It doesn’t really matter what is or isn’t proven. China will continue to label it fake news either way. Everyone does that, anyway. Whataboutism, too. Very neat. Very handy. You can prove whatever you want. Debunk whatever you want. And China would just deflect. It’s kind of like dealing with a baby — you cannot scold a baby, the baby would just cry. All you can do to prevent the baby from doing what you do not want him to do? Distract him.
China can always bring up the Iraq war. Vietnam. Racism in America. Bring up anything really. Don’t admit to any wrongdoing. Ever. Maybe a small, tiny little concession here and there, but nothing major. The West is just jealous and trying to “keep the mighty Chinese dragon down”. They’re insecure! They cannot handle the great and glorious success of red China.
Yes maybe we Chinese are not nice to our Muslim inhabitants, but… Iraq! Weapons of mass destruction lie, haha. You’re worse, America. Much worse. Fuck you. Maybe in some ways we’re bad. Maybe. BIG maybe. But you’re worse. Lol. Argument won. Yankee western imperialist successfully destroyed.
And hey, didn’t the British bring opium to China? Didn’t the West humiliate and weaken China for a long time? Even if you could prove China unleashed some virus on purpose to weaken the West, or was at best quite careless in containing it, you’ll see Chinese hypernationalists, marinated in seven decades of indoctrination, make actual excuses for it. Justifying it. Like how they justify everything the CCP does anyway.
They’ll make some video of people in Wuhan singing some catchy song. Like how they hired some supposed Uyghurs to praise the Chinese state in obviously scripted messages before… and, move on. Fully expecting the world to move on soon after.
Trump is lost in “magical thinking,” proclaims one health expert. Trump is “basically in denial,” insists one Democratic governor. Trump is “incapable of grasping that people are dying,” frets one advocate for educators.
But is the problem really that Trump is incapable of learning, or that he’s deceiving himself, or that he’s closed his eyes to reality?
The preponderance of the evidence points to something far worse.
Trump has been widely and repeatedly informed by his own and other experts for many months that his failure to take coronavirus more seriously could have utterly catastrophic consequences, that it could result in widespread suffering and needless deaths.
It isn’t enough to point out that Trump repeatedly ignored that advice. What’s more important is that Trump has repeatedly seen the predicted consequences of those failures come to pass, and is seeing that right now.
Yet Trump still continues not just to downplay the severity of the virus’s continuing toll, but also to actively discourage current efforts to mitigate the spread — by failing to set an example through mask-wearing, for instance — and to urge the very sort of rapid reopening that has already contributed to catastrophic outcomes.
The carnage is mounting once again. Total cases just hit 3 million. They have risen in 37 states over the last two weeks — hitting single-day records in six — and the national rolling average of 50,000 new daily cases is far outpacing June’s.
There’s no doubt that the decision to reopen rapidly in many states — which Trump urged — has played some kind of important role in the current surges. As a former Baltimore health commissioner noted: “The key is we did not have to be here right now.”
Yet Trump has shown zero signs of even trying to grapple with the cause and effect behind these new circumstances. Instead, he continues to lie about them, falsely claiming we have the lowest mortality rate in the world, falsely claiming that “99 percent” of cases are “totally harmless,” and absurdly claiming the virus will “disappear.”
Can this really be described as being in denial?
We know why Trump is doing this
Trump was privately warned in January by his Health and Human Services secretary that a pandemic was coming. He dismissed this as “alarmist,” then largely refused to act for weeks, only to see coronavirus rampage out of control here as a result.
And experts loudly warned in April that a rapid reopening could prove disastrous. Trump urged it anyway, and we’re now learning the experts were right.
We know why Trump did these things. He feared that publicly taking coronavirus too seriously would spook the markets, which he sees as crucial to his reelection. His allies frankly admitted reopenings would fuel the impression of rapid rebound, helping his reelection (or so they thought).
In those cases, Trump made an active choice to prioritize his own perceived political needs over what experts — including his own — recommended as in the best interests of the country. He has now seen them proved right twice.
We’re seeing something similar once again. Trump’s own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that localities minimize crowds at voting places by pursuing “alternative voting methods” amid coronavirus’s new spread.
It is a certainty that Trump will continue falsely claiming that vote-by-mail is subject to massive fraud, to make it politically harder for local officials to scale it up. We know why Trump does this. He has told us himself: He fears vote-by-mail makes it more likely that Republicans will lose the election — meaning that he will lose.
When Trump repeats these lies about vote-by-mail in the wake of the CDC guidance, will we claim Trump is merely “in denial” about the dangers of discouraging such alternative voting options?
Not clueless and hapless. Malevolent.
Once we dispense with the idea that Trump remains “in denial,” we’re left with a few interpretations. The most charitable is that Trump continues to have principled disagreements with experts over these matters, but there are zero indications he has any substantively grounded views on them of any kind.
A far less charitable interpretation is that he’s merely indifferent to the catastrophic consequences that are resulting from these failures — and will continue to do so — and that he’s prioritizing nakedly self-interested political calculations over any such concerns.
