President Trump’s Monday coronavirus press conference was his best since the beginning of the crisis. That is, of course, a relative measure. Trump refrained from ostentatious lying, stopped denying the now-undeniable reality that the bad things are happening, and mostly deferred to experts on questions of fact. On the other hand, he was unable to articulate a coherent position on questions like whether states ought to shut down public spaces or what kind of economic stimulus Congress should pass.
His most remarkable utterance — one that would have set off an uproar if a normal president had said it — came when he claimed the coronavirus had snuck up on everybody. “We have a problem that, a month ago, nobody thought about,” he proclaimed.
Uh, well, no. In January, two former Trump administration officials wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed pleading with Trump to take the coronavirus seriously. Almost two months ago, Joe Biden wrote an op-ed demanding a more forceful response. Trump spent this entire period relentlessly denying the United States faced any danger at all. (David Leonhardt has a timeline of Trump’s delusional public commentary.)
It is good that Trump finally acknowledges the problem, even if he won’t face up to its full seriousness or show more than the barest grasp of the necessary solutions. But timing is the essence of the crisis. All the experts were thinking about this problem a month ago. A huge number of non-experts were, too. Trump was subjecting them to public ridicule while refusing to start the preparation that would have alleviated the disruption and death it will bring.
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