Coronavirus: The divide between Trump's, Democrats' definition of crisis

Trump’s “don’t worry, be happy” approach from the outset has backfired. Only the blindly loyal believed when he said he had everything under control. Even some loyalists are having doubts.

U.S. President Trump holds news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at the White House in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. President Trump holds news conference on the coronavirus outbreak at the White House in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a matter of a few hours on Sunday, the Ides of March, the stark differences between Donald Trump’s concept of the pandemic crisis and that of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination came into sharp focus. It was the difference between commerce and compassion, politics and people.
President Trump appeared in the White House briefing room to praise the Federal Reserve for lowering interest rates to zero before rattling off the names of business leaders he’d been talking to about helping them deal with the crisis. He then beat a hasty retreat, leaving his vice president to sing his praises and assorted experts to discuss the public health problem.
Former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, opened Sunday’s debate by expressing compassion for the victims and others affected by COVID-19, which he saw as a human tragedy – a stark contrast to Trump’s view as public relations and a crisis for America’s corporate moguls.
“This is like a war, and in a war, you do whatever is needed to be done to take care of your people,” Biden said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said the first order of business must be to “shut this president up right now because he is undermining the doctors and scientists who are trying to help the American people.”
When Trump said the virus is “something that we have total control over,” the government’s top expert on infectious disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, disagreed despite knowing the president’s intolerance for anything less than Mike Pence-style sycophancy. 
“The worst is yet ahead of us,” Fauci warned.
Sanders was more blunt. "It is unacceptable for [Trump] to be blabbering with un-factual information, which is confusing the general public."
In their debate, Sanders was the inflexible idealist and Biden the pragmatic realist. One had long-term big goals but no clear ideas on how to implement or pay for them; the other focused on what to do now, or as Biden put it, “first things first,” deal with the Covid19 crisis.          
The roaring economy was to be Trump’s reelection theme. However, in the wake of the steepest drops in Wall Street history - some of it Trump’s own making, as when his disastrous Oval Office address sent world markets plunging - his solutions were confined to tax breaks and subsidies for the airlines and other big businesses. He spoke of cutting payroll taxes, but Republicans and Democrats objected, many pointing out that would be meaningless for people without paychecks because they were out of work.
Trump’s “don’t worry, be happy” approach from the outset has backfired. Only the blindly loyal believed when he said he had everything under control. Even some loyalists are having doubts.
Rep. Lynn Cheney, number three in the House GOP leadership, said, “He has no credibility” and “you cannot trust the words that come out of the president’s mouth.”
On the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “public-health emergency of international concern,” Trump announced, as he has on several occasions, “We have it very well under control.” 
NPR RELEASED a poll this week showing a majority of Americans have little or no trust in what they’re hearing from the president about the virus, and that confidence in his administration’s response was “declining sharply.”
Asked about any bad decision he may have made, he snapped, “I take no responsibility,” giving Democrats words to throw back at him throughout the fall campaign. As someone who only takes credit, not responsibility, Trump has been pointing accusatory fingers at Barack Obama, the Clintons, the Bushes, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, all Democrats, even his favorite son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to some reports, and, of course, his favorite enemy, the media. 
As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt observed, Trump cares more about his image than people’s well-being.
COVID-19 was the main focus of the Democratic debate. One topic that did not arise was Israel, on which the two candidates are sharply divided. The Irish Catholic former vice president has a long history of support for Israel and close ties to the Jewish community, unlike the Brooklyn-born Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to be a serious contender for a major party nomination.
Sanders has been a harsh critic of Israeli policy and particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and many close to him include some of the most anti-Israel voices in the Congress and on the Left.
Sanders’s religion does not appear to have been a factor in the primaries. Polls indicate Biden has greater support among Jewish voters than the Democrat-Socialist.
Jews have voted 75%-80% Democratic in recent elections, and that is likely to hold. Trump’s major appeal to Jewish voters has been his policy toward Israel, which resonates with the Orthodox and political conservatives, but not the mainstream.
That is because Israel is not a determinative issue for most Jewish voters. Trump’s agenda is not the Jewish agenda on issues like healthcare, gun violence, Social Security and Medicare, climate change, immigration, education, the Supreme Court, taxes and protecting the social safety net.
Trump reluctantly and belatedly appeared to take notice of the pandemic’s human tragedy this week, not just the political and financial impact. Whether he can keep that focus remains to be seen.          
Congress has approved $8 billion for dealing with the crisis and is finishing work on even larger appropriations. It is essential that lawmakers write into that legislation provisions prohibiting Trump from trying to reprogram some of the funds for his anti-immigrant border wall in the name of keeping out the virus or for helping out his corporate best friends and contributors.
Trump himself reluctantly agreed to be tested for the coronavirus and announced the results were negative, but in light of his poor record for truth-telling, particularly about his health, that can’t be trusted until tests are independently administered and separately verified.
The debate showed sharp disagreements about dealing with health insurance and other issues between Biden and Sanders during their debate, but there was no nasty name calling, temper tantrums, lies, insults, immature behavior or demagogic posturing. That will come when Trump takes the debate stage this fall.