Trump has been steadily wrong in these political calculations, to be sure. At each stage, he has believed not acting was in his immediate interests, only to discover the consequences of inaction proved politically worse.
There may have been a species of denial at play in those faulty political calculations — a misguided faith in his magical ability to re-create his political reality through the force of will and tweet. But we can’t pretend any longer that Trump isn’t perfectly aware of what the real-world consequences of his actions — or inactions — will be.
The press critic Jay Rosen has repeatedly suggested that the effort to obscure Trump’s role in this ongoing fiasco is producing one of the biggest propaganda and disinformation campaigns in modern history. Central to getting this right is dispensing with the idea that Trump is a hapless, clueless actor rather than a deliberate and malevolent one.
Scott Atlats says that the costs of the lockdown were not measured, but in assessing the benefits they compare the number of actual deaths rather than the potential deaths were a lockdown not pursued.
The president approached the pandemic as he’s approached so many other challenges. This time, his failures have proved catastrophic.
“We’ve done an incredible, historic job,” President Donald Trump boasted Thursday about U.S. anti-coronavirus efforts.
The president was right, but not in the way he intended. While Trump traveled to Wisconsin, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was telling reporters that he believes that 20 million Americans have been infected. The Labor Department was announcing almost 1.5 million new jobless claims, three weeks after Trump bragged that the economy was back. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas was pausing his state’s reopening. And the U.S. was setting yet another one-day record for new positive tests.
In short, the federal government’s response to the pandemic has been incredible and historic, but in the way that a devastating natural disaster is—only with 10 to 20 times the number of fatalities of any natural disaster in American history. Since the disease first cropped up, the White House has tried denial, swerved to at least pretending to take the virus seriously, then pivoted back to denial. Now, with a new surge of infections sweeping some of the places that have supported Trump most devotedly, parts of the administration are trying to act again. But the president stubbornly refuses to acknowledge reality, continuing to act as though he can bluff his way through a pandemic—long after the pandemic has called his bluff, collected his chips, and cashed them in.
One demonstration of the contradictory approach came Friday afternoon when Vice President Mike Pence held the first briefing of the White House task force on the coronavirus in two months. Pence is a flawed messenger: Just last week, he wrote an embarrassingly shoddy column in The Wall Street Journal, insisting that “panic is overblown,” and writing, “Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”
Yet even as Pence resuscitates the task force, Anthony Fauci has barely been speaking with Trump, though the president has found time to misrepresent him on Twitter. Notably, the press conference wasn’t at the White House, and it didn’t include Trump. (Instead, he was speaking at a workforce-advisory-board meeting at the White House.)
The president is more interested in declaring victory (over and over again), declining to wear a mask, and hosting campaign rallies that are likely to spread the virus. Trump’s presence might signal White House recognition of the resurgent pandemic, but that wouldn’t necessarily help things. When he held briefings, the president tended to turn them into a substitute for his campaign rallies, with political asides and awful medical advice.
That is because the president has never fully understood the pandemic or its repercussions. In his public comments, from his February claim that cases would go to zero to his April suggestion of using bleach and UV light to treat COVID-19 patients, Trump showed he had no grasp on the science of the disease. Though he initially dismissed the threat from the virus, the administration eventually recognized a need to at least attempt to show its seriousness as the virus spread. Daily task-force briefings provided a focal point, but it soon became clear that the White House was not prepared to take serious action to fight the pandemic, and preferred to delegate that work to states. (Though not without some armchair sniping from the Oval Office.)
Having passed the buck to governors, Trump moved on to a new strategy: pushing to reopen the country as soon as possible. But having flunked the science, the president never understood why the economy was reeling, either. He grasped the grave damage to the economy, and also the danger it poses to his reelection, and concluded that those problems could be solved by getting businesses back open and lockdowns loosened. This didn’t work, because the biggest reason for the economic shutdown was not that governors and mayors were forcing people to stay home—it was that people were choosing to stay home. As long as the pandemic was ravaging the country, there could be no real economic rebound, as my colleague Derek Thompson has written.
The attempt to solve the pandemic by getting the economy open was an extension of the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach Trump has used on everything, including health policy and foreign negotiations. Because outbreaks were especially concentrated in areas that voted for Democrats in 2016 and 2018, it was easier for Trump to minimize them; he’s never shown much interest in being a president for—much less winning over—those voters who didn’t back him. The administration conceded that some number of people would die (a ceiling that keeps rising) but says that if not for Trump’s actions, millions would have died, and anyway, some level of death is tragic but a necessary sacrifice. You’ve got to break a few eggs to make omelets—and to get your local restaurant back open to serve them at brunch.
For a while, a weird equilibrium prevailed. The number of cases nationwide plateaued, and there was a slight decrease in unemployment at the beginning of June. Though public-health experts shouted that the danger hadn’t even remotely passed, every state began some measure of reopening. Trump declared victory once again. Some of the press moved on to discussing what a second wave might look like. Parts of the country that hadn’t seen as much spread of the disease never closed, or reopened especially quickly. This was particularly true in rural and conservative areas led by governors closely aligned with the president. When local authorities, especially those in urban centers, begged for leeway to fight the virus, they were rebuffed.
