Over a period of about 48 hours this week, it became very clear what Donald Trump’s latest plan is for dealing with the coronavirus…..which is to, say his plan for getting re-elected, given that he clearly only cares about the former in terms of the latter.
He has decided just to declare victory.
What could be more Trumpian? Realizing that this deadly virus isn’t going to magically disappear, and seeing that his dogshit-awful response is not stopping it or even seriously slowing it down, he has fallen back on his usual lifelong strategy—lying his ass off—and hoping no one notices.
He may believe it, in his usual pathological way, or he may merely be talking himself into it, magical thinking wise, or he may know it’s asinine and be deploying it only cynically. Does it really matter? (That question applies to his entire life, frankly.) But any way you slice it, it’s a batshit thing to claim, if you’ll pardon the expression, and even more batshit to expect people to believe.
That of course has never been a barrier for Donald, because some people surely will.
TORA TORA TORA
As Bob Cesca writes in Raw Story: “Every ridiculous action taken by Donald Trump…..(e)very terrible decision, every whiny outburst, every childish tweet is issued with the goal of helping Trump get re-elected.”
Rather than safely and sanely handling the crisis, Trump continues to desperately rush things along like a Mountain Dew-guzzling little boy in the back seat of his parents’ car chanting, “Are we there yet?” Trump doesn’t know much, but he at least understands that the deeper the economy collapses into a historically massive recession, the worse his chances for re-election get, even with Russia’s help, even with disgruntled Bernie supporters refusing to vote for Joe Biden, even with voter ID and the possibility of limited mail-in ballots, and even with his $1 billion disinformation “Death Star” across the Potomac from Georgetown.
As long as his brainwashed fanboys are fed a constant diet of Trump’s ceaseless brags and knee-jerk indulging of his disciples’ self-destructive nincompoopery, he figures he can secure at least 45 percent of the popular vote, while the rest of the votes he needs to win are Moneyballed in key swing districts using targeted disinformation on Facebook.
It might work. We know that his cult of personality dead-enders will follow him all the way to Jonestown Phase II (condos still available!), even if this particular debacle is testing the limits of their zombiehood like nothing before.
But then again, it might not work, and sanity might yet carry the day (just kidding!). A POTUS who presided over the senseless deaths of a hundred thousand Americans (or whatever it ends up being), and simultaneously the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression— crises that we will still be in the midst of come Election Day—AND undeniably botched the response to both, making them far worse than they had to be, by all rights should be chucked out of office like yesterday’s fish. Lest we forget, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million votes, and only squeaked into office by the narrowest of margins in the Electoral College, thanks in part to Republican ratfucking and foreign interference, along with the inherent weirdness of the system. He only has to lose a tiny sliver of malleable voters in the right states and he’s toast in 2020.
The fact that Team Trump is resorting to this misdirection strategy is therefore at once a measure of its desperation, and an admission of its absolute inability to respond to this crisis in an effective way, not to mention sheer chutzpah.
It’s a huge gamble for Trump: What he’s framing as tremendously strong action is, in reality, a bungled and botched response made worse by his foolish insistence on premature reopening. As though trapped in quicksand of his own making, the more he struggles to prop himself up with a facade of strength, the more brutally inept he looks to any non-cultist who’s paying attention….
(W)e’re still near the peak of the pandemic on a national scale with no end in sight, yet these badly deluded idiocrats are acting as if the war is over, even while the proverbial bombers are still buzzing through the air above Pearl Harbor.
THE GOLDEN BOOT
Two weeks ago I wrote that Trump was engaged in a Super Bowl of gaslighting in trying to convince us that he was handling this crisis ably. But as usual, he has undercut even my Death Valley-low expectations by brazenly claiming that there is no longer even a crisis to handle in the first place.
Trump once pulled the number 60,000 out of thin air as a body count prediction. We blew past that almost before the words were out of his cakehole. This week he casually dropped the number 100,000. His own experts put it even higher. It is now clear that he will declare as a victory anything under the worst case estimate of 2.2 million posited in March by researchers at Imperial College London.
Strike that: he will still declare victory even in the unlikely even that we hit 3 million or more.
Let’s call it the World Cup of gaslighting.
To that end, the journalist Jay Rosen writes that Trump and his team are engaged in “one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in US history.”
The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible—by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial….
This follows the standard Russian pattern as described by Garry Kasparov: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” (See also Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation). It’s a strategy that perfectly dovetails with the Roy Cohn ethos that Trump has followed his whole life.
It almost goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway just for the record: with this craven, almost unbelievably self-aggrandizing strategy Trump is sacrificing human lives—the lives of the very citizens he is sworn to protect—for his own personal gain. More than one public health expert has suggested that he richly deserves to be impeached—again—for that alone. It may be the most despicable thing he has done while in office, which is saying a lot for a man who has also turned the presidency into his personal ATM, served as footman to Vladimir Putin, and kidnapped and caged children.
