Trump, Putin and Bolsonaro find their populist playbooks are no match for coronavirus

Much to their frustration, the macho leaders of these countries are finding the virus immune to their playbooks. Intimidation, fear-mongering and propaganda just aren’t working. Being guided by science, communicating transparently and long-term planning are proving the sharper tools.

Trump, Bolsonaro and Putin all initially downplayed the risk of the coronavirus, experts say, even as they watched it overwhelm nations like Italy. Now, they are scrambling to appear in control, as the virus keeps transmitting and killing, exposing their weaknesses.

Keep calm and carry on

The denial of the coronavirus as a threat by the presidents in the US and Brazil inevitably led to foot-dragging in their governments. The consequences are serious — models are now emerging that show how swift action can save lives. A Columbia University model, for example, shows that if the US had imposed social distancing one week before authorities called for it, 36,000 lives could have been saved. The US’ death toll is now more than 100,000.
Like Bolsonaro, Trump continually dismissed the virus as similar to the flu, and repeatedly assured Americans that things were “under control” in the early months of the year. When it became clear they weren’t, Trump still signaled that everything would be OK.
“This was unexpected. … And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” he said on March 10, as the number of US cases…

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