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Nate Jackson / Mar. 12, 2020

Did Trump Quell the Panic?

He struck the right tone and themes, but he added confusion instead of clarity.

President Donald Trump addressed the nation last night to try to quell the panic surrounding coronavirus. But it wasn’t enough to bolster economic confidence, as evidenced by equity markets, which officially entered “bear market” territory yesterday after losing 20% of their value this year. Markets tanked again this morning. The stock market’s 11-year bull run is officially over. The NCAA announced its “March Madness” tournament will be played without fans present. The NBA suspended the rest of its season after a single player tested positive for the virus. Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife have contracted coronavirus. To quote Bill Murray from “Ghostbusters,” there are “cats and dogs living together — mass hysteria.”

But seriously, everyone should calm down.

Trump conveyed that last night and his tone and remarks were largely spot on:

Today, the World Health Organization officially announced that this is a global pandemic.

We have been in frequent contact with our allies, and we are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people.

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.

From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.

The president reassured the American people that his administration is taking solid efforts to combat a real threat — a threat that is particularly dangerous to the elderly and sick. He also recommended things that should be common sense: “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 face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and, most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.”

Trump’s unfortunate lack of clarity on some key details was problematic, especially regarding products from Europe:

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.

There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

Trump took to Twitter to clarify: “Very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.” The administration also had to clarify that only foreigners, not returning Americans, would be banned from traveling here.

Businesses depend upon certainty, and Trump accomplished just the opposite with that portion of the speech.

Another blunder was his claim that health-insurance companies “agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.” Actually, what they agreed to was waiving fees for testing.

Those quibbles aside, the Trump administration’s actions have been laudable. No president can stop the spread of a virus. He can effectively manage the federal response, and, outside of testing failures, Trump is doing that.

Democrats, on the other hand, can’t believe their luck. As usual, they’re exploiting a crisis for political gain. Trump is right that our “vast economic prosperity gives us flexibility, reserves, and resources to handle any threat that comes our way,” but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt or that Democrats won’t make the pain worse to increase their chances in November.

In any case, the president’s closing words truly resonated. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States,” he said. “We have the best economy, the most advanced healthcare, and the most talented doctors, scientists, and researchers anywhere in the world. We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family. As history has proven time and time again, Americans always rise to the challenge and overcome adversity.”

Finally, he noted, “Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.”

(Updated.)

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