I know, I know. It sounds absurd, right? The man who only a couple of weeks ago was telling us the coronavirus will be going away "very quickly" is now standing in the White House press room every morning and bragging, "I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic." The number of lies emerging from the White House on a daily basis is so overwhelming, everyone has stopped counting. Even the Washington Post seems to have suspended its Trump lie-o-meter.
There's no sense in trying to catalogue the rank gibberish emitting from Donald Trump's cakehole every day, because he's better at lying than we are at keeping up with him. On Friday morning, NBC reporter Peter Alexander tried to ask a question about the wisdom of Trump's pushing the malaria drug chloroquine, and his misleading claim that it has been approved by the FDA for use against coronavirus when it hasn't. "What do you say to the Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?" he asked. "I say you're a terrible reporter," Trump said, pointing an accusing finger at Alexander, who to his credit kept trying to question him.
Trump isn't bothering with running against Joe Biden. He's running against Peter Alexander and the rest of the press, and he's running against China, for having lowered the "China virus" on us. "I know fake news very well because I deal with it every day," Trump bellowed from the White House podium. He swept his arm, indicating the entire room full of reporters. "There is a lot of fake news right here."
The entirety of Trump's re-election campaign is being televised as he appears every day with his "task force" in the White House press room. He stands there backed up by a panoply of simpering, sold-out, suck-up enablers who may as well be wearing MAGA hats and waving "Trump-Pence" placards. The "task force" briefings are Trump's new rallies. They're televised by all the major cable networks without commercial interruption. They run Trump's lies without real-time corrections. Every day he has said that he "inherited a broken, old testing system, and we've fixed that system." Lie. He has implied that somehow the Obama administration did something to limit the number of tests they could have been running. Lie. He repeatedly brags that he's doing things that "have never been done before." Lie. He says over and over again that he's done "more than anyone" to fight the virus. Lie.
This is Trump's disinformation campaign writ large, and it's working. A new ABC/Ipsos poll found 55 percent approving of Trump's leadership in the crisis, versus 43 percent disapproving, an about-face from last week's numbers. The White House is cynically harnessing the coronavirus panic in a complete image makeover. The golfer-in-chief has been transformed into the "wartime president." He can't go to Mar-a-Lago every weekend because it closed on Friday. He's clearly mad as hell about it, but we're supposed to see the resentment written in wrinkles and smears of ochre makeup across his face as dedication and seriousness.
Trump's handlers are trundling him out every morning in his starched shirt and ridiculous red tie in order to look presidential. He hasn't changed his behavior. He hasn't actually learned anything about the coronavirus. All he does is read prepared remarks from large-print pages on the podium. It's like Trump not really caring if Ukraine actually investigated the Bidens. All he wanted was the announcement of an investigation. He doesn't care what the coronavirus numbers actually are. He's not interested in how much protective gear is reaching hospitals.All he cares about is announcing some bogus drug he hopes will work, or a million tests that never were, or a thousand respirators that nobody's ever heard of or seen. The situation is getting better because Trump says it's getting better. Here are my experts! Look! There's Doctor Shoulder Scarf! Watch her nodding like a bobblehead as I make my pronouncements, and just listen to the thanks my experts lavish on me!
He hasn't changed his attitude about the job of being president. He doesn't care about expertise. All he cares about is the optics of his own people showing up and showering him with praise. At the FEMA group-call with governors on Thursday, he looked like a seventh-grader being made to read a sonnet — bored, fidgety, angry, resentful that he had to listen to these people who so obviously knew so much more than he did. But there he was at the end of a big table behind a printed card reading "President Donald Trump," and that, my friends, is what passes for "presidential" in the age of Trump.
There is some evidence that the Un-Fucking of the Big Fuck-up is working. Fox News suddenly jumped on board a week ago, about the time Trump declared a national emergency. They've gone from echoing Trump's pooh-poohing of the coronavirus to cheerleading for their "wartime president." Anyone who dares mention that only a couple of weeks ago Trump was telling us that the number of victims would "go to zero" is now being castigated as un-American. It's not Trump's fault. It's China's fault. Don't listen to politically correct liberals. Listen to Trump.
