Background Briefing: March 15, 2020


Will Trump Turn the Crisis He Made Worse to His Advantage?

We begin with Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in a belated attempt to deal with the spread of the coronavirus outbreak which, according to the only truth-teller in the Trump administration, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, will get worse and worse and worse. Today he called for a dramatic reduction in personal interaction, hinting at a national lockdown. With many analysts on the left predicting that Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic will bring down his presidency, an expert on fascism, authoritarianism, propaganda and the politics of images, Ruth Ben Ghiat, a Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, joins us to discuss an opposite point of view. Rather than being brought down by his incompetence and fabrications, Trump might turn the pandemic to his advantage as the crisis worsens and social tensions erupt, and declare martial law, even suspend the elections. Like other authoritarians Trump avoids transparency and does not believe in accountability but instead shifts blame, prizing above all loyalty and TV ratings. However reality in the form of the COVID -19 virus can no longer be dismissed as “fake news” or a “hoax” and having sidelined experts and downplayed the growing threat to prevent the truth from getting out and the markets from crashing, both of which attempts have failed, in the end it will be the public that pays the price. As we move forward, we assess how the 60% of Americans who are not part of the Trump cult or in the Fox News bubble can be expected to follow a leader who lies and cannot be trusted, and if he decides to act like the despots he so admires, what does the majority do about it?


The Critical Nature of the Shortage of Testing Nationwide

Then we get an update on the state of medical preparedness in the country from someone involved in testing for the COVID -19 virus as stricter measures appear to be coming in terms of lockdowns and less human-to-human interaction. Joining us is Dr. Susan Butler-Wu, a Professor of Clinical Pathology and Director of Medical Microbiology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. We discuss the critical nature of the shortage of testing nationwide and the time delay in getting the test results quickly to where they are needed.


The Convergence Between Putin’s Political Culture and Our Own

Then finally we go to Moscow to speak with Joshua Yaffa, a correspondent for The New Yorker and the author of the new book Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia. With Republicans falling into line behind their leader Trump with a similar fealty displayed by Russian politicians who just gave their blessing to Putin to rule Russia for life, Joshua joins us to discuss his article at The New York Times “The Real Russia Story in American Politics: The convergence between Vladimir Putin’s political culture and our own.”