Opinion | The big, ugly disconnect hanging over Trump’s response to the crisis

So is it any wonder that Trump’s position on the economic catastrophe it has unleashed is almost exactly the same?

A strange disconnect is hovering over two of the biggest events in our politics right now: the economic rescue talks in Congress, and Trump’s new ad campaign against Joe Biden, which boasts a retooled message that’s supposed to reverse Trump’s plummeting fortunes.

For Trump, both are proceeding as if the economic calamity we’re sliding into simply isn’t any kind of big deal at all, as if it’s something that will “go away” or “disappear” with little effort on his part, other than getting public officials to stop taking such nettlesome steps to combat the health crisis.

This is rooted in Trump’s sociopathic refusal to take responsibility for the mounting wreckage on his watch. But it’s also rooted in ideology, as the talks and Trump’s own ads reveal.

Jobless claims keep mounting

Yet a deal in Congress over providing vital assistance is elusive. Democrats want to extend $600 in weekly supplemental unemployment assistance, but the White House and Republicans are resisting. They have now offered $400, but had to be dragged to that point.

Remember, the position of the White House and some Republicans has been that overly generous unemployment benefits might discourage the return to work. That dramatically plays down the scale and severity of both the economic and health crises: by blithely assuming jobs are still there for those tens of millions, and by suggesting a mere failure of will is holding them back from rejoining the economy. In fact, the economy cannot fully resume until the coronavirus is tamed.

Meanwhile, Democrats want to spend far more on assistance to fiscally brutalized states. But Trump is claiming this would merely “bail out states that have been poorly managed by Democrats.” This entirely airbrushes away the massive role of the coronavirus crisis in such huge state shortfalls, which are rooted in unemployment and declining revenue, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates.

Can you feel the sociopathy?

Pay close attention to the sociopathy on display here: On multiple fronts, Trump is both playing down the economic crisis and blaming everyone but himself for whatever limited difficulties he does recognize.

In this narrative, unemployment is largely a failure of workers’ will to rejoin the economy. The states’ fiscal travails are the fault of states. Trump is even claiming the coming wave of evictions is “China’s fault.” To whatever degree the coronavirus has caused economic problems, that’s all on China.

Deeper ideological impulses

You can see the deeper ideological impulses here on display in this new Wall Street Journal editorial. It urges Trump to reject Democrats’ demand for robust aid, similarly blaming “profligate Democratic-run states” for fiscal travails, claiming aid to them would encourage more lockdowns, and deriding aid to individuals as “income-transfer payments.”

Here again the editorial barely acknowledges the role of the coronavirus in creating our current economic calamity (to the degree that the seriousness of the latter is acknowledged at all), allowing that people might not “feel safe to shop and travel,” but blithely suggesting all this will just somehow recede.

And the editorial urges Trump to take “his own economic agenda” to voters, as if they won’t connect his disastrous handling of the virus to the ongoing economic catastrophe or even see that catastrophe as much of a problem. Trump has no agenda for the current disaster. The editorial assumes voters will just evaluate the vague plutocratic promise of more tax cuts and deregulation in an alternate universe where that disaster isn’t nearly as serious as it really is.

Trump’s ads tell the same story

Similarly, Trump is out with three new ads bashing Biden for supposedly vowing to raise middle-class taxes. This is a silly reference to Biden’s pledge to roll back Trump’s massive corporate tax cut.

But the important point here is that these ads are unfolding on another planet where the current economic calamity isn’t really happening at all. It’s as if the main threat to people’s livelihoods right now is higher taxes, and warmed over GOP lies about tax-hiking Democrats will work as they always do.

Jonathan Chait wrote recently that our domestic response to the coronavirus has been crippled mainly by “the pathology of the American right.” Mired in hostility to science, empiricism, trial-and-error learning and collective problem-solving, the right simply refuses to grapple with large public problems as they really exist. Some of these pathologies are at play in the response to the economic crisis, too.

Trump declared in March that “I don’t take responsibility at all” for his disastrous failures on the coronavirus. It’s now clear he’s applying exactly the same ethic to the economic crisis. That slogan is the one that truly belongs on the MAGA hats.

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