Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Donald Trump said something Friday that should have ended his re-election prospects the moment it left his mouth:

“I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is going to go away without a vaccine, it’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully.”

Of course, viruses don’t just “go away” regardless of the amount of propaganda or wishful thinking you throw at them. His theory, however, is telling. Trump’s strategy from the beginning of this crisis has been to minimize the threat and wish it away. His refusal to initiate a comprehensive federal testing-and-contact-tracing program has as much to do with his refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic as it does with the Republican laissez-faire approach to public policy.

Still, why would Trump say this? The usual conservative response to a public crisis is that it doesn’t really exist and the free market will magically fix it, anyway. It’s not that the problem will disappear on its own, which is a small child’s response to challenges.

The simple answer is that, ever since he was a young man, Trump has never had to confront any problem that somebody else didn’t just make disappear. Trump has always used an army of attorneys, accountants and corrupted officials to make his problems go away—whether it was with women, creditors, contractors, or  law enforcement. Usually, he would have a main consligiere to take on the heaviest burdens, from the detestable Roy Cohn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone to Rudy Giuliani and, most recently, his own personal Attorney General William Barr. Now that he is president, Trump views the entire federal government as his personal fiefdom to clean up his messes and cover for his open corruption.

But a virus is immune to the protections to which Trump has become accustomed. It does what it does, and Trump finds himself helpless and flummoxed.

There has never been a crisis so big in Trump’s life that he hasn’t been able to use people much more talented and intelligent than himself to make it go away quietly and efficiently. So in Trump’s experience, that’s what problems do: They go away. He has “good genes”; he surrounds himself with “the best people”—willing to cross any moral line for him and bad things just … disappear. All he has to do in the meantime is manage the press with a con man’s combination of razzle dazzle and intimidation. Actual work and accountability are for suckers and lesser people.

Casinos going bankrupt? Take the money and have the accountants stiff the investors. Affairs with porn stars while your wife was pregnant? Have your fixer pay them off. Real estate taxes a problem? Have some employees bribe the assessors.  FBI Director threatening to expose your collusion with a hostile foreign power? Fire him by way of a patsy. Tough re-election campaign? Have your lawyer threaten a foreign country if they don’t make up a scandal about your opponent. And so on.

Remarkably, the first three years of Trump’s presidency were relatively smooth sailing outside of self-inflicted crimes and mishaps. His actual approach to life was never fully tested in the Oval Office. Now, with the first real challenge of his presidency, he is utterly adrift.

There is no amount of misdirection or intimidation he can use to make the press stories about all the deaths and economic destruction go away. There is no accountant, lawyer, or public official who can use clever paperwork to make the virus disappear. Solving this problem would require the sort of dedicated attention, tough choices, and hard work that Donald Trump has been able to spend his entire life successfully avoiding while thinking himself clever for doing so.

Trump merely asserts that coronavirus will just fix itself. If you think about it, that actually makes some sense, because every other problem in his Trump’s life has.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.