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The Morning Dispatch: On Coronavirus, Trump Gives In to Reality
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The Morning Dispatch: On Coronavirus, Trump Gives In to Reality

Plus, a physician on how to care for someone who might have the virus, and a Republican senator defends capitalism from ... the right?

Happy Thursday. In the span of about 15 minutes last night, President Trump instituted a ban on travel from Europe, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they both tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA suspended its season “until further notice.” But other than that, pretty typical Wednesday.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In a primetime address to the nation, President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from Europe (excluding legal permanent residents of the United States and members of their immediate family), starting Friday at 11:59 p.m., to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The United Kingdom was exempted from this ban.

  • Trump also outlined a series of economic measures his administration is pursuing to ease the financial burden of COVID-19, including delaying the April 15 tax deadline for those affected by the virus, offering low-interest loans to small businesses facing a cash crunch, and reducing the payroll tax. (The latter two proposals would require congressional sign-off).

  • The World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. 

  • The NBA announced it was suspending its season “until further notice” after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the virus. The NCAA took a smaller step, declaring it would bar fans from attending the upcoming men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments. But that decision could be revisited in the coming days.

  • Despite continuing to lose ground in the delegate count after Tuesday’s voting, Bernie Sanders promised to remain in the presidential race and said he will debate Joe Biden on Sunday. North Dakota was officially called for Sanders Wednesday morning, while Washington remains too close to declare a winner. 

  • Disgraced film executive Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for third-degree rape and criminal sex acts.

  • Three American and coalition troops were killed—and 12 wounded—in Iraq on Wednesday. An Iranian-backed militia likely launched the rocket attack on the Camp Taji military base.

On Coronavirus, Trump Signals He’s Ready to Get Serious

There’s no way around it: President Trump’s national primetime address on the coronavirus last night was a mess. Trump misdescribed, in one way or another, all three major policies he announced. Afterward, the White House hastened to correct the record: Only foreign nationals would be banned from traveling to America from Europe, not returning Americans; European trade would continue, not be suspended as Trump had said, and health insurance companies had agreed to provide only coronavirus testing, not coronavirus treatment, free of charge.

But in at least one crucial respect, the speech was helpful. After weeks of downplaying the severity of the virus, President Trump finally spoke directly to the American people and told them what his top health officials have been saying for weeks: that while the virus is not a mortality risk to most of the population, it is still a very deadly disease, and that every American has a responsibility to take basic precautions to hamper its spread. 

“Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow,” Trump said. “Every community faces different risks, and it is critical for you to follow the guidelines of your local officials who are working closely with our federal health experts—and they are the best. For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus. Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.”

This may not seem like much—a basic recitation of common-sense advice from physicians and scientists—but it’s a striking change of emphasis for Trump, who was tweeting two days ago suggestions that coronavirus was less threatening than the “common flu.” And for Americans who get most of their news from pro-Trump media, it must have seemed a remarkable statement. As Andrew details for the site today, figures like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have been waving off the coronavirus for weeks, and in much more confident terms than the president has: 

“This coronavirus, all of this panic is just not warranted,” Limbaugh said on his popular radio show Wednesday, insisting that “this virus is the common cold.” “Why do you think this is ‘COVID-19?’ This is the 19th coronavirus. They’re not uncommon… There is nothing about this except where it came from and the itinerant media panic.” Limbaugh carried on at length in this vein, blaming the “politicized” hysteria on the “Drive-By media” and scoffing at the notion that the disease was “ten times more lethal than the flu,” which he called “a meaningless comparative.”

“I’ll tell you what’s really more scary than anything, is how the American people—some Americans, I don’t know how many it is, seem to be okay with being told they can’t do this, and they can’t go there, and you’ve got to stay here, and we’re going to quarantine you there, and we’re going to wrap you up over there, we’re gonna put you in this cocoon here, and you can’t leave,” Limbaugh said. “No, not okay!”

Fox News kingpin Sean Hannity took a similar tack on his radio program, approvingly citing an “MIT guy” who denounced coronavirus concerns as a Deep State fraud: “There’s an MIT guy I noticed on Twitter, and you know he’s saying much the same thing, he does research nearly every single day on immune systems, he said, quote: ‘Coronavirus fearmongering by the Deep State will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds to manipulate economies, suppress dissent, and push mandated medicines.’ Could be true!”

