Trump's COVID-relief gambit is a missed opportunity for populism

But a case could have been made for additional stimulus, one that wasn’t dishonest. Millions of Americans are likely falling through the cracks of the major relief efforts in the CARES Act and its follow-up. If you lost your job in California in the spring, couldn’t afford to wait for the state to process your unemployment benefits, then moved to a low-cost state, you may not even be eligible for unemployment benefits at all. One of the giant sluices of relief will simply miss you.

Here an effective populist-nationalist president could use the bully pulpit to cajole and inspire good deeds with stimulus money. A wide stimulus would be inefficient, in that many people who are not in distress would simply pocket the money, if they even noticed it. But a dose of direct and widely distributed stimulus would allow individual Americans to decide to direct relief themselves, often to their own family members or neighbors who slipped through the cracks before.

You could see other arguments advanced under such a framework. One might be that the economic uncertainty due to odd and unpredictable shutdowns, upset supply chains, and the uncertain progress of the pandemic itself have delayed investments, led to pay and hiring freezes, and otherwise chilled the economy. Another could be that stimulus is needed both to prevent the economy from going into deep freeze over January and to allow complete relaxation of lockdown measures.