Over the last two weeks, nearly 10 million Americans have filed unemployment claims — meaning the coronavirus crisis has already resulted in the US economy shedding more jobs than the entire Great Recession.
In light of that grim reality, it’s worth remembering comments Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made about the coronavirus in January that reveal the Trump administration’s minimizing approach to the crisis early on.
For those who don’t remember, during an interview on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show on January 30 — 10 days after the first US coronavirus case was recorded — Ross made a case that the virus, which at that time was mostly hurting China, would ultimately be a good thing for the American job market.
“I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross began. “But the fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain. It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”
Secretary Wilbur Ross says coronavirus will be good for [checks notes] American jobs: "I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America." pic.twitter.com/Y4SbDIcTi4— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 30, 2020
As I wrote at the time, Ross’s economic analysis was obviously flawed — the SARS pandemic, for instance, wiped nearly $40 billion off world markets in 2002 and 2003. More importantly, from a moral standpoint, reducing a disease that had already at that time killed nearly 200 people to a money-making opportunity was a window into the type of thinking that often carries the day in the Trump administration.
Little could viewers have known at the time, however, how spectacularly wrong Ross would end up being.
Ross was far from alone among Trump officials in being wrong about the coronavirus
While you’d be hard-pressed to find a take that has aged worse than Wilbur Ross arguing that the coronavirus would be good for US jobs, it’s worth noting that he was far from the only Trump administration official to make such rosy comments about the coronavirus. The remarks were criticized at the time they were made and look even more boneheaded now.
For instance, as the coronavirus spread across the country in the crucial period between late February and early March, both Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the coronavirus was “contained.”
Kellyanne Conway, March 6: “It is being contained.” pic.twitter.com/H4nsvpG1Tp— j.d. durkin (@jiveDurkey) April 1, 2020
On the same day as Conway’s remarks, Kudlow — who has made many wrongheaded predictions about major economic developments in the past 20 years but was appointed to a top administration job by Trump anyway — went on CNBC and urged investors to “buy the dip.” (The Dow is down more than 4,000 points since then.)
Kudlow: Buy on the dip, on COVID-19 "this is contained", "relatively contained." pic.twitter.com/iF4Nheem4i— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) March 6, 2020
Of course, nobody in the administration worked harder to downplay the situation than Trump himself. Eight days before Ross’s infamous Fox Business comments, Trump made his first public comments about the coronavirus in an interview with CNBC in which he claimed that “we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
Trump asked in January about whether or not he's worried about a pandemic: "No. Not at all. And we're -- we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's, uh, gonna be just fine." pic.twitter.com/sTuK85dFZY— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) March 17, 2020
Not only did Trump turn out to be completely wrong about having the coronavirus “under control,” but he was way off about its economic impact, too. On February 24 — the day before the CDC warned of the coronavirus that “disruption to everyday life might be severe” — Trump tweeted that the “stock market is starting to look very good to me.”
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
The Dow has fallen more than 6,000 points since then.
Now, of course, Trump is trying to pretend that he took the coronavirus seriously from the beginning and has done as much as could’ve been expected from any president to stop its spread. He’s gone from saying that the coronavirus would go away on its own to suggesting that if 200,000 Americans die from Covid-19, it’ll be evidence he’s done “a very good job.”
Meanwhile, Ross is reportedly working remotely these days from his estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Not only has the coronavirus been a disaster for US jobs, but, in an ironic twist, it has made it harder for the man who offered that woefully misguided take on America’s economic prospects to do his.