Brazilian president’s press secretary, who met Trump on Saturday, tests positive for coronavirus; Update: Video added

That’s him on the right, four days ago. Shoulder to shoulder with the president of the United States.

Two days ago Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, grumbled that coronavirus “is not all the mainstream media makes it out to be,” which sounds familiar. Today his press secretary is infected and Bolsonaro himself is being tested. Between this and Rudy Gobert testing positive, it feels like some evil joke that the disease is suddenly befalling denialists who are in the public eye.

This is, I believe, the first known *direct* contact Trump has had with a coronavirus patient but he had indirect contact with the infected person at CPAC via no fewer than three people. Some are wondering if his brush with infection has sobered him up about the threat from the disease, per his more urgent tone in last night’s speech. Others are wondering whether Trump himself might have the disease and passed it on to Bolsonaro’s press secretary, as he didn’t look or sound very well last night. Seems unlikely; he was out in front of the cameras this morning. I doubt we’d ever be told if he were ill unless his case became so dire that the public had to be informed. Hopefully he’s well and starts taking waaaaay more serious precautions against face-to-face contact with people unnecessarily.

As far as his speech last night, have a look at the Dow today to see if it reassured investors or not. How mistakes this large end up in a scripted speech that the entire country is watching during a national emergency is utterly beyond me.

Those were sins of commission, feeding the general sense that Trump’s administration has no idea what it’s doing. Most of that sense can be blamed on the CDC’s catastrophic testing f***-up but Trump has contributed amply to it too with many weeks of moronic, unrealistically optimistic statements about how soon the outbreak would be over and how little damage it would cause. Read ’em and weep. Luke Thompson is a righty and very much not a Never Trumper, and he found the screw-ups in last night’s speech unforgivable:

Much of the cratering by markets recently has been driven by a recession that now seems all but inevitable as businesses shutter indefinitely. But some of it is driven by an unusual form of uncertainty in the basic competence of the federal government to prevent an out-and-out calamity. Trump doesn’t seem to fully grasp the threat even now. Pence and people like Anthony Fauci grasp it, but they’re at the mercy of the diabolical slow-footedness in testing to do much of anything except warn people to keep their distance from each other. That’s what I expected last night’s Trump address to be, a sustained argument for why widespread “social distancing” is absolutely urgent — immediately, as in yesterday — and has to be practiced by everyone as a community to slow down this fire. Some Trump fans were expecting it too. Read this open letter to the president from a supporter who hoped Trump would “order” (or at least emphatically urge) the immediate closing of schools, airports, non-essential businesses, and so on.

What we got instead was a gigantic sin of omission, with little attention paid to “social distancing” and much more paid to banning travel from Europe. That’ll help reduce new infections here at the margins but it reeks of Trump succumbing to the adage that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” His solution to problems is to close borders, but this is no longer fundamentally a border problem for America. The COVID-19 army has already invaded. It has a beachhead on both coasts and is about to occupy Seattle, L.A., and New York before advancing inland. The only way to protect people now is to hammer the message at them to


the hell

away from each other.

There wasn’t much of that last night. Tom Bossert was a top Trump Homeland Security advisor specializing in pandemic preparedness before super-genius John Bolton decided to liquidate his entire office after becoming NSA. Bossert has been beating the drum lately for urgent “social distancing” before we’re enveloped in an Italy-style crisis, a scenario that might be a week away. He watched last night’s speech and came away wondering where that message from Trump was.

There was conspicuously little in the speech as well about when exactly widespread testing might be available and what sort of emergency measures are being taken in hot spots, like preparing hospitals for surge capacity and, er, making sure public labs have the basic supplies they need to function. Reportedly Trump is weighing a disaster declaration that would free up money for FEMA and state and local governments to address the problem more aggressively, but so far he’s held off. Why? According to Politico, it’s because he’d have to eat his words by admitting that this is in fact a disaster and not a little flu that’s destined to burn itself out, as he was claiming until recently.

Trump’s concern at this point is that going further could hamper his narrative that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu and could further agitate Wall Street, said the three people familiar with the discussions.

“The president isn’t persuaded because [an emergency declaration] contradicts his message that this is the flu,” said a Republican who speaks to Trump.

Even now, within the last few hours, he’s touting the low death toll in the U.S. thus far when every health expert in the country is warning him that we’re on Italy’s trajectory with very little time to change it:

I don’t get it. It doesn’t benefit him to talk this way. It actively hurts him, in fact, by further shaking public confidence that he’s on top of the situation and fully appreciates the risk. Maybe it’s just a psychological tic, ingrained over 73 years, that he can’t resist promoting his own alleged accomplishments even in a situation when his audience is destined to soon see right through them. E.g.:

Maybe it’s “authoritarian blindness,” in which, paradoxically, a strongman leader ends up less informed about his society than a leader who’s less authoritarian would be:

A fascinating article by Zeynep Tufekci described how this phenomenon was a factor in the Chinese government’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Because an authoritarian system is designed to suppress information, rather than absorb it, the doctors on the front lines who initially warned about the disease were ignored and sometimes punished: “If people are too afraid to talk, and if punishing people for ‘rumors’ becomes the norm, a doctor punished for spreading news of a disease in one province becomes just another day, rather than an indication of impending crisis.”…

Note particularly the closed information loop created by the president’s symbiosis with friendly news sources such as Fox News Channel, from which Trump regularly draws information on crucial issues. The president won’t believe COVID-19 is a crisis until he sees it described that way on Fox & Friends or by Sean Hannity—and they won’t describe it that way if they think it will contradict the line coming from the White House.

Needless to say, Trump isn’t the only or even the primary federal actor whose incompetence has aggravated the crisis. That distinction belongs to others. But it’d be better for everyone if Pence and Fauci and maybe a figure like former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who’s been excellent in his public advice about this, became the face of the government response. The markets would be calmer, if nothing else. Here’s Pence this morning criticizing “irresponsible” denialist rhetoric about COVID-19 by certain unnamed people.

Update: Here’s the video from Saturday. Bolsonaro’s press secretary lingers right behind Trump the whole time. Trump and Pence are refusing to get tested as of now.

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