Peter Kafka in an interview with journalism critic Jay Rosen recently wrote at Vox, Trump’s denial of his coronavirus failings will be “one of the biggest propaganda battles in American history”:
Americans don’t trust the government, and they don’t trust the media. That trend has been evident for years, but the Trump era has accelerated it.
Now we can see the worst-case scenario that trend could create, playing out in front of our eyes: Confronted with a paralyzing coronavirus pandemic, there’s deep confusion about the steps the country should be taking to respond.
Don’t expect it to get better, says journalism critic Jay Rosen. That’s in large part because the Trump administration uses confusion as one of its primary political tools. Right now, it is employing it to create cover for the president, who wants to argue that he shouldn’t be blamed for a litany of missteps as the virus moved from China to the US and exploded across the country.
“The fight to keep Americans from understanding what happened from December to March is going to be one of the biggest propaganda battles in American history,” he told me recently. “The Republican Party and the Trump campaign and the MAGA coalition are going to have to produce confusion and doubt on a scale that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
That conflict is unfolding in plain sight: The point of that weird [propaganda] campaign video Trump rolled out at a White House press conference [last] week was to recast himself as bold and decisive in the face of the pandemic — as opposed to convincing reports in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets emerging recently that portray him and his administration as dithering and confused, and slow to make crucial decisions like telling the country to start socially distancing.
Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of Tthe New York Times analyze, A Key G.O.P. Strategy: Blame China. But Trump Goes Off Message.
The strategy could not be clearer: From the Republican lawmakers blanketing Fox News to new ads from President Trump’s super PAC to the biting criticism on Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter feed, the G.O.P. is attempting to divert attention from the administration’s heavily criticized response to the coronavirus by pinning the blame on China.
With the death toll from the pandemic already surpassing
34,000 Americans [the Trump body count is 43,630 as of this afternoon] and unemployment soaring to levels not seen since the Great Depression, Republicans increasingly believe that elevating China as an archenemy culpable for the spread of the virus, and harnessing America’s growing animosity toward Beijing, may be the best way to salvage a difficult election.
The Republican Party is no longer a political party in any conventional sense. It does not do public policy, other than fiercely defend more tax cuts for the rich and corporations. It is a right-wing propaganda machine driven by the conservative media entertainment complex, which thrives on white grievance, white nationalism, and culture wars. It is all about exploiting divisions, grievances and hatreds (personified by the likes of Rush Limbaugh). Republicans have no serious policy solutions to offer for the myriad of problems we face today, many of them caused by failed Republican policies.
Republican senators locked in difficult races are preparing commercials condemning China. Conservatives with future presidential ambitions of their own, like Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, are competing to see who can talk tougher toward the country where the virus first emerged. Party officials are publicly and privately brandishing polling data in hopes Mr. Trump will confront Beijing.
Mr. Trump’s own campaign aides have endorsed the strategy, releasing an attack ad last week depicting Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, as soft on China. [Largest pro-Trump super PAC drops $10 million on ads smearing Democratic rival as “Beijing Biden”.] The ad relied heavily on images of people of Asian descent, including former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, who is Chinese-American, and it was widely viewed as fanning the flames of xenophobia.
“Trump has always been successful when he’s had a bogeyman and China is the perfect bogeyman,” said Chris LaCivita, a longtime Republican strategist.
But there is a potential impediment to the G.O.P. plan — the “Dear Leader” of the party himself.
Eager to continue trade talks, uneasy about further rattling the markets and hungry to protect his relationship with President Xi Jinping at a moment when the United States is relying on China’s manufacturers for lifesaving medical supplies, Mr. Trump has repeatedly muddied Republican efforts to fault China.
Even as the president tries to rebut criticism of his slow response to the outbreak by highlighting his January travel restrictions on China, he has repeatedly called Mr. Xi a friend and said “we are dealing in good faith” with the repressive government. He also dropped his periodic references to the disease as “the China virus” after a telephone call with Mr. Xi.
