America faces no issue more pressing than the coronavirus pandemic, and so the president has found the message that he believes will carry him to reelection. It goes something like this:

Everything is fine. The pandemic is no big deal, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

We could call this “denial,” but that doesn’t begin to describe it. Because not only are we in the horrific situation we’re in because of President Trump, in the last week before the election he’s actively trying to make it worse.

By 9 a.m. on Monday morning, Trump had sent three tweets whining that the media are paying too much attention to the pandemic, including this one:

Now here’s some of what’s actually happening on the pandemic:

  • The number of Americans who have died of covid-19 has moved past 224,000
  • On two days last week, the daily number of new infections topped 80,000, higher than at any point since the pandemic began
  • In states around the country, a surge of covid-19 hospitalizations is swamping hospitals, leaving some intensive care units at full capacity
  • The White House itself is the location of a new outbreak, with at least five aides and advisers to Vice President Pence testing positive

The president himself is not concerned. “We are coming around, we’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything,” he said on Sunday at one of the rallies that themselves seem to have led to coronavirus spikes in many of the places where they have been held.

And the White House is now barely concealing what has been the case all along: They have no intention of working to contain the virus.

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’re not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”

Asked by host Jake Tapper to clarify, Meadows said that containment of the virus is essentially impossible, “Because it is a contagious virus. Just like the flu, it’s contagious.”

In other words, the administration sees public health measures including mask-wearing and social distancing as essentially pointless. You just have to wait for a vaccine and treatments for the sick.

When pressed, Meadows said that people could adopt “social distancing and masks when we can.” This is how Trump and other Republicans describe public health measures: not as particularly important, but a matter of personal convenience and taste. As Gov. Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota tweeted last week:

The pandemic is exploding in her state; only North Dakota tops it for new cases as a proportion of population.

We can’t forget this critical fact: Mask-wearing didn’t have to be politicized.

It wasn’t inevitable. Trump made it that way, not only with his personal refusal to wear one, but even more importantly by deriding people who wear masks as weak and encouraging protests against efforts by Democratic governors to impose public health measures to contain the virus. He turned refusing to wear a mask into a badge of tribal identification, a way of saying “MAGA 2020! To hell with you, liberals!”

And despite his insane insistence that 224,000 dead Americans — with who knows how many more to come — is the best we could possibly have done, all we have to do is look around the world to see how things could have been different.

We could have been like Canada (just under 10,000 deaths), or Japan (1,700 deaths), or Germany (just over 10,000 deaths), or South Korea (fewer than 500 deaths). Why did those countries succeed where we failed so spectacularly?

Two closely related reasons: They had competent leadership, and their populations didn’t go to war with themselves about whether to take simple public health measures — in part because those leaders weren’t so spectacularly stupid as to encourage people to flout them.

But Trump did. And even though he’s likely to lose the election primarily because of his failure on the pandemic, his narcissistic recklessness will keep killing people even after he’s gone.

What’s going to happen if Joe Biden wins the election and takes office in January? He’ll certainly do a better job managing the practical things the federal government has to do, such as coordinating distribution of protective equipment and finally creating a national testing strategy. And he’ll sign a relief bill that provides more funds to schools, local governments and businesses to enable them to operate safely.

But when he tells Americans to join together in a common effort — one that requires the participation of all of us — what’s the response going to be? It’ll be just what it is now, except worse.

Trump supporters will storm into stores without masks to show that they oppose the new president and still love the old one. They’ll be egged on by Republicans in Congress and at the state level, looking to stir up anger they can capitalize on to hamstring the administration and boost their own political futures. Democratic officials at every level will be the targets of more threats, plots and perhaps outright violence.

The result will be that the pandemic lasts longer than it needs to, and more Americans will die.

It’s just one of many ways we’ll be living with Trump’s toxic legacy for years to come. And that’s if he loses. It’s almost impossible to imagine how bad things will get if he wins.

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Distrust in the Trump administration has turned into distrust of science, adding to an already powerful anti-vaccine movement. (The Washington Post)

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