WHW: About a Third of Americans Say Virus Not Much of a Worry

A divided US nation consumes the news in a divided way so for Republicans, a revered president answered questions completely and in detail Sunday night at the Fox News virtual Town Hall titled “America Together: Returning to Work.”

For Democrats who expressed themselves on social media, the reaction was, as always, quite a bit different, seeing repetitious non-answers along the lines, sometimes word for word, from back when there were still Corona Virus Task Force briefings.

For traders and investors, not much ambivalence, just negativity. Dow and S&P futures late Sunday night pointed to a negative open, down first about 1% and rallying somewhat to a 0.6% decline. Asia stocks were trading down a lot more, with the Nikkei opening down almost 3%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was off more than 3.5%.

The division in how the president’s handling of the coronavirus continues to be striking if not surprising. Sunday’s update by fivethirtyeight.com, which averages several prominent polls, saw 84.4% of Republicans approving. That’s not quite as high as two weeks ago, at 86.4%, yet well above the 80.2% in mid-March when he declared the virus was a national emergency.

Democrats see an altogether different president. Only 14.1% approved how he has done. That’s down from the peak of 21% a few days after the national emergency was declared. Those who chose to identify as independents were at 40.5% approval Sunday, down from the March peak of 46%.

The president generated a couple of headlines in his close to an hour sitting in a nearly deserted Lincoln Memorial with two Fox anchors. In the markets Trump headlines often carry an implicit asterisk indicating a smidgeon of doubt about whether he was talking in the moment sort of like an off-the-cuff tweet which is forgotten in a day or two, so market reaction is not quite what it used to be.

“I think we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year,” he said, moving up his previous projection of “in” a year, which could mean next spring sometime. He said he is “very confident” of that outcome and repeated it later in the programme.

He also said he’s not going to sign another piece of legislation in response to the economic shutdown unless it contains a payroll tax cut. Asked about his reaction to the continuing demonstrations in some states against restrictive rules and to those who think re-openings are coming too soon, he said both sides are right. “I think you can satisfy both. If you’re scared you’re going to stay back a little bit.”

Monday sees virus mitigation being relaxed in about half the states.

Perhaps the most intriguing poll result related to the coronavirus is fivethirtyeight.com’s reading that about 30% of Americans say they are not very or not at all concerned about it.

The president also repeated his new higher estimate of ultimate deaths to be 80,000 to 100,000, again saying that were nothing done, it would be in the millions. On Monday total US deaths will pass the 69,000 mark.

The market-sensitive subject of any new tariffs on China was left up in the air. New tariffs, he said, would be the strongest punishment for China for what he said were tardy alerts about how serious was the virus but he stopped short of saying he is planning to impose them.

A Fox viewer asked the flip side of that question, whether he would lift current tariffs imposed on China imports to give American companies some relief from the tariff payments. President Trump did not answer the question, saying instead that the United States is taking in billions from China, a lot of which has been redistributed to American farmers. American importers like the questioner, not China, actually pay the tariffs.

An hour after the Fox News special, CNN ran its own documentary examining the chronology of government virus response containing frequent references to time squandered, facts garbled and progress exaggerated.

It can be presumed that there was not a lot of spillover audience who switched channels from Fox to CNN.

What about those very long weekend stories in The Washington Post and The Associated Press about how White House focus switched from highlighting the advice of Task Force medical experts to encouraging reopening of the economy.” Sources for the stories were said to be exceptionally numerous.

Did economist Kevin Hassett, called back to White House duty after resigning his post at the head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in June, inform the internal White House policymaking with an econometric model that predicted virus deaths would peak in mid-April after which they would decline?

Hassett’s colleague Larry Kudlow told CNN Hassett was merely using a “smoothing technique” on the data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “He was clarifying the situation.”

Monday’s White House schedule posted Sunday night again contained no scheduled Corona Virus Task Force briefing.

As noted Friday, the preeminent Task Force medical research, Tony Fauci, has been blocked from appearing before a Democratic-led House Appropriations subcommittee hearing this week, with a White House spokeswoman calling it a publicity stunt. He will appear before a Republican-led Senate committee in a week and a half, she said.



Colin Lambert

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