The Washington Post is reporting that the administration, aided by pro-business right wing organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation, is preparing a plan to lift travel and social distancing restrictions for the purpose of re-opening American businesses, if at all possible, by May 1, 2020, despite warnings from the medical community that such an action could result in a huge spike in American fatalities from the COVID19 virus.
The administration recognizes the health risks to Americans but, according to the Post, is deeply concerned that the unemployment numbers are hurting Trump’s re-election chances. As the Post article states, Trump is quite “mindful that he could end up paying a political price for the staggering number of unemployed Americans.”
So officials within the administration are racing to provide maximum “cover” to the president, trying to line up willing corporate allies in the business community to “share the blame” if Trump’s ”reopening” plan goes horribly awry.
"He desperately wants to reopen as much as possible on May 1," said one former official briefed on internal discussions. "He's been that way from the beginning, and he has not wavered. He seems determined to do it. But there's a growing realization that you won't be able to open everything up by May 1. Even he realizes that's a bad idea."
Rather, the debate this week has been over how to implement the return, what data could be used to justify the decision, and how to build public support for it to provide the president maximum political cover, according to one senior administration official involved in the discussions and a second person who has been briefed on them.
The administration plans to get as many business leaders “on board” so if the fatalities suddenly spike as a result of forcing unprotected Americans back into the workplace, Trump will be able to credibly spread the blame to others, and thus avoid the onus on himself.
Trump's advisers are trying to shield the president from political accountability should his move to reopen the economy prove premature and result in lost lives, and so they are trying to mobilize business executives, economists and other prominent figures to buy into the eventual White House plan, so that if it does not work, the blame can be shared broadly, according to two former administration officials familiar with the efforts.
“If it does not work” has a clear meaning here. “If it does not work” means that, under the administration’s plan, many Americans must be prepared to be sickened or die for the sole purpose of boosting Trump’s re-election numbers.
But that is exactly the risk Trump is prepared to take. In addition to the right-wing organizations listed above, the administration has enlisted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to prepare a “back to work” outline for American businesses to begin recalling furloughed employees back into the workplace, based on what the administration considers “high-risk,” “medium-risk” and “low risk” geographic areas. The plan will be “coordinated” with state and local authorities, according to the administration. Of course, states dominated by Republican governors are expected to be more agreeable than “blue states” in this process.
Business leaders who have been contacted about the administration’s strategy have expressed concern that the series of meetings Trump plans to enlist their support may become known to the public under federal law. Accordingly it would appear that many corporate CEO’s will insist on secrecy as a condition of their participation.
Some executives are wary the White House plan could backfire if it proves premature and leads to a public health catastrophe, according to three people familiar with the effort. Some also are concerned that under federal law, the contents of the meetings would have to become public, should the body meet a certain number of times.
Of course, many Democratic-leaning individual states have already begun the process of preparing a game plan to allow their citizens to return to work, but with a considerably more distant time horizon. As explained by Matt Stieb, writing for New York magazine,
In the West, California, Oregon, and Washington are building a framework for how to end the shutdown in accordance with the standards of “science and public health, not politics,” according to Governor Gavin Newsom. On the East Coast, a consortium of states — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware — will work together to open the Atlantic region’s economy.
Seeing himself as the sole arbiter of when Americans should go back to work, Trump views such cooperative state efforts as a threat to his own power, and is, as Stieb points out, completely alone in his insistence that the process begin by May 1 (approximately two weeks away).
But the Trump administration is alone in its insistence on immediacy regardless of the consequences. “Trump has been so insistent on the reopening that some officials worry only a narrow window exists to provide information to change his mind or to ensure that the effort to reopen does not significantly add to the country’s rising number of infections and deaths,” one senior administration official told the Post.
For most of the country the infection rates will not even have peaked at that time. But since Trump has never acknowledged any responsibility towards those Americans killed by the virus--a virus he deliberately ignored, downplayed and minimized for over two months--his administration’s plan to re-open the country “regardless of the consequences” is wholly consistent with his previous pattern of malignant disregard.
These are not the actions of a leader, but of a desperate coward, for whom the health and lives of Americans are of little or no moment, and secondary at best to his re-election prospects.