Quick: What do all these things have in common?
The answer: In all these cases, Trump isn’t just stating claims. He and his cronies are also corruptly manipulating the levers of your government to make them into truths, or inflate them into issues that will garner news coverage that helps him in some way, or both.
Because the crush of governmental manipulation to serve Trump’s personal and political ends is so relentless, we often focus only on isolated examples as they skate past.
But we need to connect the dots. Taken together, they tell a larger story that is truly staggering in its levels of corruption:
Rushing coronavirus treatments. The New York Times just reported that scientists inside Trump’s own government are warning that the White House is laying the groundwork to increase pressure to approve a vaccine before Election Day, “even in the absence of agreement on its effectiveness and safety.”
This manipulation is already happening: Trump pushed top health officials to approve a plasma treatment for the coronavirus without the full vetting some officials wanted, and in a way that resulted in officials wildly overstating its benefits.
Trump has explicitly tied the vaccine to his reelection timetable and has lashed out at scientists, saying they’re slow-walking the process to hurt him politically, which tells them meeting that schedule is to be a priority.
Interfering in public health messaging. Politico reports that political appointees have been relentlessly intervening to soften language in official communications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to align them with Trump’s rosy claims about the coronavirus. They’ve had some success.
This comes even as the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to award a $250 million contract to an outside communications firm in part to package a message of “hope” about the coronavirus. Democrats are investigating whether this is a taxpayer-funded “political propaganda campaign.”
This is a reasonable fear, based on other manipulation we’ve already seen: A White House model created to support overly optimistic coronavirus death projections, and White House efforts to edit CDC school reopening guidelines to downplay risk.
Twisting intelligence to support campaign agitprop. A Department of Homeland Security whistleblower has revealed that top officials pressed for findings about civil unrest to be revised to downplay white-supremacist violence and pump up the illusion of an organized leftist domestic terror threat.
Numerous of Trump’s top law enforcement and national security officials have used their government positions to lend validation to unsupported claims bolstering that narrative, which has figured heavily in Trump’s campaign messaging.
Helping cast doubt on Russian electoral sabotage. Attorney General William P. Barr may reportedly release an interim report on his department’s ongoing “review” of the origins of the Russia investigation before the election. Barr reportedly wants the U.S. attorney doing the review to move faster.
Importantly, this is not merely about the 2016 election, or about validating Trump’s bogus “Obamagate” narrative. It’s about this election, too: Barr wants to discredit the special counsel’s findings about Russian interference in 2016. This won’t just make Trump’s last win appear less tainted. By downplaying Russian culpability, it could also facilitate another round of it now.
Limiting disclosure of knowledge of Russian sabotage. Meanwhile, Trump’s intelligence officials have announced an end to in-person congressional briefings on what they’re learning about ongoing Russian efforts to sabotage this election.
This, too, risks further facilitating those efforts, by limiting understanding of them among Congress and voters. It comes after Trump privately raged over previous steps by intelligence officials to inform Congress about them.
Meanwhile, the statements that intel officials have released about Russian interference are extraordinarily circumspect and muddy the waters with false equivalences about Chinese and Iranian efforts, which mislead the public and thus further facilitate it.
Discrediting vote-by-mail. Barr is also cranking out false public statements to discredit vote-by-mail, whether it’s falsely claiming it’s vulnerable to a massive foreign-engineered conspiracy or blatantly misrepresenting actual domestic cases of fraud.
This isn’t just about helping Trump mislead. By using his position as chief law enforcement officer to lend validity to these lies, Barr is creating cover for Trump’s coming effort to try to invalidate countless mail ballots against him, which he has already telegraphed.
Validating fake narratives about Hunter Biden. Trump’s Republican Senate allies still continue to pursue a phony investigation designed to fake-validate a series of smears about Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
These have been thoroughly debunked, and the Treasury Department just issued sanctions against a foreign official pushing similar narratives, calling him a Russian agent pushing Russian disinformation. (Here one part of government is doing the right thing against Trump’s Senate cronies.)
But the Senate GOP probe is plainly being pursued with the goal of releasing a report to generate news both-sides stories that cast a miasmic pall of corruption over both Bidens.
The bottom line: Trump isn’t trying to persuade a majority of U.S. voters to support him. Instead, he’s trying to get within what you might call cheating distance of pulling another electoral college inside straight even while losing the popular vote, just like last time.
He’s not there yet. But many top Trump officials and congressional allies have placed their official duties and the levers of your government at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort, which depends on closing that gap.