Trump’s re-election strategy involves gambling with people’s lives

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.


  1. TGAP Dad says

    I take issue with the characterization of the Tiny-Handed Tyrant as “gambling with people’s lives”. Gambling involves uncertainty. Gambling involves uncertainty of a particular outcome. There is no uncertainty here. The number of Americans who will die from COVID-19 is proportional to the number of people who contract it, which in turn is a function of the amount of exposure to infected people. More reopening = more exposure = (i)infection = (d)COVID-19 diagnoses = (m)deaths. The only uncertainty here is the number of Americans who will die because of this strategy.

  2. says

    Trump’s initial election strategy: muslim ban, and anti-hispanic immigration laws, was also “playing with people’s lives.”

    I think every president plays with people’s lives. Some are more or less shitty human beings while they do it.

  3. consciousness razor says

    But is it really an electoral strategy or just a more dangerous/stupid version of “have you tried turning it off and on again?”

    I mean, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll actually be in decent shape economically, with sick and dying people all over, unemployment remaining high for a long time, lots of border restrictions still in place internationally, businesses struggling (at best) because people can’t be forced back into their “normal” mode of ravenous consumerism, and so on. It’s not like you could just reverse all that in a few months with enough wishful thinking and an executive order. It’s just not happening.

    I think the big priority for these people is simply about refusing to help anyone (except rich assholes like themselves of course). That’s what you’d need to do if everything were closed. But the government can’t be effective at helping people. If that were happening, it would clearly invalidate all of the right-wing nonsense they’ve always been peddling.

    So it’s not so much about this one election, but whether the party as a whole and its worldview can survive unscathed. Maybe they’re a little too paranoid, since I bet Biden, Schumer, Pelosi and their ilk would make them feel very comfortable among the Democrats. If they stomach the idea of making a few symbolic gestures involving old public statuary every now and then, they’ll be just fine.

  4. jrkrideau says

    It is estimated that there are about one million international students in the US
    It may be hard to get to them in person but I am sure recruiters from countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK and parts of the EU scouring the internet for contact means plus suiting and masking up for the flights to the main target countries to recruit the next wave. Thank you Mr Trump.

    This level of shortsightedness would be incredible if it were not the Trump regime.

    It would have been amusing if this happened a few years ago when Chairman Xi Jinping’s daughter was at Harvard.

  5. xohjoh2n says

    The only possible reason to create this rule

    No, he also gets to be mean to foreigners, especially Chinese ones. Never underestimate that.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 anat
    I am glad for the students.

    one option is to apply the policy only to newly-enrolling students.
    Well, let’s keep those recruiter moving. Great recruiting line: “If you are from Delhi you will love the sunshine and brisk clean air in Edmonton.”

  7. bmiller says

    So Canada is fully open now? I understand they are not having the massive uptick we are in the Benighted States, but COVID is a problem in other countries too. Or is your point Canadian universities are more open to remote learning?

  8. flex says

    #8, jrkrideau, posted a quote from a college recruiter:

    If you are from Delhi you will love the sunshine and brisk clean air in Edmonton.

    Brisk is not quite how I would describe the difference between the air in New Delhi and Edmonton.

  9. fentex says

    > 1. Some political analysts claim that presidential elections are determined by what they call the ‘fundamentals’

    > 2. Such analysts argue that all the hot button GRAGGS issues … play a much lesser role in determining the outcome

    That is demonstrably utter nonsense.

    The U.S’s last Presidential election was clearly decided solely by the second, and not the first of those (the U.S fundamentals [economy et al] were doing just fine at the end of Obama’s term) -- and as Trump’s flaws were quite evident there was clearly something other than ‘fundamentals’ driving his support.

  10. VolcanoMan says

    Breaking: Trump has apparently reversed his plans to deport international students whose courses are online (in the face of many lawsuits).

    Also @bmiller #9

    Canada is not fully open now, but we’re getting there. I mean, businesses are basically all functioning at some level, but social distancing is being enforced, and restaurants mainly are doing takeout and delivery business right now (though they are mostly open for dine-in, their capacities are quite reduced). Universities and colleges WILL have classes this fall (I myself am waiting to see whether I’ve been accepted into a program), but most have already designated that no matter what happens with CoViD…everything that CAN be online, will be, for at least the fall semester. So even in the unlikely situation of things being better by then, most courses will still be online. Some courses that require hands-on learning will go ahead with modifications to ensure social distancing. And some have been cancelled, pending the distribution of a vaccine. Also, most places where people CAN work from home are still making their employees do so.

    Note that I live in one of the least-hit provinces (Manitoba), where we’re up to 330 known cases TOTAL since this thing began (between June 30 and July 12, we had NO new cases…then over the last couple days, 5 people tested positive…but for awhile there, we were down to ONE known active case in the entire province). Initially, people worried that there were a huge number of people with the virus who weren’t being caught by our testing, but testing has continued to increase, and yet the test positivity rate (number of positives/number of tests x 100) is only about 0.47% right now (and up until the end of May, they were only testing people who thought they had the virus…symptomatic people and those who felt they’d been exposed -- now, there is some random testing going on of seemingly healthy people, and still…the positivity rate keeps dropping). For reference, the US as a whole is averaging 8% (Canada is averaging about 3.3%), while some states are higher -- Arizona is currently at 14%. The lower the positivity rate (controlling for per capita testing…we’re currently at 5% of the population having gotten tested*, which is lower than the 8.7% Canadian per capita average, but high enough for significant conclusions to be drawn) the more certain you are that you’re not missing a massive segment of people who, either because they feel healthy or they don’t want to get tested, are walking around with CoViD and not knowing it.

    Because of the small number of cases we’ve had, and the fact that it was fairly easy to bring these all under control, my experience here may not be indicative of the rest of the country. I do know that people here are VERY wary of re-opening the Canada-US border until the American outbreak is contained. I’m not saying we acted in the right way and are being rewarded for fast action with low virus numbers…I think our situation is down more to luck than anything else…but now that the virus is basically controlled, people are not eager to encourage travel that may bring second, and third waves to our cities.

    *The nasal swab tests are invasive and painful and the environment is such that very few people are testing positive…so if people feel that they’ve taken the correct precautions (stayed home most of the time, social distanced and worn a mask in public, and not attended any major gatherings), it’s just unrealistic that there will be high levels of testing. The demand for tests is not outstripping the capacity here.

  11. lanir says

    I think they’re gearing up to do another common regressive maneuver. They want to fail so they can try to paint a fantastically appealing picture of the results they say they’d have achieved and then try to blame the difference between the fantasy and reality on political opponents.

    For this one the BS logic would go something like:

    reopen economy --> more people with money buying things --> more hiring

    So far optimistic but not necessarily ridiculous. Then they’ll say these things will lead to the following:

    more people with money --> more people able to afford healthcare* --> virus declines as healthcare rises (no mention of how it got a foothold in the first place when these conditions were better)

    Along the way they’ll do the same shuffle where, having denied adequate healthcare to the poor, they’ll then blame the inequality of healthcare outcomes on the victims. And they’ll tie in every ugly -ism they can along the way. Because that’s their wedge strategy. Once an individual begins to accept any of these ideas, the regressives try to fill them up with any of their other ideas they can. Think of it like a company selling a mental product with their branding.

    I know some of this sounds too ridiculous for words but just watch for it and see if you think they’re doing this or not.

    * BS plain and simple -- healthcare is not something you just buy, nor is it really affordable except as a major, painful purchase for most of America

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