But Rosen also cautions against ascribing to Trump any sort of “evil genius,” which even his harshest critics are sometimes tempted to do.
To wing it without a plan is merely the best this government can do, given who heads the table. The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.
WE HOPE YOU WILL ENJOY THE SHOW
So what does this disinformation effort look like? A lot like the nothing-to-see-here-folks mantra that the right wing media was pushing back in February, before it was forced to reckon with the bodies piling up, at least temporarily.
It features Jared proclaiming 75,000 deaths a great victory, Trump’s surrogates shrieking about a Democratic hoax, pretend doctors (“but I play one on TV”) saying this is just the flu, and a massive effort to mobilize the national strategic reserve of racism and blame it all on China.
It also features Trump encouraging governors to violate the very guidelines for re-opening their economies that his own administration put out—a surreal sight—no doubt hoping that Republican ones will do so, in keeping with his fantasy that the economy is just sitting there waiting to go back into high gear, and Democratic ones won’t, and can be blamed for the resulting pain in those states.
No surprise, and key to this whole campaign, the White House has also begun openly questioning the accuracy of the death count…..which is indeed in doubt, but not because it’s overcounted. As the toll hits six figures—within a month, at this rate—expect to hear “Fake news!” bleating out from televisions all over MAGALand. The overwhelmed hospital workers we see on the news will be dismissed as “crisis actors,” and the public health experts who want to keep social distancing and other measures in place as deranged Trump-haters who just want him to fail.
Don’t believe me? It’s already begun on Fox.
Naturally Trump himself doesn’t seem embarrassed in the least by any of this, displaying the chicanery behind his tricks like Penn and Teller, and as usual, saying the quiet part loud. As Peter Baker writes in the Times:
He openly admitted in March that he did not want to let infected patients from a cruise ship disembark because it would increase the number of cases counted in the United States. He essentially made the same calculation on Wednesday by saying that more testing only reveals more infections and therefore increases the numbers. “In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad,” he said.
Incredibly, he is even reviving the wishful thinking line from mid-March, even now, amid a national nightmare that looks something from like a Bunuel film, saying “This virus is going to disappear. It’s a question of when.”
Actually, it won’t just disappear, at least not on its own. It will be neutralized only through determined medical and political action that this administration is woefully unequipped—and unwilling—to take. Instead, they are homicidally prolonging and worsening it in a frantic attempt to avoid blame come November.
HEY STUPID: IT’S THE STUPID ECONOMY, STUPID
But even the electoral side of this bet is irrational, as the American public opposes reopening the economy too quickly by a factor of two to one. And if you think they feel that way now, wait till a hasty reopening makes the death toll spike.
Therein lies the rub: Trump’s whole hurry-up-and-reopen-the country mentality is predicated on the idea that as soon as we end the lockdown things will “go back to normal,” and the economy will boom again, and he can ride that wave to re-election (dishonestly, of course, given the extent to which our strong economy is actually Obama’s doing).
Pull the other one, as our English friends say.
This is utter delusion. The damage that the economy has suffered due to the pandemic is not going to reverse itself overnight, or even in a few months. It’s madness to think it will, no matter how much you want to remain president and avoid being indicted for a dozen different crimes and go to prison.
“Will some people be affected? Yes,” Trump said this week. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”
But the notion that we have to choose between public health and economic health is a false dichotomy. As many have written, myself included, the truth is that the two are inextricably connected. Rushing to prematurely re-start the pre-COVID economy will not allow us to right the economic ship; it will only cause it to sink faster, notwithstanding a brief bob to the surface before it goes under again.
And by the by, that damage to the economy, like the death count, is already worse than it had to be, owing to the hubris, greed, and incompetence of this administration. With this new Big Lie strategy, Trump is likely to make it worse still.
In Salon, Amanda Marcotte writes:
Trump has not hidden that he believes that American voters won’t care about widespread sickness and death, so long as the economy is doing well….It appears far more likely, however, that Trump’s strategy will result in the worst of both worlds: One where the economy is in the tank and the virus itself is devastating the country.
Trump’s path on this couldn’t have been worse, even if he was actively trying to destroy America. (Which is certainly one way to interpret his actions.) First, he delayed the shutdown recommendations and ignored the coronavirus for months, allowing infections to spread unchecked. Then, once the horse was already out of the barn, he reluctantly allowed shutdown orders to go forward. But being shortsighted and impatient, he and many Republican governors are now shutting down the shutdown well before the pandemic has been contained. The result is obvious: There will be a ton of serious economic pain, and most of that sacrifice will be for naught as the virus starts to spread again.
THIS EVER-CHANGING WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE (IN)
Never one to be outdone by his lickspittle Mike Pence, this past week Trump visited a mask factory in Arizona without wearing a mask (only racquetball goggles). While he was there, some wit had the bowling ball-sized cojones to blast “Live and Let Die” over the factory’s PA system.