Remember, Donald Trump is a master of psychological projection, never having developed emotionally beyond his childhood taunts of “I know you are, but what am I?,” and “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Donald Trump could literally shoot someone on 5th Avenue live on TV for all the world to see, and he would turn and look directly into the camera and say “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes? Joe Biden shot him.” (And somewhere between 38 and 42 percent of the American public would believe him).
For a fact check, “Let’s go to the video.” Tommy Christopher at Mediaite pieced together video clips of All the Times Joe Biden Was Right and Trump Was Wrong on Coronavirus and China, with his analysis. It is a damning piece.
The Democratic super PAC American Bridge also launched a counterattack against Trump and his Republican propagandists. Democratic super PAC launches $15 million ad blitz slamming Trump on China and coronavirus:
The new television and digital ad campaign by American Bridge 21st Century’s super PAC will launch Friday and is designed to match a $10 million effort by America First Action, the main pro-Trump super PAC, labeling the presumptive Democratic nominee “Beijing Biden.”
The ad referenced by The Post is titled “Trust.”
American Bridge since has followed up with an ad titled “Lost Time, Lost Lives.”
Back to The Times’ analysis:
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Trump’s conflicted messaging on China will hurt him with voters, who have repeatedly seen the president argue both sides of issues without suffering the harm that another politician would. And while Mr. Trump’s team knows that his own words will be used against him, they believe they can contrast his history favorably with that of Mr. Biden.
* * *
Despite the president’s diverging public statements, a central pillar of his campaign’s approach is to deflect anger over the human casualties and economic pain of the coronavirus onto an adversary that many Americans already view warily [and “swift boating” his Democratic opponent.]
The strategy includes efforts to leverage the U.S.-China relationship against Mr. Biden, who Republicans believe is vulnerable because of his comments last year playing down the geopolitical challenge posed by China and what Republicans claim was high-paying work that his son, Hunter, has done there. (A lawyer for the younger Mr. Biden said he was uncompensated for his work.)
Mr. Biden, for his part, has criticized Mr. Trump’s warm words for China. On Friday, his campaign released a video of Biden assailing the president for not pressing Mr. Xi to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into his country and for being “more worried about protecting his trade deal with China than he was about the virus.”
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at the Washington Post add, Joe Biden just hammered Trump on China. But there’s more to be said.
[This] kind of nonsense is to be expected from Trump. But Biden will need his own comprehensive argument in response.
The Biden campaign just rolled out a new video that begins to make that argument. There’s some good stuff in it, but there’s more to say, and one hopes Biden will go in that direction:
It’s important that the video directly indicts Trump’s failure to heed the warnings of his intelligence agencies about the novel coronavirus, while claiming the president “put his trust in China’s leaders instead.”
That is what happened, after all: National Security Council officials warned in early January that the coronavirus could spread devastatingly to the United States. And no matter how many times Trump extols the brilliance of his Jan. 31 travel restrictions, a great deal of time was squandered in the many weeks that followed, during which Trump utterly refused to take the threat seriously, leading to disastrous delays in standing up an adequate federal response.
Note: According to the Times of Israel, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that the US Intelligence Community became aware of an “emerging disease” in the second week of November. The Trump administration “did not deem it of interest” but intelligence officials shared a classified report with NATO and Israel. Information on the disease outbreak was not in the public domain at that time — and was known only apparently to the Chinese government.
All throughout that period, Trump did repeatedly insist China’s leaders were doing a great job containing the outbreak, as the video says.
But it’s important to be clearer on why Trump did this, because it’s crucial to holding Trump accountable for this catastrophe.
In the video, Biden correctly points out that early on, Trump praised China’s “transparency” and thanked President Xi Jinping “on behalf of the American people.”
“He was more worried about protecting his trade deal with China than he was about the virus that had already come to America,” Biden says in the video.
That’s true: Trump was concerned about his trade deal. But that makes it sound as though Trump cared mainly about being diplomatic towards China for understandable reasons. It misses the much more nefarious aspect of what happened here.
