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Trumpism Corrupts: Wall Street Journal Edition

When people show you who they are, you should believe them.
July 16, 2020
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(Hannah Yoest / photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

The Wall Street Journal ran a strikingly oblique editorial on Thursday morning. I’m going to quote from it extensively and bold the phrases that are most interesting:

President Trump’s coronavirus management ratings have been plummeting (67% disapproved in an ABC/Ipsos poll last week) and if a better public-relations plan is in the works, it’s not apparent. . . .

The problem is that the White House seems to have given up on projecting any consistent virus message, and the descent into internal sniping amplifies a perception of dysfunction that is politically damaging.

The media are propagating the view that the U.S. is a coronavirus basket case. In fact, the per-capita death rate remains lower than that of some major countries in Western Europe. . . .

Mr. Trump’s messaging has caromed from saying the virus isn’t a problem, to the economy must shut down to crush it, to the economy must open and everything will soon go back to normal, to barely talking about it at all as cases rise. . . .

This is a mess, and if it continues Republicans will be routed in November. . . .

Today President Trump’s opponents can depict the White House as resigned, lacking direction, and more eager to disparage medical authorities than rally them to implement the Administration’s strategy. Time is running out to change that perception.

What a remarkable piece of writing.

Here is the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s listing of the Trump administration’s problems in regard to the novel coronavirus:

  • They do not have “a better public relations plan.”
  • They have “given up” on projecting a “consistent . . . message”—which by inference means that at one point the administration did project a consistent message.
  • “The media” are propagating a view of poor outcomes in America.
  • Trump’s “messaging” has caromed from one place to another.
  • Trump’s opponents “can depict” the White House as failing.
  • Time is running out to change that “perception.”
  • If this “perception” is not changed, the result will be a “rout” for Republicans.

What reality do the Wall Street Journal editors live in?

Because nothing in this piece—not one single line—addresses the reality of the world as it exists.

Instead, they are fixated on secondary, tertiary, and quaternary concerns: Public relations. Messaging. The media. Depictions. Perceptions.

The real world is the one that matters.

Not to put this indelicately, but as of this writing 137,234 Americans have died of the coronavirus. More will die today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

These deaths are not just human tragedies. They have economic impacts. They have social impacts. They influence the behaviors of citizens, irrespective of any government directions or mandates.

Does the Wall Street Journal think that the country’s current situation is optimal?

Does the Wall Street Journal think that the administration’s policies concerning the pandemic have been wise and efficacious?

Does the Wall Street Journal believe that the migration of the virus to the South and West was preventable through different policy means?

Does the Wall Street Journal have a sense of what the near-term progress of the virus will look like for Americans and how many deaths they can expect?

Does the Wall Street Journal have a sense of how many dead bodies Americans should have expected at the outset of this crisis under reasonably competent federal management?

And the answer is: Of course not.

Because addressing any of these questions would mean evaluating the Trump administration’s actual performance in the real world.

The only substantive “defense” the Journal editorial musters of the administration’s response is that a few countries in Western Europe have worse deaths-per-capita numbers.

Set aside the fact that America shouldn’t be striving to have the ninth-worst death rate in the world—this metric does not even paint an accurate picture of reality. Because our death rate is continuing to get worse while the Western Europeans have actually bent their curves.

Perhaps this is precisely because they are responsible countries taking virus containment seriously, and not quasi-failed states led by a reality-TV-show host who is only worried about perceptions and public relations and messaging and “the media.”

But what is truly disgraceful about this editorial is that it does evince a single, solitary real-world concern.

Not the mounting pile of corpses.

Not the economic devastation on working families.

No, here is the Wall Street Journal’s real-world concern: “if it continues Republicans will be routed in November.”

The problem, you see, is not the 137,234 dead Americans.

It’s that Republicans might lose an election.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.