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Editor's note: Mike Cormack is a writer, editor and reviewer mostly focusing on China, where he lived from 2007 to 2014. He edited Agenda Beijing and is a regular book reviewer for the South China Morning Post. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
A recurrent theme when discussing Donald Trump has been that there is no bottom. There is no moral outrage he will not countenance, no ethical boundary he will not explode, no government corruption he will not permit, so long as his overwhelming narcissism is satisfied. It's a political commonplace that you find out about someone when you give them power.
There had been some expectations beforehand that Trump would become presidential upon inauguration; that he would acquire gravitas and speak to all the people, not just his electoral base.
But this was a faint hope. Anyone observing his business and media career knew who he was, while his political career was founded on populism, division and racism: these aspects were not occasional excesses but building blocks, as with his racist Birtherism campaign against Barack Obama and his plainly false claim that Mexico would pay for a wall between it and U.S. (what little has been built has paid for from U.S. military funding for anti-drug activities and the war on terror).
Clearly a man to whom ethical constraints is an alien concept, all that concerns Trump is his ego, and the gratification of it. Occasions when his pride is wounded see him boil over in fury, even when people have been trying to help him.
On one occasion he attended a briefing at the Pentagon, in the "Tank" or Gold Room where some of the most famous U.S. military decisions have been made. (Even the location was an attempt to succor Trump's ego, an effort to make him feel on par with great figures of the past).
Advisers, military men and secretaries of state briefed Trump on the alliances which the U.S. led and from which, they said, it benefited. It was an effort to fill the astonishing gaps in Trump's knowledge. (He hadn't known the UK was a nuclear power when meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example).
Trump did not take to the event. His ego bruised by others displaying greater knowledge of geopolitics, and thus "lecturing" to him, he lashed out viciously. To the generals he yelled, "You're all losers. You don't know how to win any more… I wouldn't go to war with you people. You're a bunch of dopes and babies." Here is a man who reacts with vengeance, to anyone and anywhere, whenever he feels slighted.
What might such a man be capable of? There is no bottom. But already what he has done, and what he is still doing, takes the breath away. The response of the U.S. federal government to the coronavirus is one of the worst – in conception, delivery and public communication – by a government of any major nation. Trump's personal response has been, as always, denial, deflection, and the shirking of personal responsibility. ("I don't take any responsibility at all", he famously said).
The infection rate across the U.S., having declined slightly from a peak, has been rising again. A second wave of infections looks well on the way, with states which were opening up again likely to have to shut down again, after who knows how many unnecessary deaths.
And what does the Trump administration propose at this time? It will end federal support for a number of coronavirus testing sites, including seven in Texas, despite that state reporting a record daily high of 5,489 new cases of the coronavirus on June 23. On the same day, hospital admissions hit record highs in seven U.S. states. This is not a pandemic that is over, and for which government action can be brought to an end.
And why? It's not for a lack of funds: the administration has 14 billion U.S. dollars for tracking and tracing which it has not spent. It is more likely all part of Trump's re-election campaign. He does not want to be President Coronavirus. He wants to move on from it. He is bored. He wants to talk up the economy, on stock market highs and job creation.
The economic devastation already caused by the coronavirus has made that difficult, though he touts a slight economic recovery as though it were a great boom. So he has encouraged states to open up, never mind the risks, so that he can look better.
Yet the coronavirus cannot be wished away. It is a brutal reality. Over 126,000 Americans have already lost their lives. And with infection rates jumping again – California, Texas and Florida, the three most populous states, reported their highest daily totals of new coronavirus cases on June 24 – more will die. People must die so that Trump can boast about the economy in his re-election campaign. This is psychopathic.
Is this, then, the bottom? Is it truly the worst thing Trump has done? To quote King Lear: "The worst is not, so long as we can say, 'This is the worst'." Every time we say, "This is the worst" for Trump, we do so in the knowledge that something worse is probably on the way.