Trump has limited power over an economic shudder gone viral

There always are limits to what an American president can do to quell a crisis like this one, which has blossomed eight months before an election.

Until very recently, President Donald Trump billed himself as the creator of a strong U.S. economy. He hailed a soaring stock market as proof.

Last week, as stocks crashed worldwide, the term #TrumpSlump started to spread. That might prove unfair since presidents can influence, but cannot dictate, market activity.

Nor did any elected official create coronavirus, which cratered manufacturing in China before setting off the global sell-off.

Events made Trump’s past stock puffery silly in hindsight. To be fair, however, many financial analysts saw the markets as overpriced for years.

Trump delivered a widely watched national address in midweek. It caused confusion, because it was chock full of misleading remarks on the whos, wheres and hows of the European travel ban and whether it would affect cargo.

These sad errors were walked back, though — and it is tough to say if a better message could have staved off the worst plunge on Wall Street since 1987.

The Federal Reserve, which Trump habitually complains about, announced it was making $1.5 trillion in short-term loans available and purchasing Treasury securities. 

That promised help, but the United States cannot financially self-quarantine. On Friday, markets began to pick up after central banks in Norway, Japan, and Australia cut interest rates, bought government bonds and took other steps. Then Trump declared a national emergency, he let his experts talk, and a market rally finished off the week.

Since coronavirus is already getting around the United States — to an extent still to be measured — the actions of state and local officials all over America take center stage.

The federal government is finally showing an effort to get citizens tested for coronavirus, for which there has been an alarming lag. 

Mayors, governors, supervisors, hospitals, schools and county executives became the key government players.

Trump earlier likened this pandemic to another flu outbreak. He’s blurted out blithe claims of falling numbers of cases, tests being available, and vaccines just around the corner, giving fodder to critics.

Congress is almost always gridlocked along partisan lines, a condition that worsened after Trump’s inauguration three years ago.

Even nowadays, though, bills sometimes pass, and on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on paid leave for workers, expanded food aid and support for widespread testing for the illness at no cost to patients.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), competing for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November, are, of course, slamming Trump’s performance as incompetent.

Would Republican candidates running to unseat a Democratic president have done otherwise, regardless of circumstance?

Trump’s predictable efforts to blame the previous administration of President Barack Obama for this or that may help morale among his flock and inflame his opponents.

All that becomes an irrelevant sideshow now.

Options to control the fallout narrow as the virus spreads, slowly or quickly, and the economy stalls due to quarantines.

As Trump often says: We’ll see what happens.

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