“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” Donald Trump said at a news briefing May 11. “The moment” is quite a departure from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s idea that “the virus determines the timeline,” and from his caution that “we’re not out of the woods yet.” Fauci’s points seem incontrovertible, but not in Trump world, where the only thing that matters is his reelection. From now to November 4, we can expect Trump to focus on satisfying his two bases: for the white nationalists, touting restrictions on immigrants and refugees, supporting anticlosing protests, and derailing the rest of Obama’s environmental agenda; for Wall Street, reassuring the stock market and pushing reluctant governors to reopen the economy.
There is a third element—the underside—of Trump’s strategy, which includes welcoming Russian election interference, berating China (and Biden’s “softness” on China), and attacking Democratic governors for going slow on reopening in a deliberate effort to bring about his defeat in November. This last element sets him up to cry foul if he loses: “It was rigged.”
Knowing he’s down in the polls and mired in one of the country’s worst calamities, with 80,000 deaths and over 30 million unemployed so far, Trump has only one option if he is to win in November: convince Americans that it’s patriotic to get back to work, never mind the risk of “needless suffering and death” (Fauci). After all, at one time 150,000 or more were predicted to die, so we’re ahead of the game, Trump will proclaim. America became great by making money and watching the upticks in the stock market, not huddling in one’s home. All his recent statements—his lies, actually—point in that direction. As Trump said May 11:
“The numbers are really coming down very substantially, and this weekend was one of the lowest we’ve had. The numbers are coming down very rapidly — all throughout the country, by the way.”
“America leads the world in testing, …nearly double the number of any other country.”
“If people want to get tested, they get tested.” “But for the most part, they shouldn’t want to get tested. There’s no reason.” (NB: A Harvard Global Health Institute team said last week that the US should be testing at least 900,000 people a day by May 15. Trump has announced that the current number is about 300,000 tests per day.)
Of course we are by now used to Desperate Donald’s politics of distraction. But we should never doubt his cutthroat political instincts. His perversion of patriotism cannot stand. Joe Biden must forcefully deliver the message that health security is national security, that Main Street and not Wall Street deserves the biggest share of government financial support, and that the new administration will rebuild the health care, environmental, and social justice structures that Trump has torn down. That’s the patriotic thing to do, and that’s what a true national leader does.