by not being in school. That is some truth to this (though children are resilient and can recover from setbacks, though poorer students are, as usual, more adversely affected) but who really thinks that Trump or Pence gives a damn about the well being of children? They want schools to open because that would give the impression of a return to normalcy, would enable parents to go back to work, and boost the economy.
Some of the moves by Trump seem petty and incomprehensible. One is the rule that if a college does not have in in-person classes, then its foreign students will be in violation of their student visas and thus will have to leave or be deported.. This has thrown many colleges for a loop since some of them have many foreign students and they often pay full tuition. It is estimated that there are about one million international students in the US, about 5% of the college student population.
As one example, NPR had an interview with the president of the Florida Institute of Technology that had been planning to have all its classes online in the fall, especially since that state is having a huge surge on covid-19 cases. But about a third of their student body is international. In order not to lose them and take a major financial hit, the school has had to scramble to find ways of having in-person courses, despite all the problems. As the president said:
“[L]uckily for me, I had not made an announcement of that or a final decision when this ruling came out. And at that point, I re-evaluated with the senior staff, and we decided that we would have to because it’s such a huge fraction of our student body that are internationals that we had very little choice but to at least have some major – some level, maybe a major level, of on-campus courses.
You know, [faculty and staff] are concerned. I mean, faculty are a little older than the typical college student. And the college students do not fear this disease because in general, it’s not that severe for them in their age brackets. But our staff and our faculty aren’t in that age bracket. So – and they’re going to be trapped in a classroom. So we’re putting up Plexiglas shields between them and the students or having face masks.
But I did not anticipate the level of fear that would be prevalent amongst faculty and staff. I really didn’t. We’re trying to make sure that we can accommodate as many of the faculty and staff that do not want to be on campus during this period as we can. But obviously, if we’re going to conduct on-campus classes, some of them have to be here.
So Trump is either forcing international students to leave, hurting both the students and the universities, or forcing them to hold in-person classes, hurting both the students and the people who work there. The only possible reason to create this rule is to force colleges to fully re-open to what they were like before the pandemic, whatever the consequences. Colleges, states, cities and tech companies are suing the Trump administration to block this rule from going into effect.
[UPDATE: Trump has suddenly reversed course on this policy and rescinded the order.]
As part of this ‘open at all costs’ strategy, the Trump people are even undermining Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the government and a member of the Task Force because he is not being a cheerleader for Trump’s plan to open everything up quickly. Trump is also reportedly angry that the general public trusts Fauci on the disease more than they trust him, by a wide margin of 67 to 26. The Association of American Medical Colleges has rushed to Fauci’s defense. Trump has also trashed the guidelines issued by the CDC about how to schools re-open safely, feeling that they are too restrictive, because they call for schools to “stagger schedules, spread out desks, ensure students stay six feet apart and that they have meals in classrooms instead of gathering in cafeterias.”
The Trump campaign is shutting their eyes to the downside risk of the covid-19 infection and death rate rising with a vengeance in the fall as a result of these measures. They must be hoping against hope that it does not happen because that would truly sink their chances. What Trump and Pence are indulging in is an extremely high-risk strategy, a desperate and dangerous gamble in which they are wagering the lives of children and the general public in the hope that the pandemic will miraculously disappear despite their foolish moves. In their eyes, fighting the pandemic is not worth it if it means that the economy does not recover quickly enough by November to save him from losing.
During the dark days of the Bush-Cheney era, I recall cartoonist Tom Tomorrow having a This Modern World strip where Bush and Cheney, when they were young, set in motion a plan to destroy the US by pretending to be right-wing Republicans, get into power, and then start disastrous wars that bankrupt the country. The final panel of the strip shows them gleefully celebrating the success of their plan because of the never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that they started.
Tom Tomorrow could easily update that cartoon with Trump and Pence because if the two of them did set out to deliberately destroy the US, they could not be doing a better job.