But as it happened, the first wave had never ended. My colleagues Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal laid out all the dire indicators, and wrote, “The American coronavirus pandemic is once again at risk of spinning out of control. A large majority of Americans are worried about the pandemic again, after numbers dipped, and a growing number now say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.”
Worse for Trump, the new surge is coming not in the blue cities and states but in red ones—and ones such as Arizona and Texas, which he won in 2016 but where polling is tight for this year’s presidential election. One clear correlation is that places where restaurants were open and busiest a few weeks ago seem to have the worst outbreaks now. Those places that took the president’s advice and reopened are now paying the price in health. Against this background, a series of new polls have shown the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, building a large lead over the president.
The president believed he could bluff the virus into submission, the way he’s successfully bluffed many political opponents before. The terrible numbers on infections and hospitalizations show that it didn’t work. Even though that gambit failed, the president is trying to bluff voters into believing he’s done a great job handling the outbreak. The poll numbers suggest that they’re not buying it either.
No other developed country is doing so badly.
Graphs of the coronavirus curves in Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy look like mountains, with steep climbs up and then back down. The one for America shows a fast climb up to a plateau. For a while, the number of new cases in the U.S. was at least slowly declining. Now, according to The Times, it’s up a terrifying 22 percent over the last 14 days.
As Politico reported on Monday, Italy’s coronavirus catastrophe once looked to Americans like a worst-case scenario. Today, it said, “America’s new per capita cases remain on par with Italy’s worst day — and show signs of rising further.”
This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.
At the federal level as well as in many states, we’re seeing a combination of the blustering contempt for science that marks the conservative approach to climate change and the high tolerance for carnage that makes American gun culture unique.
The rot starts at the top. At the beginning of the crisis Trump acted as if he could wish the coronavirus away, and after an interval when he at least pretended to take it seriously, his administration has resumed a posture of blithe denial.
The task force led by Mike Pence has been sidelined, its members meeting only twice a week. Last Tuesday, the vice president wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal about how well things are going: “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” he claimed.
In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, Trump said the virus is “fading away.” Speaking to The Journal, he said that some people might be wearing masks only to show their disapproval of him and suggested, contrary to all credible public health guidance, that mask-wearing might increase people’s risk of infection. It’s not surprising, then, that many people at his sad Saturday rally in Tulsa, Okla. — where coronavirus cases are spiking — went maskless.
Just a few weeks ago, panicked about occupying my kids through the summer in a shut-down New York City, I thought about taking them to stay with my retired parents in Arizona. Now, as New York gingerly reopens, Arizona has become a hot spot — which isn’t stopping Trump from holding a rally at a Phoenix megachurch on Tuesday. Cases are also soaring in Texas, Florida and several other states. An epidemic that was once concentrated in blue states is increasingly raging in red ones.
When coronavirus cases started exploding on the East Coast in March, there were devastating failures by Democratic leaders. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only forced nursing homes to take back residents who’d been hospitalized for the coronavirus, he barred them from testing the residents to see if they were still infected.
As ProPublica reported, following Cuomo’s order, “Covid-19 tore through New York state’s nursing facilities, killing more than 6,000 people — about 6 percent of its more than 100,000 nursing home residents.” In Florida, which prohibited such transfers, the virus has so far killed only 1.6 percent of nursing home residents.
Given how Cuomo’s errors contributed to New York’s catastrophe, it’s hard to say how much credit he deserves for eventually rising to the occasion. Still, by the time New York’s cases got to where Arizona’s are now, he at least understood that the state faced calamity and imposed the lockdown that helped bring it back from the abyss.
Arizona, Florida and Texas, by contrast, aren’t even doing simple things like mandating mask-wearing. Worse, until last week, the governors of Arizona and Texas prevented cities from instituting their own such requirements.
So far, evidence about the role mass protests over police violence played in coronavirus spikes is mixed, but liberal support for the demonstrations solidified the conviction among many conservatives that strict social distancing rules are a hypocritical tool of social control. The paranoia and resentment that have long been part of the culture of the modern right are now directed at those warning about the ongoing dangers of the pandemic.
Across the country, public health workers have faced death threats, harassment and armed protesters at their homes. No matter how bad things get in red America, it’s hard to imagine where the political will to contain the virus will come from.
So while countries with competent leadership haltingly return to normal, ours will continue to be pummeled. In mid-May, when America’s coronavirus death toll was around 85,000, Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham said that as long as fatalities didn’t go much beyond 120,000, “I think you can say you limited the casualties in this war.”
By The Times’s count, we just hit that number. The war goes on, but Trump has already lost it.
Attendees literally had to sign a waiver stipulating they wouldn’t hold the Trump campaign responsible if they contracted Covid at this rally.
PENCE: “We will always put the health of America first.”
Attendees literally had to sign a waiver stipulating they wouldn’t hold the Trump campaign responsible if they contracted Covid at this rally. pic.twitter.com/cNN8u4AR4o
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 21, 2020