On Friday night, Donald Trump called the coronavirus epidemic a “hoax” by Democrats who “failed” to bring him down over his collusion with Russia, or the extortion of Ukraine that led to his impeachment. After weeks of downplaying the threat, of ignoring the spread around the world, and of demonstrating that his concerns begin and end with the stock market, Trump has moved on to the next stage of how he is handling the COVID-19 issue — affixing the blame.
On a rally stage in South Carolina, Trump took his statement that he could kill Americans and get away with it out of the realm of theory and put it into practice. The people that he murdered might not be dead yet, but his words on that stage have killed them as certainly as if he lined them up on Fifth Avenue and opened fire.
Trump has criminally underplayed the importance of emergency preparations of all kinds. His gutted White House has disposed of epidemiologists and emergency response specialists from the National Security Council, CDC, and elsewhere — for reasons that don’t seem to be much more defined than Trump’s lifelong hatred of having people around who know that what is doing is foolish.
During his positively incoherent press event on Thursday, Trump already knew that there were sixty cases of coronavirus within the United States. More importantly, he knew that the CDC had just identified the first case of “community spread” in the country — a case that didn’t come in from overseas, and wasn’t obviously tied to someone who had caught it outside the country. Before his speech in South Carolina, three more cases had been identified, including another case of community spread. However, Trump insisted on telling his rally audience that there were still only “fifteen cases in this huge country.”
Trump took credit for this “pretty amazing” imaginary victory, claiming it was because he “moved early.” But it’s clear that Trump wants to declare the win … won. And everything that happens from now on can’t be blamed on him.
Trump: “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that … coronavirus. We did one of the great jobs, you say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They say, ‘Oh, not good. Not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. … They tried to beat you on ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ that didn’t work out to well. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried over and over. They been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”
The worst thing with Trump’s statement isn’t that it once again treats an infectious disease as a political talking point. It’s not that he’s failing to warn his listeners of the genuine threat they and their families will be facing. It’s not even that he’s dodging the blame for a response that has already proven inadequate.
The worst thing is that Trump never has a worst thing. There is always more ahead. Because when confronted, he won’t admit a mistake, or apologize, or even try to sidestep. He will double down.
And where he’s going can already be seen in the way that this story is being handled by right-wing media and by politicians who are racing to get ahead of the issue … the Republican way.
Joanne Wright is an actual Republican candidate for Congress in the 34th California district currently held by Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez. Gomez won his last race with 72% of the vote … over a Green Party candidate, as Republicans didn’t even field a challenger. Wright doesn’t actually represent a threat to take away a seat in the House.
But she represents a threat all right. Her version of the coronavirus situation, with conspiracy theory ladled on top of conspiracy theory, with a heaping helping of both antisemitism and anti-Catholicism is exactly how this story is circulating in right wing channels. That may seem like the batsh#t fringe of the party. But at this point, the Trumpist party is all fringe.
Trump is already stepping onto this ground with his claim that the coronavirus is a Democratic hoax. With the stock market already in free-fall, and the disease beginning to spread across the nation in earnest, there is no place he will not go. Or at least … no place except responsible behavior and good management.