The Trump administration’s strategy on the coronavirus from the outset has focused relentlessly on the stock market, treating the virus as a partisan plot by Democrats to stoke panic. Trump has, accordingly, issued a series of optimistic and sometimes delusional assessments, in the apparent belief that he can contain the panic through sheer force of propaganda.
As the virus has spread, this position has grown increasingly untenable. At first, Trump was simply making extremely unlikely predictions about the future, claiming that he prevented the virus from infecting Americans by boldly closing the border. This message worked only until the coronavirus appeared in the U.S. Amazingly, Trump is still hewing to this false talking point.
“This came unexpectedly, it came out of China, we closed it down, we stopped it, it was a very early shut down,” he told reporters this morning. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, declared on CNBC, “I would still argue to you that this thing is contained.”
It is definitely not contained. “Contained” means there are a known, finite number of cases, and each one is being confined to a location where it cannot spread. Neither of these conditions is true. Authorities have no idea how many cases there are, due to haphazard testing, but new ones are appearing all over the country, and almost none of them are contained, but instead have been circulating.
One might be curious why Kudlow has had such a prominent role messaging this issue. He has no expertise in epidemiology. Indeed, he has no expertise in economics, either. What he does have an expertise in is confidently issuing confident predictions on behalf of Republican politicians that may be, and usually are, completely wrong.
And since Trump still seems to regard the coronavirus as primarily a stock market problem, he needs Kudlow to go out with the French cuffs and tell Trump’s rich friends that Trump is going to keep making them rich. He urged his audience to buy stocks last week, and then the market fell, to which Kudlow replied that this time they should listen to him and buy, unless maybe they shouldn’t:
“I don’t do predictions” is a pretty amazing claim for a person whose whole career is based on making (terrible) predictions (that flatter right-wing economic policy).
Even if enough Republican investors decide to believe Trump and Kudlow and “buy the dip,” this is not a successful propaganda campaign. The entire objective seems to be managing the day to day fluctuations of the market. The plan has a shelf life of hours. Every new false prediction simply burns whatever is left of their credibility, leaving them with an increasingly silly trail of false promises.