The latest episode of the Trump Show went on location to a Ford plant in Michigan that started making ventilators in addition to cars. The biggest drama was would or wouldn’t the president wear a mask, as the factory and state law requires. Act One was mixed. In a private room, he claimed he wore one. On the factory floor in public, he did not, because, he explained, he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
It’s the law in Michigan, and everyone else had one on, but we should stop playing his cultural war game. He’s never going to make the small gesture of wearing a mask to protect others, and that’s no surprise. He hasn’t done that much to protect the country. Columbia University’s highly regarded disease modeling institute just released a study that was grim enough to make anyone’s heart sink.
If we’d begun social-distancing measures one week earlier in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died from the coronavirus. If that date was rolled back to March 1, a vast majority of the nation’s deaths—about 83 percent—would have been avoided. In short, we’d be South Korea or any number of other countries Donald Trump insists we are better than when we are decidedly not.
Trump advanced the trip to a state drowning from two dams breaking and enduring one of the highest per capita number of COVID-19 cases with a manmade flood of venom. He threatened to retaliate against that woman, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for sending out absentee ballots (applications, actually).
Nothing scares Trump quite so much as it being easy for people (certain people, anyway) to vote, and while Michigan will eventually get its relief funds without caving in, the way Ukraine eventually got its Javelins, the message has been sent: Keep in-person voting with all the voter suppression that allows or else, in ways he can make happen and you can’t see until it’s too late, your state will lose out on federal money. Blue and swing states, he’s talking to you. Texas and other red states where absentee voting apparently doesn’t lead to “total voter fraud,” you’re fine.
If that’s how Trump plays it in a swing state where 10,000 votes out of a few Pilates classes in Grosse Pointe could hand the election to Joe Biden, it’s possible Trump’s demons are getting the better of him. After planting a partisan as director of national intelligence to scrape out damaging intel to get leverage over rivals like a latter-day J. Edgar Hoover, Trump still didn’t get evidence of the “obvious” crimes former President Barack Obama and Biden committed, or that anyone unmasked Michael Flynn, whose identity was never hidden. Anyone who’s watched Homeland knows that if you speak on anything but a burner phone to the Russian ambassador, it’s being taped.
As for trouble at the State Department, Trump only made matters worse upon firing his fourth inspector general, who had a lot to inspect in the case of Secretary Mike Pompeo: secretly selling arms to the Saudis against congressional objections, using aides for errands, routinely holding lavish dinners for 500 mostly political associates complete with harps playing and his wife hostessing, all at taxpayer expense.
Trump conceded one of the charges with an excuse he would use for himself: “Do you know how stupid it sounds to the world that staff shouldn’t be washing Pompeo’s dishes because his wife isn’t available?” Maybe Pompeo will run for the Senate in Kansas, after all. Or leave in the footsteps of long-gone infamous Cabinet secretaries from Scott Pruitt to Ryan Zinke.
Michigan wasn’t the only show. The biggest drama was the big reveal by Trump that he was taking—or pretending to take—hydroxychloroquine, which can’t cure the virus but can cause a deadly heart attack. Only he would think the stunt was worth it to prove himself and Laura Ingraham right, or to prove he’s an even better liar than the 18,000 lies he’s already told suggest he is. What do I have to lose, he asked. How’s your life?
That’s a question he often poses—not what he can do for his country, except, quietly, for the 1-percenters, who recently got money intended for struggling small businesses that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said will be forgiven up to $2 million. Instead, he asks the dispiriting one—you have nothing left to lose, so you might as well go with me. But we have and do.
He has a second chance to recover from wishing the virus away instead of mobilizing the vast public health resources at his command, which if he’d done in the first place ironically might see him leading Biden by 11 points instead of trailing him by that amount. He could enforce his original three-phase plan for reopening and reduce the chances of the second wave Dr. Anthony Fauci says he has “no doubt” is coming, instead of cheering on governors and the “good” protesters flaunting it.
Instead, there’s no situation Trump won’t make worse. Wednesday, approaching 100,000 deaths, Trump said he would not have done one thing differently. To do otherwise would be a concession in his warped mind to the disappeared Dr. Fauci, the current fall guy for the unadmitted mistakes of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, or to Democrats who pressured Trump into the social distancing that hurt his campaign.
For the family’s thinking, listen to Eric Trump, who said Biden “loves” the virus because it “takes away Donald Trump's greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time." That was the second worst libel from a Trump son, after Don Jr. called the former vice president a pedophile.
He’s even sullied his appointment of a new vaccine czar to replace government expert Dr. Rick Bright, marooned for not proving that hydroxychloroquine is safe. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, selected in part because he agreed with Trump’s fantasy timeline for producing a vaccine, has massive conflicts of interest, in particular as a board member of Moderna, one of the leading companies competing to produce a vaccine. Trump put him on a contract, which left him exempt from disclosing his finances until Sen. Elizabeth Warren said he had to divest his 155,000 shares of Moderna stock.
On Friday, before an announcement of positive but flimsy progress in an early trial, his shares were worth about $10 million. By the time he divested, they were worth about $12.4 million. While in a now-deleted tweet Slaoui said he had no conflict, he said he will donate the excess profits to charity.
With Trump, there’s often an angle. Why wouldn’t he want the head of Operation Warp Speed to abide by the rules? He doesn’t want any more government chumps like Fauci around him.
The world is in disarray, as is Michigan, where he brought no relief and probably left behind a big bill for security he’s stuck cities around the country with. El Paso is threatening to sue him. So many are dead it hurts to say it. The economy is shattered. The kids are going crazy. The parents need a break. We’d all like to believe that Trump has stared down the virus, but we know it’s not as easily cowed as a Senate Republican or a red state governor. The mayor of Ypsilanti wished Trump hadn’t come. We hear you.