The Coronavirus Is Coming for Trump’s Presidency — Will a nationalist president be undone by his underreaction to a foreign threat?

By Douthat in the New York Times:

On Jan. 31, over a month ago, the Trump administration made an excellent decision: In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, it forbade most foreign nationals from entering the United States if they had recently traveled to China.

This move was immediately attacked in the language of cosmopolitan sophistication, which assumes that because travel bans and quarantines are associated with things liberals consider bad — nationalism, hardened borders, migration restrictions — they necessarily must not work as well.

But this supposed sophistication is really just a superstition. It’s certainly true that the travel ban could not, and did not, prevent the coronavirus from reaching the United States. But as with local quarantines and closings — all of which emphatically do work, whether you’re looking at the history of the Spanish flu or Hong Kong’s success combating the coronavirus today — you don’t need 100 percent effectiveness for travel restrictions to be wise and helpful. What they buy you, above all, is a slower rate of spread, and with it precious time for preparation.

…Instead, Trump fell into the same trap as the cosmopolitan sophisticates — acting as though the specter of panic is worse than the disease itself, focusing on the more reassuring estimates of the virus’s fatality rates instead of recognizing the wide spread of possible scenarios — while mixing in his own short-termist fixation on the stock market. And then when, at last, even the cosmopolitans became alarmed, he took their anxiety as a partisan insult, and lapsed into “hoax” accusations, pulling a certain percentage of his co-partisans into irresponsibility along with him.

And how ironic that would be. In 2016 we elected a China hawk who promised a “complete shutdown” in response to foreign threats, a germaphobic critic of globalization who promised to privilege the national interest above all.

Now he is in danger of losing his presidency because when the great test came, in the form of a virus carried by global trade routes from Communist China, he didn’t take the danger seriously enough.

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