The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s awful new reelection strategy makes a powerful case against him

(Alex Brandon/AP)
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After denying the very existence of the novel coronavirus for weeks, then explicitly disavowing all responsibility for its carnage, then blaming a dozen other people and entities for his own disastrous failures, then flirting with the idea of playing “wartime president” against the pandemic only to rapidly jettison that pose, President Trump has now adopted yet another posture toward the biggest public health emergency in modern times:

Suck it up, America.

Over the weekend, Trump claimed that “99 percent” of cases are “totally harmless.” This disgusting lie appears based on an absurdly downgraded death-rate calculation and ignores multiple realities: The virus’s degradations are severe and persistent even in many who survive it, and carriers spread it to others — indeed, we’re hitting new highs in case levels as we speak.

But claims like this will be increasingly central to Trump’s reelection effort. The Post reports that his advisers, recognizing the dire threat the virus poses to his chances, are seeking to “reframe his response”:

The goal is to convince Americans that they can live with the virus — that schools should reopen, professional sports should return, a vaccine is likely to arrive by the end of the year and the economy will continue to improve.
White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House’s thinking, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations. Americans will “live with the virus being a threat,” in the words of one of those people, a senior administration official.

There are actually two layers of depravity here. The first is the suggestion that Trump’s own past handling of the coronavirus can be somehow disconnected from the rolling catastrophe of this moment.

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In reality, as James Fallows’s exhaustive examination of the manifold failures here shows, this was a “preventable catastrophe.” The pandemic playbook bequeathed to Trump was overlooked. He sociopathically refused to take the crisis seriously for crucial lost weeks, leaving functional systems inactivated. And he unleashed destructive passions among his supporters that continue to horribly impair our collective civic response.

The second layer of depravity here is the implicit idea that we couldn’t possibly be doing better than we are doing right now — we have to “live with” the current crisis, because Trump’s stupendous leadership couldn’t possibly be producing a better outcome.

Even as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases passes 3 million, President Trump has repeatedly played down covid-19’s toll on the country. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton / Washington Post/The Washington Post)

Central to Trump’s new push is the idea that Trump actually has succeeded in scaling up a massive testing regime. Trump’s propagandists tell The Post that they will cite his “radical ramping up of testing” and his success in overseeing “the greatest mobilization since World War II.”

This is absolute nonsense. As a terrific Politico investigation reveals, while it’s true that we’re conducting more tests than ever before, we’re still far short of the testing capacity we need to reopen the country safely.

Part of this is that the current spikes we’re seeing are overwhelming the very testing capacity that actually has been built up — much of it without federal government help — in recent months. We’re now hitting new highs in rolling averages of new daily cases nationwide and in numerous states — and experts say these spikes are happening in part because of the too-rapid reopening in many states.

Don’t let this get memory-holed: In many of these cases, Trump himself urged friendly governors to implement those reopenings.

And given that the testing capacity we now have is getting overwhelmed by the new cases, let’s also not forget that experts widely counseled for months we’d need far more testing and contact-tracing capacity. As Politico notes:

Experts and government officials warned months ago that the country would need a minimum of 100,000 contact tracers to reopen safely. But states are working with only one-third that number, a shortfall that has helped fuel the recent spike in cases.
Rather than establish a national strategy for contact tracing, the Trump administration has given feedback on state plans and admonished the public to maintain physical distancing and practice robust hand-washing.

And even as many states are being forced to scramble to pull back on reopening plans, Trump himself continues to undermine whatever positive messaging about distancing actually is coming out of his administration.

Indeed, Trump continues to encourage a form of widespread coronavirus-denial among his own supporters that will both make it harder for officials to implement those reversals on reopening and make it less likely that countless individuals continue distancing and wearing masks.

At bottom, here’s what the new “live with it” strategy really amounts to. By relentlessly feeding that covid-denial, Trump is operating from the calculation that his best hope of reelection is to create the widespread illusion that we’re roaring back to normalcy far faster than we actually are.

But the other central ingredient here is the ongoing effort to create the illusion that this was, and is, the best we could have done — the best we can do — under such trying circumstances. If so, we may as well get back to normal life and suck up the consequences, which were and are supposedly unavoidable.

And that, in turn, actually constitutes a remarkably compelling argument for working toward his defeat as hard as possible.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s immoral campaign is also incoherent

James Downie: No wonder the Trump administration doesn’t want Anthony Fauci on TV

E.J. Dionne Jr.: A vicious culture war is all Trump has left

Greg Sargent: Biden just slammed Trump on a new and hidden vulnerability

Eugene Robinson: We’re No. 1! In a pandemic, that’s no cause for celebration.

The Post’s View: No Mr. Trump, the virus is not under control. It is in control.