It’s unusual, to say the least, that Donald Trump’s name is on the stimulus check being mailed to millions of Americans starting this month. No previous U.S. president has put his name on a Treasury check, as if the money in the Treasury were his own and he were a personal benefactor to American citizens. And yet, in a symbolic sense, it’s fitting that the president’s name should be on that check.
Trump’s name is all over the catastrophic loss of life and livelihood for which the check is a band-aid. Despite the warning signs coming from China and early warnings from the Center for Disease Control, beginning on Jan. 8, he failed to take swift action to deal with the virus.
On Feb. 5, when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requested $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies, the president cut the amount by 75%. On Feb. 11, the same day Trump said the virus would miraculously go away, the White House proposed large cuts to the budgets of the CDC and National Institutes of Health.
On April 14, Trump pulled funding from the World Health Organization, hobbling global attempts to control the virus. His incoherent press conferences, in which he frequently makes untrue claims and contradicts the recommendations of health officials, have sown confusion and hampered the national response.
Trump’s name is on this paper check being mailed to 70 million citizens, including 12 million who don’t have bank accounts. The paper checks will disproportionately go to low-income families, who are bearing the brunt of the crisis and Trump’s failure to respond to it quickly and effectively. Members of such families must work minimum-wage jobs in essential services such as supermarkets, health care and food production, where they are more likely to contract the virus.
Trump’s name is on the tremendous burden of national debt hanging like a millstone around the neck of the rising generation of taxpayers. As a candidate, he promised to eliminate the national debt. But in office, he has reversed course with plans to add $8.3 trillion to the national debt over eight years — and that was before the COVID-19 crisis necessitated the $2 trillion CARES act. By comparison, over eight years Barack Obama’s policies, including the $830 billion ARRA act responding to the 2008 financial crisis, added $2.8 trillion to the national debt.
Finally, Trump’s name stands out among the 45 Americans who have held the office of president because he is unique in his egocentric approach to the job. On March 13 he made the statement, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be.”
While some apologists have said he is “getting his constitutional education on the job,” the reality is quite different. That he would say something like this in an official setting shows he is precisely the kind of power-hungry, self-serving politician the Founding Fathers sought to check through the careful balances of the Constitution.
By putting his name on the stimulus check, Trump is attempting to capture the branding benefits of a partial solution to the crisis, while denying any responsibility for his slow and often counterproductive response to it. In that sense, his name on the check perfectly illustrates his general approach to leadership as President.
Unlike a digital transaction, a paper check is a historical document marking a particular moment. The health and economic crisis we are facing as the most wealthy and technologically advanced nation in the world — now receiving humanitarian shipments of medical respirators from Taiwan while homemakers sew cloth masks from patterns on YouTube — is a moment stamped with the signature dysfunction of this president.
Trump’s failure to lead is indeed historic and worthy of being remembered in the fall. We should all remember that check, not because his name is on it, but because of how he mismanaged the crisis that required the government to send it.
Stefanie Condie is a marketing consultant and writer living in Salt Lake City. She is a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and are not meant to represent the views of MWEG.