Why the Coronavirus Is a Threat to Trump

Donald Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial is probably not worrying him at the moment, nor does it really constitute a serious threat to his presidency. The trial, as Trump predicted, will end within a few short days, and he will emerge stronger than before to devote himself fully to his reelection campaign. What really forms a threat to Trump right now, and what really has him worried, is the newly emerged virus that’s been spreading throughout China’s cities, infecting almost 2,000 people in the process (a number that is, as of this writing, expected to rise to over 3,000 in just a few days). Almost 200 people have died within China from an illness that has spread rapidly to 14 other countries, including America itself. It is none other than the new coronavirus, the seventh such virus in the corona family.

The new virus does not pose a challenge for Trump just because it has spread to his country from China, as until now, the number of infected cases in America has remained limited. However, despite the fact that the virus has spread to about 14 countries, and despite China’s recent announcement that it has found effective means of treatment and may even be developing a vaccine, this virus still poses a real threat to Trump. Or perhaps better stated, it poses a serious challenge to his philosophy and worldview, both of which radically depart from that of any of his predecessors in the past three decades. Prior to Trump, presidential administrations were built on the concept of globalization: a view of the world as one cosmic village in which the idea of the nation state diminishes in importance. In espousing such a worldview, American presidents sought to impose America’s values and way of life on other nations, ensuring that America could project its influence anywhere. Around the world, America used every tool at its disposal, whether it was political, economic, cultural or military, in pursuit of its goal. By manipulating the global situation to its advantage, America became the world’s only superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Trump inherited a very different world when he entered the White House, a world in which China’s tremendous economic rise has made it possible to see a future where America is no longer the world’s central economic power. Russia, too, has become stronger, emerging from the fall of the Soviet Union and expanding its strategic influence abroad. Even before the rise of these rivals, America’s military adventurism earned it many losses on the world stage, and its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, have left it with a negative international image.

Accordingly, Trump thought he could adopt an isolationist stance toward the world under the slogan “America First.” That is to say, much of his effort has been directed at lifting America above its economic challenges, and much less has been devoted to the rest of the world’s troubles and crises. If Trump’s America is ever to engage with the world, he says, then it will expect appropriate (and very large) compensation in return. This line of thinking is why Trump has sought to expel and reject immigrants to America and build a wall along the Mexican border. It is why he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement as well as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, and why he asked the Europeans to take on greater responsibility for funding their own security through NATO. It is also why he has continued to impose economic sanctions on every American competitor with the support of European allies.

But along comes the coronavirus. As it swept through the country, the outbreak did not threaten China alone. It has posed a threat to the world as a whole, reminding us yet again that the world really is a sort of “small cosmic village.” Just as it is impossible to erect barriers against the movement and flow of people and goods, and even against news and ideas from around the world, it is impossible to prevent the spread of viruses and diseases across those same national boundaries.

Is Trump reevaluating and modifying his positions? In all likelihood, all that concerns him about the coronavirus is whether he’ll be able to get the cure from China—at the lowest price, of course, and preferably for free.

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