A Grim Milestone and Bad News Cycle

The banner headline on all the papers Wednesday the death toll from the coronavirus passing the 100,000 mark. The 100,000th death was no more tragic than the 99,999th or the first, but headline writers can’t resist a round number.
Across the country the death rate has slowed over the past few weeks, but it’s increasing in several states, and as Americans emerge from their homes and get back to business the numbers are likely to worsen. President Donald Trump acknowledged the grim milestone by “tweeting” that “The Lamestream media” and “Do-Nothing Democrats” and boasting the death toll would have been far higher if not for the actions he took, while White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere helpfully added that “President Trump’s prayers for comfort and strength are with all of those grieving the loss of a loved one or friend as a result of this unprecedented plague.”
The death toll surely would have been higher if not for the travel restrictions and business shutdowns and “social distancing” that have occurred, most of which was done by state and local governments and individual citizens, but it arguably could have been lower if all that started earlier, and Trump is now urging an arguably premature end to it, and we harbor doubts that that Trump ever prays for others. This is a bad news cycle for Trump, and he seems to know it.
At the moment there’s nothing else in he headline to help Trump. The stock markets have recovered somewhat despite Great Depression unemployment rates and gross domestic product contractions, but that’s mostly due to an eye-popping $3 trillion deficit that once upon a time would have appalled Republican sensibilities, and is of little comfort to the tens of millions of unemployed. The death toll is declining nationwide, but increasing in states Trump needs to win. News about Trump’s continuing purge of inspectors general and “whistleblowers” and court fights about congressional oversight and feuds with any journalists who might his criticism also penetrate the news in the age of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t help.
The other big non-coronavirus story is about the black man who died shortly after being arrest by the Milwaukee Police, which is big news because a white officer was seen on videotape and cell phone photographs pressing his knee on the seemingly pacified suspect’s neck, which has resulted in predictable unrest, This followed after some attention-grabbing news about a black man in Georgia who shot on videotape by a white man while jogging, and has revived the centuries-old debate about race and America. Trump has quite quietly done the right thing by authorizing his Justice Department to look into these matters, which his most unabashedly racist supporters won’t notice or mind, but given Trump’s record of exhorting police to treat suspects roughly and calling black athletes “sons of bitches” for putting a knee down during the national anthem to protest racial injustice he won’t get many new voters.
For now Trump doesn’t have any compelling success stories, just reasons why everything would have been so much worse if not for him, and evidence-free accusations against the evil people arrayed against him. There’s a long hot summer and an early between now and Election Day, and there’s a chance that by then the coronavirus might miraculously disappear and the economy will be revved up and America’s race problem will be solved, but we’re not counting on it.

— Bud Norman

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