Frank Rich: Coronavirus comes to Trump country


Frank Rich has a summary of the week’s news at New York Magazine. He succinctly ties together a number of related topics that I simply do not have the time to cover in full. I was particularly impressed with this analysis. MAGA vs. COVID:

In the face of a climbing death toll and against warnings from some of his advisers, Donald Trump continues to value “reopening the economy” more than the nation’s public-health needs. Will this strategy bring him any political advantage?

Since Trump’s only motive for any action is to seize political or economic advantage, that’s certainly his hope. He’s willing to violate his own administration’s public-health guidelines and risk untold additional “American carnage” on the bet that some charade of reopening will rescue him in November. His calculation is as transparent as it is cruel. Many of those dying belong to demographic groups who are not going to vote for him anyway, starting with African-Americans. He seems willing to write off the elderly too, now that recent polls show older voters starting to drift toward Joe Biden.

CDC data suggests a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups, COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups, as well as those who are 60 years of age or older with preexisting health issues. Rich’s suggestion that Trump is willing to risk tens of thousands more Americans dying because they belong to demographic groups who tend to vote Democratic as an election strategy is a morbid idea, but can you dismiss this as beyond believable? Of course not.

But there is one complicating variable in the equation: more testing is now showing us how far the virus has spread in MAGA-land. If you exclude New York — now a distorting statistical outlier because of its decline in cases — COVID-19 infections nationwide are “slowly moving up,” the epidemiologist Andrew Noymer told the Times this week. (The daily rise is 2 to 4 percent.) In addition, William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 813 of the 1,103 counties that have achieved “high-COVID status” (100 or more cases per 100,000 residents) since March 29 went for Trump in 2016. Many of those counties are in battleground states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania. But if the past is any guide, COVID victims may remain loyal to him regardless and find any way they can to crawl to the polls, whatever the threat of contagion to their neighbors.

I will beg to differ with Rich on this point. Members of the personality cult of Donald Trump will of course do as he predicts, but a significant percentage of voters who voted for Trump in 2016 who are not committed cultists are coming to the conclusion that America cannot continue to survive this way. They are the “anyone but Trump” voters. And remember, elections are won on the margins. The Election Came Down to 77,744 Votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Still, at some point when he is up tweeting in the middle of the night, Trump is worried that this strategy might not work out. No matter how much he discounts models of the pathogen’s spread, he seems dimly aware that the actual death count keeps exceeding his repeated lowball predictions, which started at “close to zero” then rose to “around 60,000,” then to “substantially below 100,000,” and, as of Sunday, to “anywhere from 75, 80 to 100 thousand people.” His new plan to counter this reality, emerging this week, is to sow confusion among the electorate by attacking the death toll’s accuracy, no doubt to ultimately brand it as a Fake News Hoax. He will also continue to purge anyone in the government who might say otherwise — most recently, the vaccine scientist Rick Bright, who fought Trump’s attempt to promote hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure, and the Department of Health and Human Services official Christi Grimm, who dared release a report on the severe shortage of medical supplies in the nation’s hospitals. Trump’s handling of Anthony Fauci is slightly less blatant. His refusal to let the top doctor fighting the pandemic testify before the House will be followed by a continued downsizing of his center-stage appearances at the White House coronavirus-task-force reality show. My guess is that SNL casting Brad Pitt as Fauci was the final straw for Trump.

As economic devastation mounts — reaching Great Depression proportions even in advance of a possible second wave of virus in the fall — Trump will challenge the accuracy of unemployment figures and other numerical measures of the intense pain. [Just as he did in 2016: 19 times Trump called jobs numbers ‘fake’ before they made him look good]. But he will put zero effort into any federal initiatives that might actually ameliorate the medical and economic calamities. He and his White House are still not doing what they failed to do in March and April, most crucially financing and mobilizing the national testing regime that is essential to curbing COVID-19, and therefore essential to a reopening of American commerce. He remains convinced that he can continue to overwhelm reality with sheer bluster, whether he’s promising a “spectacular” fourth quarter or sending his son-in-law out to deliver the pipe dream that “by July, the country’s really rocking again.” But the Trump act may be getting old: The ludicrous Fox News “town hall” that soiled the Lincoln Memorial Sunday night drew only 3.8 million viewers. That’s the kind of number that, unlike the death count, should give him pause. The three network evening newscasts, trying to counterprogram him with real news, are drawing between 6.5 and 12 million viewers each, daily.

“We have no choice,” Trump has said. “We can’t stay closed as a country. We’re not going to have a country left.” No one can say that he isn’t doing everything he can to make that last sentence come true. His actions and inactions alike are fomenting an America in which the poorest and weakest citizens, many of them on the front lines of protecting their neighbors’ health, safety, and food supply, are wiped out.

The news networks are headquartered in New York (CNN is in Atlanta), and the coronavirus outbreak in the Tri-state area made network coverage of the coronavirus and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conferences arguably local news coverage.

But now that the newest “hot spots” of coronavirus outbreaks are occurring in largely rural “red” states, concentrated at first in meat packing plants and nursing homes but certain to spread to local communities, the news coverage is beginning to shift. The coronavirus pandemic is on an upward trend in the interior of the country, it is no longer a coastal phenomenon one only sees on the evening news. It is now in your hometown, and your neighbor or coworker is sick. Someone you know from your church has died.

When Americans who thought they had been spared because they live in rural America start getting sick and dying, and There Is Still No Plan (by David Wallace-Wells) to end the coronavirus crisis from the White House, they may yet turn on Donald Trump and his Republican enablers:

Finally, in the last stimulus bill, some money was allotted for [testing] capacity, but the initiative didn’t come from the executive branch, which spent the time urging states to reopen. The testing will only come slowly, and, in the meantime, as MTA conductor Sujatha Gidla wrote in the Times this week, “essential” workers are being treated as “sacrificial.” On Twitter, Jeet Heer went even further: “I cannot underscore enough that the plan is to make the working class into human sacrifices on the altar of capitalism,” he wrote.

On his blog, press critic Jay Rosen was perhaps even more excoriating. “The plan is to have no plan,” he wrote, “to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible — by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by ‘flooding the zone with shit,’ Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call ‘search costs’ for reliable intelligence.”

What makes this especially strange is that Trump is an inveterate political animal, obsessed above all else with his own ratings and popularity, and should be able to see, as anyone else regarding the American political landscape can, that his political success depends on getting the disease under control and the economy somewhat back on its feet. But he hasn’t even tried, not even bothering to feel out the options made available to him by the crisis — true wartime power, expanded surveillance capacities, and much more leeway in other areas, should he choose to focus on them. Which is another reminder, if we needed it, that, for all liberals have worried over the president’s authoritarian tendencies the last few years, he has behaved in office much more like the con man he was in business than all the Mussolinis, Erdogans, and Putins he professed to admire in politics. Over the last few years, at every juncture when faced with an opportunity to seize more power, with the possible exception of immigration policy, he has chosen instead to do what he can to avoid responsibility. He is doing that now, with his reelection hanging in the balance — apparently preferring to be able to blame a loss in November on this virus, at the cost of perhaps hundreds of thousands of American lives, than to give himself a chance of winning, and a chance of saving them.

Donald Trump is leaving Trump country to die. Is he worth your dying for?

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