Why rush to ease lockdown could be catastrophic for US – and Trump

Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has sent jaws dropping across the globe.

But there are just a few places in America where opinions could be consequential for his presidency.

One of them is Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It’s one of the overlooked, bygone cities that made him president.

The mines and mills that once filled its valleys with jobs haven’t been resurrected as he promised.

Image:Unemployment is already 70% above the national average in Johnstown

Things were hardly thriving here before coronavirus – but life in lockdown has brought this city to a complete standstill.

People have had plenty of time to observe how the man they elected is handing the crisis that has changed their lives and will ultimately define his presidency.

Mr Trump says he is a wartime president fighting an invisible enemy. Gale Bala voted for him in 2016 and she agrees.

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She is living alone during lockdown and feels fatigued by it all. She misses her church and she misses company.

She’s been watching the man she voted for closely. She says his daily briefings are informative but has she ever worried that Donald Trump is putting his own political interests in terms of the economy over people’s health?

“No, no, not at all. Because I think for the most part, he has been listening to his health experts on his team,” she says.

Image:Gale Bala said she believes Mr Trump’s recent comment about disinfectant was tongue-in-cheek

“But it’s a dual-edged sword. You know, if the economy’s ruined, we’re going to suffer that decades from now and people will die just as if they had the virus because poverty does kill people. So I think it’s good that he has a dual track.”

She thinks the media have been out to get him from the start and that what’s happening now is an extension of that.

“I don’t think any anybody, any world leader, given what they were given, would have done much of anything differently,” she says.

“Hindsight is wonderful. But when he put the ban on travel from China, what did people do? Oh, he’s a racist.

“Oh, he’s a xenophobe. Oh, he shouldn’t do that. Now, if the European countries and the other countries around the world would have done the same thing, possibly some of this could have been stemmed.”

One of the most shocking moments to come out of Mr Trump’s briefings was him floating the idea of injecting disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

I ask her what went through her mind when he said that. She insists it was all tongue-in-cheek.

“Sometimes he does that. I mean, I’ve seen that at least one rally of his. And, you know, some people don’t get his humour,” she says.

I ask if a global pandemic is the right time for jokes?

“Well, I think if you took everybody’s comments and wrote them down, there are times that might be an inappropriate comment,” she replied.

Image:Trump’s impatience to restart the economy can be felt in Johnstown

Across town, Tammy Fiffick has a different view. She also voted for Trump in 2016 but for her coronavirus is the last straw.

When he suggested disinfectant as a treatment, she says she was flabbergasted.

“I actually just was like, really? No, he’s… yeah, he is serious. He’s actually serious. He’s going with this.”

Like most people Tammy has hardly left her home for weeks. While she has managed to hold on to her part time job, her husband has lost his.

Times are hard and anxious. The president, she says, has offered no calm.

“He’s done a horrendous job. His daily briefings are in my opinion a platform for him to feed his ego. To show that he is in charge, that he can be rude to people.

“And he can also put everyone else down and say how they’ve done everything wrong and he’s done everything right and nothing is his fault. And he takes no accountability for anything.”

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She doesn’t think Mr Trump acted soon enough and that now he’s acting too quickly when it comes to reopening states.

“I understand you have a business, you have a family to support, but who’s going to be really patronising?

“And my personal thought is, if you want to go and this just affected you in your family, and it would kill you and your family, then you go. But when what you do affects me and my family, then we have another issue.”

While Mr Trump gives himself 10/10, Tammy gives him two. But she doesn’t sense that her change of heart is being felt by many of the people who voted for him.

For plenty of people, Mr Trump is still the saviour.

Image:Tammy Fiffick voted for Mr Trump in 2016, but has changed her view

His impatience to reopen the economy is deeply felt in places like Johnstown – where unemployment was already 70% above the national average.

A total of 24 counties across Pennsylvania can start reopening at the end of this week, but despite having very few cases this isn’t one of them – so places like clothing stores will remain closed for who knows how long. Frustration is growing.

It is state governors – not Mr Trump – feeling the heat of that anger.

But the polls say most people support ongoing restrictions and keeping families safe is clearly the public’s priority.

Rushing things could be catastrophic for Americans – and for the man who’s leading them.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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