“Easter’s a very special day for me,” explained Trump. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” And later: “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”
To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.
But Easter is the holiest date on the Christian calendar, when the resurrection of Christ is celebrated. And it would be blasphemous to use a day dedicated to the renewal of life in a manner that leads to further death. The packing of churches in a little over two weeks would almost certainly be an epidemiological disaster in much of the country. It is impossible to imagine most priests and pastors treating the lives of their congregants with such disdain.
Yet some Americans, under the president’s guidance, may now regard the defiant resumption of their lives as a kind of partisan duty. It is, in Trump’s words, the “LameStream Media” that wants to “keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success.” The president is sending the signal to his core supporters that media coverage of the virus — and thus the advice of experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health on which that coverage is largely based — is purposely and maliciously overwrought. The “real people,” in contrast, “want to get back to work ASAP.”
It is one of the strangest, most dangerous moments in presidential history. At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.
This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.
All this raises the question: On what basis is Trump making decisions in the current crisis? His Easter festival of infection was certainly not proposed on any medical or scientific basis.
American experts at the highest level simply do not know whether the nightmare we are witnessing in New York City is an outlier or a vision of the future for other U.S. cities. Because of its population density, New York was always the kind of place where a pandemic would hit hard. But the policy of sheltering in place is providing a glimmer of hope. The doubling time for hospitalizations has gone from two days to 4.7 days. This does not mean that New York is over the top of the curve, but it may mean that current measures are beginning to work.
Will other large urban areas follow the same course as New York? Hopefully, they have started their mitigation efforts — closing schools, sending workers home, enforcing social distancing — soon enough to avoid the steepest part of the curve. But that remains to be seen.
In the absence of compelling evidence, Trump’s premature declaration of victory — and the postulation of a plot against his presidency — must have other motivations. I think we can safely discount Trump’s aesthetic explanation — his attraction to Easter’s beauty. Is he trying to talk up the stock market? Laying the groundwork to defy his health advisers? Shifting blame for an economic slowdown to the governors?
In the end, it matters little. Whatever the reason, Trump is wishing us all a very deadly Easter.