Technically true, politically somewhat true, and essentially meaningless anyway. Donald Trump repeatedly suggested a goal of having America back to work and growing economically by Easter, but Trump didn’t close the businesses in the first place, as Amber Phillips points out at the Washington Post. Those decisions came from governors — at least to the extent that businesses closed by mandates:
Trump is the most powerful figure in the U.S. coronavirus response, and large swath of the country supports him and will stand by him, no matter what. And his voice certainly will play a role in how seriously all Americans treat social distancing, since it’s hard.
But he alone can’t push Americans back to work and restart the economy. That’s for three reasons:
1. Governors are the ones ordering people to stay at home. Already, 19 have ordered or announced they’re about to order residents to stay at home, according to the nonpartisan National Governor’s Association. (See which states here.) Trump doesn’t have the authority to order governors to reopen their states. …
2. In many states, schools are closed. So are day-care centers and shops. So even if people want to get back to work, a lot wouldn’t be able to. Parents wouldn’t have child care, and governors in a number of states have ordered nonessential businesses closed, so workers in, say, a boutique wouldn’t be able to go back to work.
3. Trump’s request that people avoid groups of more than 10 was just that — a request. He made the social-distancing request at the advice of health experts for a 15-day period, which ends March 30. But this was never a rule or law, just a set of guidelines.
All this is true, as is Aaron Blake’s follow-up that even Republican governors aren’t inclined to follow Trump’s lead by dropping their restrictions in time for Easter:
“I will base my decision as governor of the state of Texas on what physicians say,” Abbott said. “If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get covid-19 behind us.”
President Trump has leaned hard into the idea of reopening the economy in recent days, but as has been noted, he only has so much power to do so. It’s the governors who issue stay-at-home orders and decide what opens and what doesn’t in their states. …
“We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock,” Hogan said on CNN. “Most people think that we’re weeks away from the peak, if not months.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), whose state matches the description of less-affected areas that Trump has suggested could see reopenings in relatively short order, also indicated she’s looking at a longer time frame.
“This situation is not going to be over in a week,” said Noem, whose state has just more than two dozen cases. “ … We have another eight weeks until we see our peak infection rate.”
She added: “Any changes we make for how we conduct our daily lives have to be sustained.”
It’s not just the question of peaking coronavirus cases that has governors of both parties looking at weeks and months rather than days. It’s also that the original goal of the “flatten the curve” effort hasn’t been met. That intended to build up massive health-care resources up front in order to deal with the inevitable high level of cases by stringing them out further. We haven’t had time to produce those resources, however. Even those companies that have switched production lines to produce those resources won’t have them ready for a couple of months, at least when it comes to short-supply ventilators:
Businesses large and small have recalibrated as the public health and economic crises have raged, moving outside their lanes to produce new products or partner with other businesses to fill supply chain and product holes. And though corporate partnerships can concentrate expertise to solve some problems, many of these efforts are nascent — commercial metamorphoses that require different production and supply chain mechanisms, and skilled workers.
In the Ford collaboration, for instance, the first ventilators or respirators to roll off the line are still months away. But the automaker has been able to pivot more quickly on the plastic face shields; it expects to deliver the first batch of 1,000 this week to Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace hospitals for testing. Eventually, it expects to produce 100,000 a week.
“This is like bringing in the cavalry to say, ‘Okay, where can we double down to make things go faster and bigger?’” Mike Kesti, global technical director of 3M’s personal safety division, said in a phone interview. …
The companies do not have a timeline for when they’ll be able to scale up production, and any expanded manufacturing processes would still have to clear regulatory hurdles, Kesti said.
In other words, we’ve only just begun to flatten the curve. That’s why the stimulus bill was so critical to that effort. We haven’t yet done two trillion dollars of damage to the economy, but we will if we stick to the original plan. New York City’s extremis in hospitals is a warning sign to those who don’t take that curve seriously enough early on, and governors around the country are heeding it.
So why did Trump offer Easter as a goal in the first place? There are three potential explanations, none of which are mutually exclusive but which serve different political goals. Let’s go in order of decreasing cynicism:
- Trump needs to pass the blame on economic damage — By endorsing a return-to-normal policy without being able to effect it himself, Trump has made the governors directly responsible for any economic consequences of shelter-in-place orders. That only works partially, though, especially with the CDC openly skeptical of that approach. It also risks a disconnect between Trump and the mindset of voters who are still worried about the virus of the kind that initially damaged his polling numbers. However, as the economic pain increases, which it will, Trump’s optimism might resonate more with voters than governors’ cautious approaches to the pandemic spread. Trump has no legal authority to override governors, but the more Trump talks about returning to normal, the more he undermines governors’ political standing to keep those restrictions in place.
- Trump wanted leverage over the relief-bill negotiations — Trump dropped this message right after Democrats began blocking action on the CARES Act, which is designed in large part to deal with the economic consequences of the “flatten the curve” effort. By suggesting that the administration would instead encourage a full-throated return to public interaction without the rescue, perhaps the White House hoped to pressure both sides to act quickly. However, the White House never publicly positioned this message in that way. Perhaps they did in private, but it would have needed to be a public message to create the necessary pressure.
- Trump wants to keep spirits up with public expressions of optimism — This is at least a part of the explanation no matter what other motives are in play. And it is necessary to keep spirits up in this crisis, because despair can literally kill people. Picking a specific date is an overstep, but emphasizing that this period cannot go on forever is an important way to settle nerves in the Great Hunkering Down. Trump’s correct about the potentially fatal consequences of an economic collapse, which is why it’s necessary to ramp up production of health-care resources so most people can get back to normal sooner rather than later. It can only go on for weeks, not several months or a year, not even with this rescue package.
To that end, expect more robust use of the Defense Production Act over the next few days. The only way to get governors to back off these restrictions is to deliver massive amounts of ventilators, masks, gowns, medications, and other health-care resources in a very short period of time. Using executive authority in a crisis never did any damage to a sitting president in the short term, and if it succeeds in getting people out of lockdown more quickly, it won’t hurt in the long term either.