President Trump last week called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax.” On the same day, Donald Jr. called its spread a “pandemic” and said that Democrats “seemingly hope that it comes here, and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”
Setting aside the depravity of accusing one’s political opponents of rooting for the deaths of millions of Americans, how can a hoax cause a pandemic? Which is it? And which spreads faster, an actual virus or a wannabe dictator’s disinformation?
Back when restaurants and airplanes had “no smoking” sections, some of us used to point out that smoke didn’t obey the signs. It floated right over from your smoking table to my no-smoking table. The president’s insistence on doubling down in minimizing the number of cases of the virus in the United States, and calling it a Democratic hoax, is like those “no smoking” signs: the virus isn’t listening.
Demagogic politicians remind me of Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments holding up his staff and commanding the waters of the Red Sea to part: “Behold His mighty hand!” Also Shelley’s Ozymandias proclaiming in an inscription on a fragment of an ancient statue in the desert, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Trump appears to think he has magic incantatory power: one word from him and a virus disappears, or the Constitution alters itself to let him do whatever he wants. What he wants and expects is not to be run out of office for his incompetence and recklessness.
In H. G. Wells’s 1897 novel The War of the Worlds, invading Martians wreak havoc, but are ultimately defeated by microbes to which they have no immunity: “slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”
There are no Martians here. We hardly need an attack of the Pod People with a leader so pathologically self-absorbed that he decreased our preparedness for an outbreak. We could stand less arrogance and more humility, less certitude and more curiosity. If we want those things, we will have to vote for them.
While we’re at it, let us avoid false equivalency. In a dispute between, say, President Trump and Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, we should keep in mind that one is a lying grifter and the other is a distinguished immunologist. On Feb. 26 in the White House, as Dr. Fauci stood in front of him speaking, Trump (to use a vivid phrase by my friend Ernest Hopkins of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation) “looked like he wanted to smush him like a bug.”
Trump put Vice President Pence in charge of leading the administration’s response to the virus. He was careful to say, “Mike is not a Czar.” As Nicole Wetsman of The Verge puts it, “Pence is not a public health expert, either. Instead, as governor of Indiana, he slashed public health spending and delayed the introduction of needle exchanges, which led to the state’s worst outbreak of HIV.”
A droll piece at Breaking Burgh titled “Mike Pence Calls For Urgent Research Into Which Sin Coronavirus Is Punishment For” shows the narrowing gap between parody and reality. Trump’s war on science and the independent press preys on people’s credulity and desire for confirmation of their biases.
Notice how I put that in the third person? It’s those gullible people over there who are the problem, not you and I exchanging pearls of wisdom in the coffee shop. Nevertheless, my friend Lauren noted on Friday morning that our Java House gang, once sarcastically dubbed “the brain trust” by former HRC president Joe Solmonese, may have to discontinue its daily gatherings if the virus comes to D.C.
Say a prayer to the god of your understanding, as folks in The Program put it, that we may be well. You know the chatter about our various plans to fly in and out of Reagan National and Dulles? The virus is surely headed our way, as fast as you can say, “Behold His mighty hand!”
Speaking of which, be sure to wash your own hands.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.