Donald Trump rushed to reopen America – now Covid is closing in on him

Donald Trump said Thursday’s jobs report, which showed an uptick in June, proves the US economy is “roaring back”.

Rubbish. The labor department gathered the data during the week of 12 June, when America was reporting 25,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day. By the time the report was issued, that figure was 55,000.

Love of science, not Trump’s ignorance, will make America great again

The US economy isn’t roaring back. Just over half of Americans have jobs now, the lowest figure in more than 70 years. What’s roaring back is Covid-19. Until it’s tamed, the American economy doesn’t stand a chance.

The surge in cases isn’t because America is doing more tests for the virus, as Trump contends. Cases are rising even where testing is declining. In Wisconsin, cases soared 28% over the past two weeks, as the number of tests decreased by 14%. Hospitals in Texas, Florida and Arizona are filling up with Covid-19 patients. Deaths are expected to resume their gruesome ascent.

The surge is occurring because America reopened before Covid-19 was contained.

Trump was so intent on having a good economy by election day that he resisted doing what was necessary to contain the virus. He left everything to governors and local officials, then warned that the “cure” of closing the economy was “worse than the disease”. Trump even called on citizens to “liberate” their states from public health restrictions.

Yet he still has no national plan for testing, contact tracing and isolating people with infections. Trump won’t even ask Americans to wear masks. Last week, Democrats accused him of sitting on nearly $14bn in funds for testing and contact tracing that Congress appropriated in April.

It would be one thing if every other rich nation in the world botched it as badly as has America. But even Italy – not always known for the effectiveness of its leaders or the pliability of its citizens – has contained the virus and is reopening without a resurgence.

There was never a conflict between containing Covid-19 and getting the US economy back on track. The first was always a prerequisite to the second. By doing nothing to contain the virus, Trump has not only caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths but put the US economy into a stall.

The uptick in jobs in June was due almost entirely to the hasty reopening, which is now being reversed.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, initially refused to order masks and even barred local officials from doing so. This week he closed all gyms, bars and movie theaters in the state. The governors of Florida, Texas and California have also reimposed restrictions. Officials in Florida’s Miami-Dade county recently approved the reopening of movie theaters, arcades, casinos, concert halls, bowling halls and adult entertainment venues. They have now re-closed them.

And so on across America. A vast re-closing is under way, as haphazard as was the reopening. In the biggest public health emergency in US history, in which nearly 130,000 have already lost their lives, still no one is in charge.

Brace yourself. Not only will the virus take many more lives in the months ahead, but millions of Americans are in danger of becoming destitute. Extra unemployment benefits enacted by Congress in March are set to end on 31 July. About one in five people in renter households are at risk of eviction by 30 September. Delinquency rates on mortgages have more than doubled since March.

An estimated 25 million Americans have lost or will lose employer-provided health insurance. America’s fragile childcare system is in danger of collapse, with the result that hundreds of thousands of working parents will not be able to return to work even if jobs are available.

What is Trump and the GOP’s response to this looming catastrophe? Nothing. Senate Republicans are trying to ram through a $740bn defense bill while ignoring legislation to provide housing and food relief.

‘Consigning his voters to sickness’: Trump fuels culture war over masks

They are refusing to extend extra unemployment benefits beyond July, saying the benefits are keeping Americans from returning to work. In reality, it’s the lack of jobs.

Trump has done one thing. He’s asked the supreme court to strike down the Affordable Care Act. If the court agrees, it will end health insurance for 23 million more Americans and give the richest 0.1% a tax cut of about $198,000 a year.

This is sheer lunacy. The priority must be to get control over this pandemic and help Americans survive it, physically and financially. Anything less is morally indefensible.

  • Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US

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