But Trump’s leadership aims during this crisis have been aimed at reelection, rather than a real project of governance or ideology. At the very moment public anger with China was about to run hot, he was sending air-kisses to Chairman Xi about the cessation of trade war, a move Trump calculated would send markets sky-high during his 2020 campaign. Trump’s poor performance in the crisis has him as one of the only world leaders who hasn’t seen a significant improvement in his approval rating.
Besides Trump, a number of intellectuals and political writers aligned to him have let their populist side run wild, questioning the authority of scientific advisers on lockdowns, and portraying masks as a symbol of submission to an expert-class they distrust.
The whole Trump presidency is full of wasted chances. Trump said he wanted to be a nationalist and make the Republican Party a worker’s party. But the only effective changes he made were to drop the corporate tax rate and to appoint judges to the federal courts. He was only organized enough to do what the entire apparatus of elected Republicans was already prepared to do. Even where he had authority, he wasted it. He would announce a withdrawal from Syria, and the White House staff would countermand him or walk it back weeks later.