US President Donald Trump is handling the coronavirus more like the world’s authoritarian rulers than its democratically elected leaders.
Since the start of the crisis, advanced democracies — even those ruled by right-leaning parties — have listened to public health experts and taken drastic steps to safeguard both their residents and their economies. In the United Kingdom, for example, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is offering laid-off workers80% of their salaries if their employers keep them on the payroll.
The world’s authoritarians, on the other hand, have responded to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, with tantrums of paranoia and denial. As recently as last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wascalling coronavirus a “little cold.” Vladimir Putinclaimed that Russia had conducted 200,000 tests but had found just 495 COVID-19 cases. In Turkey, President Recep Erdogan delayed imposing a full lockdown order,insisting that “the cogs must keep turning under every circumstance and every condition.”
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By any rational calculation, authoritarian leaders should be using the virus to boost their own popularity. Instead, they’re taking a stance that will allow COVID-19 to ravage their populations and destroy their economies — both of which risk sparking popular movements against them.
Trump is following the same playbook. Though tackling the virus and offering generous relief to workers would likely improve his chances of winning the election in November, Trump has spent the last two months denying the virus’ existence, then downplaying its significance, then signing a skimpy relief package.
The effects of this...