the national circus

Frank Rich: Trump’s Potemkin Recovery

Not exactly meeting the moment. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today, evidence that Trump is playing favorites with medical aid and whether news networks should air his coronavirus briefings live.

Amid reports that the federal stockpile of medical supplies is “nearly exhausted” and production of new equipment is unlikely to come soon enough, it now appears that the Trump administration may be playing favorites, distributing supplies to political allies and states important for the president’s reelection campaign. How bad will the fallout be?

Because Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and the hacks and grifters around them lie about everything, there’s no way to come up with an empirical answer as to how much such petty politics, let alone the sheer incompetence, complete lack of planning, and rank corruption, are making this nightmare worse. Everything is a ruse. The administration’s promised numbers of coronavirus tests, masks, and ventilators were all fiction. The real mission of the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort that Trump dispatched from Norfolk was to give him a photo op; it sits in New York Harbor idle, having admitted only 20 patients because of bureaucratic barriers. Even the origins of the White House’s estimated death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 are being questioned by the nation’s leading disease forecasters, reports the Washington Post. Remember Trump’s inaugural address, with its dark portents of “American carnage”? Well, that turns out to be the only Trump prophecy that is literally coming true.

The crucial electoral state of Florida — whose mini-Trump of a governor, Ron DeSantis, endangered the entire country by refusing to call off spring break — has all the medical equipment it has asked for. Desperate states like Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina are reduced to begging for help from a federal government with a depleted stockpile. What these three states have in common is that their governors are Democrats. (Trump seems to have written off the 2020 reelection hopes of their respectively endangered GOP senators, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, and Thom Tillis.) Then there is New York. Andrew Cuomo says that there are not enough ventilators to get through another week. No matter. We know from Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair that the latest corona czar, Jared Kushner, has declared that “New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” The next number that the Trump administration will be lying about is the inventory of available body bags.

But the catastrophic failure of the Trump White House to mobilize government to procure and distribute medical essentials where needed is just the most visible piece of this Boschian landscape of chaos and horror. Now that Congress has enacted a $2 trillion stimulus package, we’re sure to see the Trump family and its kleptocratic cohort play political and personal favorites with economic relief as well. The Trumps are nothing if not impressive in their ability to help themselves and their fellow grifters to every buck not nailed down. At a time when the president is insinuating that New York City hospital employees are stealing masks, inquiring minds want to know if the administration scheme to have FEMA bid against states for PPE, thereby driving up prices, was sheer dereliction of duty or a concerted effort to benefit war profiteers in or close to the White House.

In the same vein, this week The Atlantic reported that the nonexistent Google testing website hawked by Dr. Deborah Birx in a White House press briefing was assigned not to Google but to a company whose co-founder is Jared Kushner’s brother. (That company quietly scrapped the project even as American casualties spiked in part for lack of the administration’s promised testing.) The Times now reports that the Trump Organization, among other financial machinations, is leaning on Palm Beach County to waive monthly payments on land it leases for its golf club. Meanwhile, in what is likely to become a national paradigm of unequal relief efforts to come, ordinary Floridians can’t file for unemployment benefits because of an inadequate system and crashing website, both the work of the state’s previous Republican governor (and current senator), Rick Scott. That calamity is surely a preview of the soon-to-arrive train wreck as the Trump administration fails to deliver on Steven Mnuchin’s promise of a speedy distribution of checks to individual households and loans to small businesses.

At this time of emergency and medical need, it is impossible to know which is inflicting the most damage on a suffering American public: the president and his administration’s complete lack of a plan, the incessant lying to create a Potemkin simulation of action, or the politicization and corruption of the various ad hoc schemes Trump and his lackeys are creating on the fly. Trump has taken to speaking of himself as a “wartime president,” but as I’ve said before, the bone spurs that exempted him from military service have now migrated to his brain. If he had been lagging this far behind the enemy as president during World War II, he would have sent troops to the beaches of Hawaii, not Normandy, on D-Day.

Trump’s daily coronavirus updates are attracting millions of viewers, though their distortions and misinformation have led some news networks to question whether they should be aired live. What is the value of these briefings?

Everyone knows by now that unless Anthony Fauci is speaking, these daily episodes of Trump reality television, running nearly as long as The Irishman (but less well acted), are founts of misinformation that may be dangerous to your health with digressions for self-aggrandizement, political hit jobs, press bashing, and utter drivel. If Trump is going to bring on a donor like the CEO of MyPillow to liken him to divinity, why not bring on some entertainers — maybe a magician, or a dance band temporarily unemployed at Mar-a-Lago, or if all else fails, Kid Rock.

Network news organizations have started to cut away from them more and more, as they should. Pointing a camera at a news event is not the same thing as reporting on it. Networks can broadcast any effusions that are newsworthy on slight delay — with immediate fact-checking — and go back to reporting actual news happening elsewhere throughout a nation on the ropes. Those who want the whole unedited feed can turn to Fox News while waiting for the next open-mike night from Jeanine Pirro.

Frank Rich: Trump’s Potemkin Recovery