Yet again, Donald Trump and his band of incompetent sycophants are prioritizing their own propaganda efforts over the security of this nation and the health of Americans. We previously learned that the bizarre White House focus on hydroxychloroquine extended to actually stockpiling large quantities of the drug even as efforts to procure more urgent supplies like masks and ventilators sputtered; trials would soon prove the drug to be dangerous, and sometimes deadly, to COVID-19 patients, but not before the White House fired the government's chief vaccine expert for refusing to endorse the drug.
The New York Times is now reporting that "senior" Trump officials have similarly been pressuring United States intelligence agencies to find "evidence" for the far-right conspiracy theory that the virus responsible for COVID-19 was the product of a Chinese government laboratory, rather than a naturally occurring virus that jumped from animal to human hosts. The Times identifies the leader of those efforts as still-unindicted Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
There is not one iota of evidence for this conspiracy theory, and it has been debunked, with confidence, by the scientists who have studied the actual composition of the virus. It is closely related to viruses that use bats as their natural hosts, and likely evolved via some secondary host or hosts that carried the virus from bats to humans. Gene editing tools leave markers that can be found; this virus has none. The virus infects via a mechanism that a human designer would be hard-pressed to design, and is both too infectious and too unpredictable to be an attempted bioweapon. Intelligence officials themselves have been confident, based on our own nation's espionage, that Chinese laboratories weren’t involved.
Nonetheless, the conspiracy theory remains attractive to racists, xenophobes, crackpots, and Trump's advisers because it provides for a satisfying geopolitical enemy to blame all our current woes on. That natural virus mutations could and do create new variants that sweep through our populations with regularity is hard to deal with; saying the Chinese Communists did it is, for people whose brains are predominantly pudding, something that can be instantly grasped and believed. If there is an enemy, there is someone to rally against. If there is an enemy, it allows Donald Trump to declare that his myriad failures in combatting the pandemic during the early weeks when it mattered were, when it comes down to it, the fault of some malevolent outside force rather than his own self-absorbed indifference and stupidity.
Pressuring intelligence services to "find" evidence for something that they have already debunked is similar, of course, to the Iraq War-era manipulation of intelligence by the Bush/Cheney administration. It is also a mirror of the hydroxychloroquine fiasco in which the Trump team took government resources away from actual pandemic response to instead focus on one of Dear Leader's own political narratives. The Trump administration is leaning on intelligence agencies to provide "dirt" that Donald Trump's campaign can use to boost his political prospects. As with Trump's efforts to extort Ukraine into providing similar election-year "dirt," whether the information is true or false is irrelevant. It is intended as propaganda; it will be disbursed to the public in that form. And Mike Pompeo’s involvement in both efforts should not escape notice.
Trump continues to run the United States government solely as a vehicle for himself and his own self-interest. He continues to actively harm the nation, weakening or delaying competent government responses during a national emergency to instead pursue self-promotional, propaganda-premised goals.
He has the full support of his entire White House team, Republican lawmakers, and the Republican Party apparatus in doing so. We are at 60,000 deaths, and Trump is directing his government to redirect resources once again away from the reality of the situation before us and into fantasy versions that he believes would make him look more heroic, and less like a catastrophic, history-altering failure.