Every day brings new reports that the ship of state is bouncing and wandering through storms without its captain and crew setting a course. The White House has yet to show just how it would cope in the months ahead with COVID-19, a reeling economy and national protests and disorder.
Mapping a direction may be impossible when those on board, including President Donald Trump and his top advisers, do not even agree on where they are.
Trump said over the weekend that while testing has identified millions of coronavirus cases, "99%" of them were "totally harmless." That false claim left his Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn hung out to dry when he tried to stay on message.
“I’m not gonna get into who’s right and who’s wrong,” Hahn said when asked Sunday on NBC about Trump's assurance. “What I’m gonna say … is what I’ve said before, which is that it’s a serious problem that we have. We’ve seen this surge in cases. We must do something to stem the tide.”
That "something" remains vague as Trump keeps sending a casual mixture of signals on masks, social distancing and how best to reopen schools and businesses.
The very logistics of measuring the problem remain in limbo. Good news: Testing has increased from an average of just over 174,000 diagnostic tests per day through April to an average of 666,081 tests per day so far in July. Bad news: Demand for more tests has outpaced supply in states with surges such as Florida and Texas.
“We don’t have a national plan. We don’t have a national strategy,” former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Monday on CNBC.
Trump does have a reflexive strategy of scowling at rivals, but it is unlikely to feed the notion that he is leading anyone anywhere. Nor will it widen the support he needs to win reelection. Polls suggest Trump's limited popularity has shrunk. Several states the incumbent won in 2016 appear to be in play for his opponent Joe Biden.
Trump's lack of coherent planning applies to the campaign as well as the government.
In two recent TV interviews, he shed no light on a second-term agenda despite a kid-gloves treatment from fawning hosts. Instead, he stuck to glorifying the first term.
Trump's dark speech on the eve of Fourth of July at Mount Rushmore gave mainstream Democrats no new rationale to vote for him. He spoke, in the historic style of Sen. Joe McCarthy, of an evil and amorphous left-wing "they" whose "goal is to end America."
But cultural confrontations and symbolism do not add up to a plan for governance.
Mass demonstrations, riots, demands to "defund police," looting and overall spikes in violent crime broke out in Democratic-run cities after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trump cast blame on the local elected leadership but neither called up troops as he had threatened nor enlisted other leaders to build consensus on a response.
The president also has yet to spell out any program for replacing Obamacare or for renovating the nation's infrastructure.
On the economy, Trump seems content to let the happier status quo that preceded the pandemic speak for itself. The federal deficit, ballooning for the past three years, must be addressed eventually.
Again the question arises: What's the plan?