The president’s early praise of China had another aim entirely: It was all about maintaining the fiction that Trump himself had the coronavirus under control in the United States, and that we didn’t need to be concerned about it.
Again and again, Trump didn’t merely say China had it under control. He said this meant he did, too:
- When Trump hailed China’s “efforts and transparency,” he also said: “It will all work out well.”
- When Trump said China was “working very hard” to curb coronavirus, he added that “we are in great shape,” because “we’re working very closely with China.”
- When Trump insisted China was “getting it more and more under control,” it led him to conclude that coronavirus was a “problem that’s going to go away.”
- And Trump claimed that things were under control here, in part because in China, coronavirus was not “getting larger, it’s actually gotten smaller.”
In other words, the claim that China had the coronavirus under control was also central to sustaining the lie that we didn’t need to worry about it here, because he, working with China, had everything in hand.
That turned out to be wrong — disastrously so, since his cavalier refusal to take the threat seriously helped spawn the failures that are having such devastating consequences right now. In short, the praise of China wasn’t just incompetence. It was hideous dishonesty and depravity.
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman have further analysis on Biden indicting Trump for gutting U.S. preparedness for pandemics.
The Times analysis continues:
On a conference call with reporters, Antony J. Blinken, a senior Biden adviser, noted that in January and February “the president praised China and President Xi more than 15 times.” He attributed the flattery to the administration’s not wanting to “risk that China pull back on implementing” the initial trade agreement the two countries signed in January.
* * *
Gov. Locke, who previously served as ambassador to China, said in an interview that there was plainly a “growing anti-China mood in Washington.” He said there would need to be a “post-mortem” on how Beijing handled the coronavirus, but for now argued that Mr. Trump’s own muted concerns about China had helped shield the Chinese government from criticism about its own actions in the early months of the outbreak.
Mr. Trump’s clashing comments on China illustrate not only his unreliability as a political messenger but also his longstanding ambivalence over how to approach the world’s second-largest economy. He ran for president four years ago vowing to get tough with China, but his ambition was not to isolate the Chinese but to work with them — and especially for the United States to make more money from the relationship.
This goal has prompted him to often lavish flattery on Mr. Xi, most memorably when Mr. Trump rhapsodized about the way they bonded over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen” at his Mar-a-Lago resort in 2017.
The president’s hopes for securing a major trade agreement with China have been reinforced by a coterie of his advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who have often prevailed in internal battles over White House hard-liners.
But with the coronavirus death toll growing and the economy at a standstill, polls show that Americans have never viewed China more negatively.
* * *
[But] 65 percent of Americans also say they believe that Mr. Trump was too late responding to the outbreak, according to a Pew Research Center survey this past week.
More ominous for the president are some private Republican surveys that show him losing ground in key states like Michigan, where one recent poll has him losing by double digits, according to a Republican strategist who has seen it.
So as Mr. Biden unites the Democratic Party, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers are flagging and G.O.P. senators up for re-election find themselves significantly outraised by their Democratic rivals. That has led to a growing urgency in Republican ranks that the president should shelve his hopes for a lucrative rapprochement with China.
* * *
Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Action, said the strategy builds on years of voter concerns about China.
“The China piece of this was part of the overall thinking far before coronavirus, because we knew its potency and its relevance,” Mr. Walsh said. “This just made it more potent and more relevant.”
So does this mean that Latinos, who have been the target of Republican demonization for years, can now say “Whew! It’s all on you now, Bro. Asians are the new Mexicans” (the same way that Muslims were the new Mexicans after 9/11). Hell no. The white nationalist Party of Trump has enough racist hatred to go around for anyone who is not a sycophant cult member of the personality cult of Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump lied, people died,” it’s just this simple. Trump is criminally negligent and must be held accountable for the thousands of Americans who have lost their lives, and who will lose their life to Covid-19 before election day.