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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump's 'back-to-school' cry sounds like just another sideshow

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday at the

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday at the White House roundtable on reopening schools. Credit: Pool / EPA / Yuri Gripas

Of course schools will reopen. The obvious problem remains how and on what schedule. Details will be worked out on the state and local level.

On this matter, once again, President Donald Trump poses as a sidelined agitator in Washington, as if he stands apart from the process. And, once again, he professes to know better than all experts.

"I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things," the president tweeted Wednesday.

That may sound defiant and decisive. But if these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were so burdensome, the White House could have pushed back before they were issued. Coordination and clarity have never been this administration's strong suit. At the end of the day it wasn't even clear what Trump opposed.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield underscored the obvious point that the CDC wasn't trying to give a "rationale to keep schools closed" and that existing guidelines aren't meant to be prescriptive.

“We’re very much going to put pressure on the governors and the schools to reopen,” Trump said — as if public officials are not already under widespread pressure to reopen schools within the bounds of acceptable health risk.

By rote, the president added another unsupported smear of his partisan rivals. He tweeted Monday: "Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!"

The histrionics grow predictable. Under fire for having downplayed and dismissed the coronavirus threat, the president by March was shouting for affected blue states to hurry up and reopen their economies. They continue to do so, in stages. It is hard to say if Trump's noise at the time had any impact.

He talks up a rebounding economy. Even before COVID-19, Trump blamed others for the economy not doing as well as he'd like, such as the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, run by his own appointee.

Trump repeatedly threatens to cut off federal funds, as he did this week with education aid — just as he warned before with NATO, "sanctuary" cities and even states that expand mail-in voting to cope with the current national health emergency.

On the virus, he asserts he knows better than the CDC. With North Korea, he knew better than the State Department. During a hurricane, he knew better than the National Weather Service where it would land.

When he was investigated, Trump knew better than his lawyers. On the environment, he knows better than climate scientists. On Russia and Ukraine, he knew better than the National Security Council. On hydroxychloroquine, he knew better than the Food and Drug Administration.

As usual, Trump has his subordinates mechanically pushing the message of the day. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did so by stating what's already obvious to everyone else.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open, it’s a matter of how," she told governors in a conference call Tuesday. "School must reopen, they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders."

But she said “a choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all."

The practical relevance of this distant presidential noise remains to be heard.

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