All of which highlights the extent of the challenge to the second foundation: trust in the president and his immediate circle. Donald Trump has never, during his three and a half years as president, sought to reach out to the more than half of the country that didn’t vote for him. He has not taken any of the simple steps he could have to build trust. When recently asked by a journalist what he would say to fearful Americans—a softball question any other leader would have hit out of the park—he instead went on a tirade against the question and the journalist.
Because of Trump’s hesitancy to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, many conservatives have come to deny that we are in a crisis at all, and insist that the panic surrounding the virus is the result of a Democratic plot to take down the Trump presidency. Trump himself, after briefly pivoting to portray himself as a “wartime” president, declared that he wanted to reopen the country by Easter. He has admitted that this date was chosen not on any epidemiological grounds, but because it would be a “beautiful” date for churches to be full. Perhaps he is thinking of the national spectacle of thanksgiving he could stage around his reopened rallies, and how that would affect his reelection chances.
The intense distrust that Trump and his administration have aroused, and the distrust of government that they have instilled in their supporters, will have terrible consequences for policy. The Democrats were insistent on including transparency requirements for use of the corporate-bailout fund included in the $2 trillion relief bill passed on Friday. The Trump administration, in signing it, asserted that it will not be bound by this provision, just as it refused congressional oversight during the impeachment proceedings. This guarantees that any future exercise of emergency powers to help distressed businesses or hard-hit regions will be second-guessed, and subject to accusations of cronyism on the part of an administration that up to now has been quite happy to reward cronies.