Clowns in the Time of Coronavirus

The president opened his response to a looming pandemic with a lie about a vaccine.

The United States is “rapidly developing” a remedy to COVID-19, or the coronavirus, President Trump said, seeming more desperate to stop the plummeting stock market than any new or current cases. He said it would be like a “flu shot,” which he couldn’t possibly know since Anthony Fauci, the government disease expert who coronavirus response chief Mike Pence later told to keep quiet, said that “we can’t rely on a vaccine over the next several months to a year.” So who can we rely upon?

No one in this administration who is loyal to this president, it seems, for their interest is protecting him, not you. It isn’t their fault, so much, for it is their job. This is what it looks like once a government that was built ostensibly to serve the public is deconstructed and reformed to serve an autocrat in training wheels. It looks like a chief of staff claiming the press is only covering a pandemic that has spread to at least 56 nations because “they think this will bring down the president.” 

But shouldn’t failing to respond to a pandemic disqualify him from the job, Mick Mulvaney? If Trump keeps performing as he has thus far in handling the coronavirus pandemic, triggering both preventable medical and economic crisis, why wouldn’t this show all the signs that the American public would be insane to re-elect him?

We know by now what won’t take down Trump. By the time he and his minions started their propaganda this week — including Rush Limbaugh likening the disease to the “common cold” and his son saying something that’s not worth repeating — people worldwide were using the fear of coronavirus as an excuse to avoid Chinatowns. It had folks looking at Asian people wearing health masks, possibly for the benefit of their neighbors more than themselves, like Typhoid Marys. False information began spreading about the source of the disease, reaching down into the toilet of racist tropes. Everything from derogatory jokes and videos began to seep out online. 

America was infected with racism long before the coronavirus made its way here, so I knew that Trump’s bigotry was never going to end his presidency, even via this upcoming November election. Americans, by and large, also had been inured to the kinds of financial corruption in which Trump specializes, present tense. So though he remains impeached, he remains in office, lauded by his party. 

But incompetence can kill, both people and political careers. It wasn’t Trump’s brutish inaugural speech or even his clumsy Muslim travel ban, announced almost before the new president could change the drapes, that signaled the full scope of the danger of electing him. No, it was later in 2017, when he so badly bungled the response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, particularly in Puerto Rico

Yet somehow, Trump still escapes, because in America we mock morons and racists better than we vote them out. The man has a tragedy that is arguably worse than George W. Bush’s Katrina debacle on his record, yet his Sharpie-doctored map of Alabama prior to Hurricane Dorian is regarded as a comic trifle rather than the serious breach of law and decorum that it was. 

It is when lives are on the line that we need a president most. She or he should have the ability to make quick decisions, the compassion to prioritize lives over property, and a fluent knowledge of bureaucracy. A leader must possess these in a moment of crisis. Does Trump possess any of those?

His skills lie more in the ability to give a vague imitation of banana-republic leaders, using their traditional weapons of cultural division, over-militarization, and overt demagoguery. They drown the public in corruption and anti-intellectualism. Meanwhile, as they strip the government clean of the ability to do its job for the people and design it to serve the Dear Leader’s will, public service becomes something that is purely at his behest. 

Autocracy is already a shaky system as it is, as history has proven and as China is proving once again in the midst of this outbreak. The very idea that orients Trump daily, that it’s all about him, falls apart when a lethal virus threatens the entire populace. 

Perhaps Republicans, now that white people are in danger, will finally act against this man. I don’t have that much confidence that they’ll do much beyond superficial outrage, but the folks who were once pushed to humiliation by Bush’s record of reckless war and abandonment of New Orleans may finally be concerned enough about their own grip on power to at least, to function in their jobs and work to save lives.

Ultimately, voters can’t depend upon them. Or the Democrats. Some presidential candidates have aggressive platforms to address epidemics and pandemics, but it is shocking and disappointing that by now, the party doesn’t have a strong messaging strategy to counter what they should have expected by now: for Trump to take a worldwide disaster and make it about him.

The expression may be right on the nose, but the budding coronavirus pandemic is a symptom of a broader issue with Trump, and perhaps will provide the American people the best real-time study of why he can’t keep this job. He places the country in physical, fiscal, and moral danger with his ineptitude and narcissism. His thinly veiled lies and agitprop will suffice, even as Americans get sick and a recession creeps ever closer, only if voters (who aren’t suppressed) allow it.

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