(The MIT guy: Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur notable for, among other things, his spurious claim to be the inventor of email and his public advocacy about the dangers of vaccines. Ayyadurai may be doing research nearly every day on immune systems, but he’s also finding time to run for Senate in Massachusetts against Sen. Ed Markey.)

And here was Tomi Lahren, one of Fox’s youngest, newest, and brashest stars, on her Fox Nation program Tuesday: “China is ground zero for the coronavirus epidemic, but with the way Californians are acting, you’d think Armageddon was coming… Call me crazy, but I am far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than I am getting the coronavirus.”

The upshot has been that Republicans have been far more likely than Democrats to wave off expert warnings about the spread of coronavirus. Will a primetime address from the president backing up those experts begin to change that? Less than 12 hours after embracing the Coronavirus-Deep-State-Fraud conspiracy, Sean Hannity was praising Trump’s “aggressive and even unprecedented steps to mitigate this pandemic.” Yes, it’s all a hoax hyped by the Deep State to crash the economy and get Trump, the argument goes, but we’re lucky to have the wisdom and foresight of this president to lead us in meeting this civilizational challenge. If Trump’s speech gets Hannity (and other Trump fluffers) to drop his afternoon analysis in favor of his evening sycophancy, it’ll be a positive step.

One More Coronavirus Note

Earlier this week, another of Andrew’s pieces for the site examined how the novel coronavirus risks putting dangerous strain on the U.S. health care system, and how the chief factor in staving off a crisis will be how well the general public can work together to slow the disease’s spread. One reader made a good point in response: 

There is plenty of reporting of advice from public health officials on how to reduce the spread… What is missing, and what could be very very important given the comments in this article, is practical advice to households on how to care for a covid-19 patient in their homes as long as they can before seeking hospitalization. How to care for someone without catching it yourself. How to care for someone to give them the best chance to get well. How to keep patients out of the hospital until their condition compels no other choice. How to know and detect that threshold.

We reached out to a few of the experts interviewed in the original article to ask how they’d respond to such questions. Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor of medicine at Brown University, passed along the following: 

  • If you are in a high-risk group (elderly, immunosuppressed, or with chronic illnesses), you should NOT be the person caring for a household member. 

  • We don’t yet know a lot about the virus. It seems that the best way to care for people at home is the same as for any virus—making sure that people stay hydrated (drink lots of fluids) and get plenty of rest. 

  • To minimize chance of transmission, try to maintain space between yourself and your household member (six feet). Clean surfaces with a bleach- or alcohol-based product. Wash your hands. 

  • The threshold for hospitalization includes: a patient not acting like herself or not making sense, even when her fever is under control; rapid breathing (more than 25-30 breaths/minute), even when a fever is under control; or inability to walk more than a few steps without feeling faint or out of breath; severe chest pain.

  • When in doubt, though, call your primary care doctor (or use telehealth)! No internet advice can ever take the place of a discussion with a qualified professional. 

A Surprisingly Necessary Defense of Capitalism

Back in the early days of this newsletter, we covered a speech by Sen. Marco Rubio in which he attempted to chart a new path for the Republican Party. Rubio critiqued what he saw as the excesses of a purely free market economic system, advocating for the government to play a larger role in areas where “market principles and our national interest are not aligned.”

And a few weeks ago, Jonah began his Hump Day Epistle by taking a look at a new conservative think tank—American Compass—whose mission is to push back on what they call libertarian “fundamentalists” in Republican economic policymaking and “restore an economic consensus that emphasizes the importance of family, community, and industry to the nation’s liberty and prosperity.”

To appeal to voters in the era of Trump, there’s no doubt the GOP has indulged its more populist elements at the expense of its more libertarian ones: protectionist trade policies and taxpayer-funded bailouts to the farmers they’ve harmed, record spending financed by trillion dollar deficits

So it should come as little surprise that Sen. Pat Toomey’s “In Defense of Capitalism” speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday took aim not at Democrats and the left—though he said their relationship to capitalism has “gotten worse in some important ways”—but rather new “center-right capitalism skeptics.”

