Nearly 90,000 cases of coronavirus were reported in the United States on Thursday, a record. That’s the third time we have topped 80,000 cases in one day, all three in the past week. Cases are now surging in states all over the country. Hospitalizations have peaked in well over a dozen states. Around 228,000 Americans have died of the virus, including more than 1,000 on Thursday alone.

But Donald Trump Jr. has identified the real problem with our media discussion of this public health catastrophe: The press won’t level with you about how low the death rate truly is. Worse, media figures refuse to celebrate this towering achievement. After all, they’re all out to get his father.

The president’s son said on Fox News that death rates have dwindled to “almost nothing.” This is starting to attract attention. But his whole rant is worth enduring, because it’s a particularly vivid illustration of the true nature of the case his father is making for reelection, and why Americans should reject it.

“Why aren’t they talking about deaths?” Trump Jr. whined to Laura Ingraham about the media on Thursday night, before answering his own question: “Because the number is almost nothing. Because we’ve gotten control of this thing.”

The careful reader will note that, in addition to being dismissive about death numbers, he claimed the media is not discussing the “almost nothing” death levels precisely because it’s such an admirable accomplishment.

The president and his propagandists constantly insist the coronavirus is largely behind us, and that President Trump’s leadership deserves great credit for it. But this is regularly accompanied by another claim — that the media is falsely hyping the contrary case, to damage his reelection chances.

“The Fake News Media is riding COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election,” Trump raged the other day. “Losers!”

Phony victimization

On Fox, Trump Jr. positively oozed with this sort of phony, staged victimization. Media figures are hyping coronavirus as part of a broader effort to deliberately discourage Trump rallies, he and Ingraham agreed.

Ingraham posted video of CNN’s Sanjay Gupta advising that going to rallies, or any such “gathering of several hundred people,” risks exposing you to the virus. “These people are truly morons,” the president’s son scoffed. He nodded as Ingraham suggested this is all part of a media plot to “brand Trump rallies.”

The idea that elites — whether we’re talking about scientists, media figures, Democratic governors, what have you — are deliberately discouraging conservatives from associating with one another, that they are enemies of conservative community, is a mainstay of Trumpist propaganda.

In reality, all of us who practice social distancing are enduring the emotional hardships imposed by it. But in Trumpist mythology, only conservatives and Trump supporters are the victims of efforts to instill it. Public health measures can only be about disrupting the political association of Trump voters.

Trump cannot bring himself to speak to the nation as one people suffering through the same crisis, let alone urge us to make collective sacrifices in one another’s mutual interests. In reminding us of this, Trump’s son just illustrated one of the main strikes against reelecting him.

Don Jr. frames the stakes

Indeed, with this whole rant, the president’s son actually framed the stakes of this election quite usefully. He is telling us exactly what reelecting his father stands for: the proposition that the current level of viral spread, sickness, misery and death constitute an acceptable trade-off for resuming total normalcy and reaping the benefits of doing so, as if that were even possible amid pandemic conditions in the first place.

This is obviously not an argument that has broad public support. So the president’s son is forced to lie about the true nature of the current situation. “The rising case numbers are because they’re testing more,” he told Ingraham.

This is one of his father’s favorite lies. But testing alone does not account for the rise in cases. Claiming the deaths are down to “almost nothing” is part of a broader set of distortions.

Or maybe that’s best understood as the true Trumpist position, as Trump’s true reelection platform. Trump and his allies simply don’t think the current levels of cases and deaths are a big deal. If the spikes in cases are only due to testing, then nothing Trump is doing — or failing to do — can possibly explain them, or saddle him with responsibility for them, or (least of all) oblige a course correction.

Meanwhile, for Trump, the media’s real sin is spotlighting cases and deaths as if they do matter, when they shouldn’t:

This the choice we’re faced with in the election. As Ed Yong writes at the Atlantic, the current course guarantees that “more Americans will be sickened, disabled, and killed.” But it doesn’t have to be this way:

Many other nations have successfully controlled it, some more than once. Masks can stop people from transmitting the virus. Shutting down nonessential indoor venues and improving ventilation can limit the number of super-spreading events. Rapid tests and contact tracing can identify clusters of infection, which can be contained if people have the space and financial security to isolate themselves. Social interventions such as paid sick leave can give vulnerable people the option of protecting their lives without risking their livelihoods.

We can’t be sure how successfully a President Joe Biden would manage the crisis. But we can be sure that he’ll try to scale up a much more robust federal effort, one that has so far been sorely missing. Biden has a detailed plan to contain the virus. He will attempt to implement it.

Biden won’t lie relentlessly to the country about what we’re facing. He won’t tell Americans not to listen to experts. He won’t heap sandbox-level ridicule on the basic health precautions we must take.

We already know how Trump will handle the virus, and what it means for our country. We’re living through it right now. His course can only get worse, perhaps much worse. And the president’s son just told us as clearly as we could ask for that if you reelect his father, nothing will change.

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