At one of Donald Trump’s press conferences this week, he appeared with a banner behind him proclaiming in all caps that “AMERICA LEADS THE WORLD IN TESTING.” It was an obvious lie—the U.S. lags far behind other countries that have managed to get their coronavirus outbreaks under control, like Denmark, Germany, and New Zealand.
But despite swaths of the country shutting down for two months, the U.S. is still basically where it was when the pandemic started in terms of testing, and experts say that there’s no realistic way to return to normal without doubling or tripling the number of tests administered every day. That’s nowhere near as optimistic as White House adviser Jared Kushner was when he told Fox News that the administration’s response was “a great success story” and the country will “be back to normal” and “really rocking again” by July.
Kushner, it turns out, is reportedly one of the people directly responsible for the country’s extreme delays in rolling out tests when the outbreak started. That’s according to the Financial Times, which recently published a deep-dive into the Trump administration’s chaotic and denial-plagued coronavirus response. One of Donald Trump’s confidants, who’s regularly in touch with the president, put the blame squarely on Kushner, saying, “Jared had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it. That advice worked far more powerfully on [Trump] than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate.”
If the U.S. appeared concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, the logic went, then that might hurt the stock market. Back in March, the White House felt like it had 2020 in the bag, and that Trump’s reelection was all but inevitable. Stephen Moore, a Trump campaign adviser and member of the far-right Heritage Foundation, told the Times, “The economy was just steaming along, the stock market was firing on all cylinders and that jobs report was fantastic. It was almost too perfect. Nobody expected this virus. It hit us like a meteor or a terrorist attack.”
Of course Kushner’s advice did nothing to prevent a market crash, and it’s likely that the administration’s refusal to act in time only threw the economy into more chaos. And while the stock market largely affects the investment portfolios of the rich (the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own more than 80 percent of stocks), the fallout has the rest of the country reeling, with a historic 36 million people filing unemployment claims.
Trump tends to respond very poorly to news that contradicts what he wants to hear, and Kushner seems to have a knack for convincing the president that only best-case scenarios are likely. One White House official told the Financial Times that advising Trump is like “bringing fruits to the volcano” to convince it not to erupt: “You’re trying to appease a great force that’s impervious to reason.” Which is why, with already 84,000 Americans dead and with no coordinated testing and tracing strategy on the horizon, we should brace ourselves for what’s being anticipated as the “darkest winter in modern history.”