(But the reductive Guns & Roses version? Come on, man! We can leave the controversy of McCartney’s grammatical redundancy aside for now. But was a surprisingly big week for G&R news, as Axl Rose and Steve Mnuchin also got in a Twitter fight, which I hope leads to a “get in the ring motherfucker” actual fistfight, a la Axl’s feud with Bob Guccione, Jr. I’d love to see him beat Mnuchin like a drum. Afterward, he can give Trump a lesson on Chinese democracy. But I digress.)
Let’s be clear. To “let die,” in this case, is not some kind of benign euthanasia, or even a sin of omission, or even manslaughter for that matter, but negligent homicide. The US did not have to suffer 78,000 dead (as of this writing). We could have been South Korea, with less than 300. But we have an absolute maroon at the helm, and at the worst possible time.
“Live and let die” is especially apropos as it plays on the libertarian ethos that many of his right wing supporters claim as their bedrock principle, except when they need something from the government, like roads, fire departments, Social Security, the Pentagon, or tax breaks. In that regard, the pandemic has been a master class in hypocrisy, as the “pro-life” party that once spread campfire ghost stories of Obama’s mythical “death panels” now goes around openly proposing that senior citizens volunteer for ritual human sacrifice so we can all get haircuts and tattoos and go bowling again.
Last week we were also treated to the sight of Trump desecrating the Lincoln Memorial and telling Fox News that the likes of Jim Acosta and Kristin Welker and Paula Reid are meaner than John Wilkes Booth. But I’ll allow Donald his analogy, and take it one further. His declaration of victory over the coronavirus is as if Lincoln gave up after Bull Run, let the South secede, and then declared that he’d saved the Union.
But of course Trump would never have been on the Union side in that war, as evidenced by the Confederate battle flags that mark the appalling “liberate” rallies, ginned up by pro-Trump super PACs and other moneyed interests, rallies that he continues to openly encourage. Cesca again:
During this harrowing episode in our national history, we’re faced with two unprecedented calamities: an economic crisis and a health care crisis. Each one is being aggravated by a garishly costumed villain in the White House who lacks any interest in a rational, sustainable resolution. Sadly, this villain also possesses a base of loyalists who simultaneously recognize him as a serial liar while also insisting he’s the only government official who’s telling the truth….
Trump obviously wants these increasingly berserker protests to continue in hopes of forcing governors to, like Trump, ignore experts and reopen businesses and schools prematurely. Again, why? It’s partly so he can blame the governors, especially the blue-state ones, for any subsequent spikes in the numbers. It’s also because the protests amplify the grievances of his base, which is good for turnout…
The photos of these gun-totin’, Star & Bars-flyin’, death cult-subscribin’ angry white people demanding their “rights” are the photos that history books will print in the chapter about how the United States was brought down by the lethal, childish ignorance of its own citizens.
And while we’re talking about it, please don’t call these people “protestors.” Men with body armor and tricked out AR-15s forcing their way into the office of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, shouting “Lock her up!” and comparing her to Hitler are not “protestors.”
They’re domestic terrorists.
If these folks were black, you’d better believe Fox Nation would be screaming for them to be arrested and shipped off to Gitmo, if not out in the street with ropes taking matters into their own hands.
And Trump is saying Governor Whitmer should negotiate with them? Isn’t that rule No. 1 about what you don’t do with terrorists? Yes, unless you’re on the terrorists’ side.
So in the end, will this gaslighting succeed in defiance of objective reality, even as the months go by and the bodies pile up and the pain multiplies and the economy continues to suffer?
I don’t know. But it is precisely what Orwell wrote about in 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
The con can be exposed, if we are smart and resolute. Rick Wilson, George Conway, and the other Never Trumpers of the Lincoln Project clearly got under his skin this week with their Reagan-referencing “Mourning in America” spot, which prompted what even by Trump standards was a temper tantrum for the ages. Hey Don, I know Roy Cohn taught you to attack, attack, attack, but didn’t anybody ever teach you the value of playing it cool?
But if Donald Trump manages to win re-election in spite of all this, we will not be able to say it was a fluke—like 2016—or an act of temporary insanity, or the result of Kremlin sabotage, or anything else other than an indictment of our own self-destructive stupidity.
If he wins with a minority of the popular vote, or under shady circumstances—that is to say, if he wins because we could not control that angry minority of right wing cretins who have gotten a chokehold on our democracy—that will be almost as shameful, because it will mean that our system is thoroughly broken and we can’t get out act together sufficiently to fix it.
Our collective willingness to go along with this bullshit—or to buck it—will be an acid test of America’s character. Right now it doesn’t look like we’re heading for a passing grade.
Photo: I dunno, somewhere from the depths of hell, I guess.