I ventured some time ago that President Trump’s most critical foreign policy flaw is that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing: that his focus on trade, his harping on perceived underpayments by NATO allies, etc., etc., betrays his own preoccupation with money and finance that has frequently hampered his understanding of and ability to effectively deal with global leaders, who generally think in terms of power. I would pose that the President’s chief substantive and political defect during the COVID crisis has proven to be the same: his visceral fixation with the virus’ effects on the state of the U.S. economy, which – arguably because his perception of Americans’ priorities is colored by his own – he sees as the proxy for his electoral prospects. He doesn’t understand that the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes place the highest value on the health and wellbeing of their families, friends, neighbors and themselves; that they view money not as an end but as a means to secure their higher priorities. Since the Coronavirus provides a particularly acute instance in which wellbeing and money can by some measures be considered at odds, it has caused Mr. Trump to be uncharacteristically tone deaf even with his base. Most tragically, his initial and continuing denials of the realities of the virus – reportedly due to his fear of the effect on the economy – has arguably resulted in greater illness and loss of life (and, ironically, damage to the economy) than would have occurred had he acted promptly, decisively, and consistently. At the time this is typed, the New York Times is reporting upon an internal CDC document projecting that virus-related deaths will increase from their current level of 1,750 a day to 3,000 a day by June 1. Even from a purely the political perspective, Mr. Trump’s uncertainty, inconsistency, pettiness and unreasoned behavior (the comment about disinfectant injection being the most disconcerting) has made plain to a wider swath of Americans – perhaps an electorally determinative swath — that he is at least a bit unstable, that his values are different from theirs, and – most crucially — that he cares more about himself than he does about them. I’ve seen various scholars grasping for American historical parallels to the bootless manner in which Mr. Trump has approached the COVID crisis. To me the most apt is obvious: Herbert Hoover, who proved unable to effectively deal with an economic depression engulfing his people — the closest an American President has heretofore come to the apocryphal account of Emperor Nero, said to have fiddled while Rome burned.
The Foxconn saga in southeast Wisconsin provides its own Coronavirus-related kaleidoscope. It is undisputed that the project is now a drastically-scaled back version of that proposed with such fanfare by Mr. Trump, then-WI Gov. (Republican) Scott Walker and then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican) Paul Ryan in June, 2018. It seems not unreasonable to assume, given a March Wall Street Journal report that Foxconn’s net profit had fallen 24% in Q4 2019 even before Coronavirus effects and an April Reuters report that its 2020 Q1 revenue was 12% below its comparable 2019 totals, that the company wishes to tap funding sources and perhaps reassess its investments. In light of the Wisconsin’s project’s underperformance, I had wondered whether Foxconn might attempt to take the political sting out of its shortcomings by blaming the virus. The company is apparently taking a different tack: below is a link to an April 9, 2020, CNBC piece indicating that Foxconn has filed paperwork with the state asserting that it has met its contractual hiring targets, perhaps entitling it to incentives approximating $50 million. The piece further indicates that the Administration of WI Gov. Tony Evers is studying Foxconn’s filing, but even if Foxconn is accurate and is entitled to the contractual benefits, the 550 jobs Foxconn claims to have created are reported to be a quarter of those it originally promised by this juncture. This seemingly creates a political optics problem for Republicans: a financially-strapped company seeking millions in incentives for a dramatically-reduced project from a state currently receiving ten times its 2019 unemployment claims while reasonably anticipating declining tax revenues. Foxconn is presumably aware of this; the final (at least as of now) pattern to its kaleidoscope: Medtronic and Foxconn are allegedly partnering to make ventilators at the Wisconsin facility. If brought to fruition, this welcome news and will put a positive face on the project; whether this is any more than talk remains, like other representations related to this Wisconsin facility, to be seen.
Costco has recently announced that it will not let customers into its stores unless they are wearing masks. This has provoked an emotional negative response from what is obviously a tiny segment of Costco customers, who have been reported as tweeting comments such as, “Im [sic] a free citizen of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA I will not comply with your mask rule! My body, my choice!” While the overall level of American mental acuity may be enhanced if, as we confront a highly contagious and dangerous disease, Charles Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection manifests itself within this segment of our populace as well as within the segment carrying assault weapons while demonstrating in and about state legislatures, one cannot help but fear for all lives endangered by such capricious behavior.
We consider the CDC projection a warning: Don’t get bored, or complacent. Keep your guard up.