Trump: People are going to die when we reopen but Americans are "warriors"

Not a word in the answer below about the federal guidelines that he personally announced a few weeks ago, I notice. On the day he unveiled them I remember thinking that he was probably seeing them for the first time when he was at the podium, reading them aloud, and would never mention them again in discussing when to reopen. Has he mentioned them since then? Just that time he took exception to Brian Kemp authorizing nail salons and tattoo parlors to reopen in Georgia, right? Otherwise it’s been pretty much pure “time to go back to work” cheerleading.

Also, contra what he says, there’s not a doctor in the country who’s told him that we need to stay home for two years. There are plenty of doctors who are projecting a two-year epidemic, but if anyone’s advising total economic paralysis until 2022, shoot me an email and let me know because I missed it.

Watch, then read on.

Some anti-Trumpers are grumbling on social media about the part where he acknowledges that some unlucky number of Americans will be “affected badly” by reopening. But that’s a banal admission. Chris Christie made news yesterday for the same observation and I don’t understand why. Of course more people will die once we open back up. That’s always been priced into the calculus, or should have been. Renewed social interaction means a higher rate of infection, which means more deaths. Greg Abbott understands that too, even if his critics don’t:

“Lock down until we won’t risk more deaths by opening up” was never part of the equation and couldn’t be part of it logically. To the extent that the pro-lockdown group is trying to shift the goalposts on that, I sympathize with the position of Trump and his fans. On the other hand, the vibe I get from some of them is that the inevitability of *some* deaths when we reopen means we should tolerate *any* number of deaths. Which, uh, no.

In a way the great debate over reopening is like the old debate over the speed limit. Set it high and you’ll have more fatal accidents; set it low and it’ll take people forever to get where they want to go. We accept a certain number of casualties in the name of expediting travel, just as we should accept a certain number of casualties in the name of restarting the economy. But we don’t accept any number of casualties. If, instead of the customary annual 35,000 deaths, America suddenly saw 350,000 deaths on the road this year, I guarantee that we’d all have a big rethink about auto safety. Is new tech in cars making driving less safe? Have we suddenly become worse, more distracted drivers for some reason? Do we need to lower the speed limit after all? “Debates” over speed limits are irrational in the sense that different people have different comfort levels with different death projections and there’s no clearly logical explanation as to why. I may be willing to accept 200,000 dead on the road whereas you may blanch after 100,000, and neither one of us would be able to persuasive justify why. It’s a gut thing.

The gut reaction among anti-Trumpers right now seems to be that we can’t reopen until the risk of an uptick in deaths has been eliminated, which could take many months. But the gut reaction among some Trumpers seems to be that we should reopen and plow ahead whatever the toll. Am I wrong about that? If so, give me a metric that should properly trigger a rethink by a mayor or governor after reopening for business. If daily deaths climb 20 percent? If new cases climb by 50 percent? Recognize that at some point consumers will notice the outbreak exploding around them and hunker down voluntarily whether there’s a stay-at-home order in place or not, bringing the local economy to a crashing halt. That’s the wrinkle in my point about different people having different degrees of risk tolerance. What my, or your, or Trump’s gut has to say about acceptable casualties from reopening is irrelevant. The public’s aggregate gut is going to decide this.

And it won’t take many people hunkering down to make business unsustainable. If 25 percent of the public, say, decides to scrupulously avoid restaurants and retail, how many businesses can survive on that reduced profit margin? The strongest point the lockdown supporters have in their favor is that there’s good reason to think meaningful economic recovery simply can’t happen so long as people feel unsafe. “Warriors” are willing to accept some risk for commerce but they’re not going to do a Pickett’s charge. Give them the amount of testing experts think we need to control new outbreaks, give them a local team of contact tracers to monitor people at special risk of infection, and they’ll circulate.

Have we done that, by the way? I’ve read various smart op-eds recently arguing that the lockdown brigades have unfairly moved the goalposts from flattening the curve to crushing the curve. We locked down to flatten the curve in the name of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed; since then hospitals have added capacity and ventilators, and we have a glimmer of hope from remdesivir. Mission accomplished. All of which is great, but we also have federal guidelines reflecting the considered judgment of Trump’s expert team about when reopening can be done safely. They won’t take years to satisfy; if they did, Trump presumably wouldn’t have approved them. If the guidelines are followed, local officials can cite them to persuade reluctant consumers that it’s okay to come out of hiding, which should mean a more robust economic revival.

Are any states following the guidelines? Is the White House still even supporting the guidelines?

I mentioned this new Monmouth poll in a separate post but that post was paywalled so not everyone saw it. Let me flag this data for you again:

I don’t think Trump and his fans fully appreciate the political risk they’re taking here, even though poll after poll after poll confirms that voters are more worried about a resurgence of the disease than extending the economic freeze. “There’s been commentary on the potential backlash if people decide months of quarantine weren’t worth the health benefits,” writes Benjy Sarlin, “but there’s also a risk months from now that there’s continued bad health outcomes and the economy’s not strong enough to make it feel worth that sacrifice.” Trump seems not to appreciate that the scale of the recovery is at the mercy of the most reluctant Americans. Not the MAGA-ites who really would organize Pickett’s charge for him. Not Republicans. The 25 percent or whatever who need to see real, sustained progress in the daily death and case numbers before plunging back into commerce will decide whether the economic comeback is anemic or hardy. What has he done lately to reassure those people? Assuring them that they’re “warriors” in hopes that they’ll be willing corona cannon fodder for him, so that he can cut an ad touting the Dow’s climbing numbers in September, ain’t gonna do it.

By the way, today’s COVID data shows there were more deaths in the U.S. this week than last week. It’s not all bad news; testing is up, the rate of positive tests is down, and deaths two weeks ago exceeded this week’s total. But to get people out of the house in a sustained way, it’ll take clear-cut evidence across various metrics that things are getting better. That evidence isn’t there yet.