Donald Trump and COVID-19
Michael S. Swisher
Michael S. Swisher is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Religion & Society, the Foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review.
Unlike the fictional “Russia collusion” narrative, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a political fantasy. Nonetheless, it is being used by the President’s enemies among the Democrats and in the media as a stick with which to beat him. Such anti-Trump screeds are not beneficial to the welfare of the United States. Why censure only the Trump administration, and leave others who much more flagrantly dismissed concerns about the disease, such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden? When President Trump cut off travel from China at the end of January, these people denounced him as racist and xenophobic — now they claim he did not do enough, and that somehow the travel ban was not real, because it exempted American citizens and legal resident aliens returning from China. Anything the President does is criticized, whatever it is. No one else receives this treatment.
Why, for example, is Governor Cuomo of New York given a pass, and even praised? His state, and especially New York City, are the worst examples of mismanagement of the pandemic in the country. Small retail shops, restaurants, bars, etc., were closed, causing their operators and employees extreme economic distress, yet “essential” workers piled onto the subways to go to work and to return home every day. Nonetheless, it was only late in the game that the mayor ordered the trains to be cleaned. There is a major scandal in New York involving the admission of actively sick people to nursing homes, where large numbers of vulnerable people live.
The Federal government cannot be blamed for these failures. Cuomo complained that his state needed ventilators, vastly in excess of the number available at the time. When he got them, it turned out they weren’t needed, and he sent them to other states. The hospital ship Comfort sent with admirable dispatch to the harbor of New York was pitifully under-utilized and eventually left. The field hospital set up in Central Park by the Samaritan’s Purse organization was likewise not well used, and the charity was reviled in the press because of its Christianity.
Governors in states that have not adopted rigid lockdowns, like Kristi Noem of South Dakota, are targeted along with Trump for condemnation. Yet the incidence of disease in her state is very low compared to New York. It seems to me that one of the telling points about this pandemic is that it has been a splendid example of why we have federalism. Each state is different. People in the New York-Washington corridor think the rest of the country ought to be run to suit their preferences, yet there is no reason to treat a sparsely-populated state in the same way as is a congested megalopolis.
In Michigan, Governor Whitmer has imposed a particularly severe regulatory regime. Protestors in that state are upset because some of them have been deprived of their livelihoods — suffering just as gravely as they might from the disease — and others have been subjected to edicts from the governor that are in many cases completely arbitrary and cannot be justified on public-health grounds.
For example, one cannot buy paint, or gardening supplies, even in a big-box store that is open for the sale of food and clothing. Canoeing or kayaking is allowed, but not the use of a motorized boat. Religious services are forbidden, even if all they amount to is people congregating in a parking lot in their closed automobiles and listening to a service over their car radios. One cannot travel to or from a summer cabin or second home.
At the same time, liquor stores, lottery ticket sales, and legal marijuana dispensaries are open for business (yielding lucrative tax revenues for the state). It is hard not to see in some of these requirements a fulfillment of left-wing antipathies, e.g., towards the practice of religion, the internal combustion engine, and the innocent amusements of middle class suburbanites (especially those fortunate enough to own a second home). The most telling clue to Whitmer’s motivations is that while elective surgeries were forbidden, abortionists remained free to practice — giving the lie most emphatically to the claim that the shutdown was about “saving lives.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp re-opened his state early, and despite prophecies of doom, it has flourished. He perhaps obtained a little cover because President Trump expressed a concern that he was going too fast. Yet new infection and mortality are both down. Likewise, Florida’s Governor DeSantis has proceeded with re-opening his state, despite scare headlines. It also has done well.
Trump may not be the kind of conservative that some people prefer — but what can we expect from a Joe Biden presidency, with perhaps a Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, or Hillary Clinton as VP, very likely to take over when the 77-year-old Biden succumbs to advancing senility or dies in office? Would Never Trumpers honestly prefer to be in the relatively powerless opposition to such an incumbent, rather than to see Trump re-elected?
Donald Trump is a different kind of conservative than we’ve been used to, but he still falls within a recognizably conservative pattern. He’s not a Reagan conservative — he’s a Coolidge conservative. It was under the Harding/Coolidge administrations that the U.S. economy was revived from a brief but severe post-WWI depression by Andrew Mellon’s tax cuts (reducing income taxes to a maximum 25 percent rate). American industry enjoyed modest tariff protection under the Fordney-McCumber tariffs, and the Immigration Act of 1924 slowed the huge post-war influx of immigrants, giving the country a chance to absorb and assimilate those already here. These three measures made the ’20s roar.
Apart from simple distaste for Trump’s personality, the Never Trump faction we see on display at (say) National Review seem to dislike most his protectionism and his enthusiasm for immigration control.
Protectionism may not be “conservative” as defined by the post-WWII Buckleyites, but it was a part of Republicanism since the party’s founding, taken over from the Whigs and Henry Clay’s “American system.” Every Republican president from Lincoln through Eisenhower was protectionist to some degree. The historic free-traders were Southern Democrats like Calhoun.
The enthusiasm for open borders on the right comes from the Kochs, who are really libertarians rather than conservatives. A libertarian society would not attract people who wanted to take advantage of social-welfare state benefits, but we are not realistically going to see the social-welfare state disappear. It is completely appropriate for conservatives to consider the expense to the taxpayer of vast numbers of indigent and low-skilled immigrants.
That so many of them do take advantage of the welfare state is shown by the outcry (from all the predictable quarters) over the expansion of the rule providing that immigrants should not become “public charges” to include non-cash welfare benefits such as Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and subsidized housing. In addition, those of us on the right quite appropriately should be concerned what changing demographics will do to our chances of maintaining limited government, low taxes, and other longstanding conservative principles. The left wants more third-world immigrants mainly because it sees them as future voters for its policies. We need to take the threat of that seriously. *