Toomey did not call out any of his fellow senators by name—referring to the skeptics simply as his “Republican colleagues” that are “adopting the language that … originates from the left.” But his criticisms were sharp. 

“I have colleagues who advocate punishing companies that engage in buying back their own stock, which is simply a mechanism for returning capital to the people whose capital it is,” he said. “[We have] colleagues advocating that the executive have even more power and discretion to levy tariffs despite the fact that the Constitution assigns that responsibility exclusively to Congress.”

“So when I look at this, and I look at where this is coming from, it strikes me as maybe the most serious threat to economic freedom and prosperity in a long time, because it’s coming from our allies,” Toomey warned. “This center-right communalism, if you will, or center-right, Bernie Sanders-lite—I’m not sure exactly what to call it—but it is meant to be a dagger thrust into the heart of the traditional center-right consensus that maximizing economic growth is part of what we’re all about.”

Toomey acknowledged the very real hardships facing communities both in his home state of Pennsylvania and across America: Increasing rates of drug addiction and suicide, decreasing rates of marriage and fertility. “But do we really think that capitalism is the primary cause of these social and cultural pathologies?”

“Capitalism should rank up there with the invention of the wheel and written language as one of the greatest of human achievements,” Toomey said. “It took almost 2,000 years, from the time of Julius Caesar to the time of George Washington, for the Western world’s standard of living to double … Then we developed democratic capitalism and applied it consistently and we started to double our standard of living every 20 years.”

On all things capitalism, Toomey is a true believer—and his voting record shows it, bucking the GOP on a host of issues related to free market principles. He was the only Republican to oppose replacing NAFTA with the USMCA (a decision he talked to The Dispatch about here), and he’s repeatedly spoken out against President Trump’s implementation of tariffs.

When asked by an audience member why more Republicans aren’t joining him in his free market crusade, Toomey tried to encourage the crowd: “There is this emerging alternative set of ideas, and so I just feel it’s very important to engage in this debate and not simply cede this ground at all … But I can assure you, I’m not the only one that has these views.”

Worth Your Time

  • Marc Thibault, 48, awoke in a Rhode Island hospital to see a priest wearing protective gear, on stand-by in case last rites needed to be administered. Thibault, who has asthma, thankfully survived, and gave a gripping account of his agonizing, weeks-long struggle with COVID-19 to The Wall Street Journal.

  • The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple talked to several CPAC attendees a few weeks back, finding they mostly believed the media would overhype coronavirus coverage in order to damage President Trump, just as Mick Mulvaney had insinuated on the stage at CPAC. The wife of one of the people Wemple talked to is now exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, and is struggling to get tested for the virus. Asked again about Trump’s claim that anyone who wants a test can get a test, the attendee stuck by the president. “He’s a big-picture guy and I don’t hold that against him,” he said. “You have to have lived in New York to understand Trump.”

  • At this point, it’s becoming clear that Sen. Bernie Sanders is not likely to be the Democratic nominee for president this November. This article from BuzzFeed News shows what it was like inside the campaign as the candidate and his staff started to realize their cause was coming to an end. Frustration, anger, anxiety—the emotions felt by those on the inside are captured in interviews with nearly two dozen people from Team Bernie.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Your Morning Dispatchers discovered this Joe Biden parody Twitter account yesterday, and it provided some much needed levity on an otherwise pretty bleak day. We can’t explain to you exactly why it’s so funny, but whoever runs it has perfected the rusticism and old-timey feeling that accompanies any of the former VP’s anecdotes from the stump.

Toeing the Company Line

  • In this week’s Dispatch Podcast, the gang—Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David—talk Democratic primary, sexism and its role (or lack thereof) in Elizabeth Warren’s demise, and the economic impact of the coronavirus. Tune in here!

  • Jonah’s latest Hump Day Epistle fills readers in on the other epidemic soon to be sweeping the United States: COHID-20 (Codger Hypocrisy Disease 2020). “Both [Donald Trump and Joe Biden] often talk like they are a few fries short of a happy meal. If you can’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to.” Give it a read here!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of Donald Trump by Doug Mills (Pool photographer)/Getty Images.

The Dispatch Staff's Headshot

The Dispatch Staff