Watch what happens next: Within a week or so, Trump will be on Air Force One flying out to a so-called "hotspot" that will conveniently be in a swing state. There will be a costume change. Trump will descend the stairs onto the tarmac dressed in "wartime" gear, like a leather flight jacket and khaki trousers. They'll have him in a plastic face mask and protective blue scrubs walking around looking at a military field hospital that magically appears right there on an Air Force base a few dozen yards from Air Force One. He'll be briefed by people who look like they just stepped off a lunar lander. Then he'll remount the stairs and fly off to another fake "hotspot" in another swing state and go through the whole charade again — meanwhile never having laid eyes on a single coronavirus patient. But you can count on them parading out a couple of victims of the virus who have been cured, so he can trumpet some bogus statistics about cure rates and promote another sketchy drug regimen.
Trump is doing a predictable dance around the depressing statistics that roll out every day. There were reports this week that the White House is trying to massage the numbers of people applying for unemployment insurance, and they're bound to downplay the unemployment numbers when they start to skyrocket. Of course they're doing everything they can to keep the stock market from plunging further. The same Republican Party that screamed its head off about Obama's "bailouts" in 2009, setting off the Tea Party movement, is suddenly embracing what will turn out to be several trillion dollars in deficit spending to prop up Trump's economy as it spirals downward. All of this is being done in service of Trump's re-election and hanging onto control of the Senate.
The dilemma facing Joe Biden and the Democrats is how to run against Trump and the Republicans as they beat the drum of "patriotism" in the "war" against the "China virus." It's a real problem. Just look at the news. What happened to the Democratic primary? Gone, disappeared down a rathole of canceled or postponed elections (Ohio) and the tsunami of coronavirus news.
Biden is making the right kinds of moves. His address on coronavirus was notably serious, well-informed and, yes, presidential, as was his victory speech after the primaries on Tuesday and his conference call with reporters on Friday. His staff should get him on the road meeting with governors in states facing the worst rates of infections. He should be seen meeting with corporate executives, listening to their ideas about the economic recovery packages being considered in Washington. And Biden should stick himself to Pelosi with superglue. There isn't anyone with more political credibility than Pelosi. Biden should sign on to the Democratic plans as they are rolled out, and he should make his own suggestions to fine-tune them. The whole recovery thing is right down his alley. He should be all over ensuring that this time it's a workers' recovery program first, and a corporate recovery plan second. He should support the government paying not just for coronavirus testing, but the entire bill for every patient. He should quickly endorse a plan that pays 75 percent or more of workers' pay for 100 weeks or more of family leave during mandatory isolation. Trump keeps saying the coronavirus "isn't our fault." Well, if it's nobody's fault, then no individual should be stuck with the bill. Biden should tell him to shut up or pay up or, better still, both.
It does seem counterintuitive that Trump stands a chance of spinning his epic fuck-up into a victory. It's not going to be easy, especially when there are scenes on the news of nurses weeping behind their face-shields, crying out for more masks, more ventilators, more everything. We will be witness to outright chaos on the hospital wards, and someone will get a camera into a room where an expiring coronavirus victim is gasping for air. (Here is a scene from an overwhelmed hospital in Bergamo, Italy, on Sky News.) Trump won't be able to spin scenes of death and dying out of existence, no matter how many toadying fools he's got standing behind him in the White House press room.
But if there is one thing we have learned about Trump in the last four years, it's that he's a human earthworm: Every time he gets cut in half, he grows another tail using lies, cheating, and thievery. What Trump does to manipulate the fight against coronavirus will make you long for the innocent days of Russiagate. The virus we caught isn't corona, it's Trump, and the only vaccine we've got against him is the November election.