By the time you read this, the coronavirus may have killed as many Americans as Osama Bin Laden did on 9/11, with many more deaths to come.
Sunday, the president said that 100,000 deaths would be a great win. Only in the world of Trumpian dumbfuckery could anyone brighter than a toaster oven think 100,000 avoidable deaths is a win. That’s like saying, “Hey, honey, I went to the strip club, caught an STD, knocked up a stripper named Destynee, and got a second mortgage to bail her meth tweaker boyfriend out of jail… but at least I didn’t touch the kids’ college fund.”
It was inevitable that Trump would face a crisis immune to tweets or stupid memes or insulting nicknames. The damage he does to everyone and everything around him has become an iron law of American politics, an invariable and inevitable process. Still, I didn’t think it extended to everyone in the country, that it would produce actual bodies stacked like cordwood in a preventable, slow-rolling pandemic. When I wrote Everything Trump Touches Dies, I didn’t mean it literally.
Donald Trump seems intent on proving me wrong.
Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has veered between tragicomic and insidious in the past weeks. Disturbingly—and even now, it’s disturbing—all while still leaving him seemingly unmoved by the brutal realities facing us in the coming months. He’s made a few pro-forma nods to the deaths to date and to come, but expressed no genuine human sympathy for either the dead or the army of heroic doctors, nurses, EMTs in viral war zones in almost every hospital in the nation.
Nothing changes him. Nothing moves him unless it gives him adulation, money, or an erection. Sunday, Trump even boasted that his daily, Castroesque press briefings are getting “great ratings.”
Every lie about testing kits, personal protective equipment, miracle cures, economic resurgences, and his understanding of the science behind epidemics, viruses, and the health-care system breaks the faith of Americans a little more.
Every day that passes compounds his errors from the day before. Every time he promises miracles and produces little, but chaos leaves the states on the front line of this battle a little less able to face the rising curve of the coronavirus crisis.
Trump suggested that New York would be taking the brunt of this, saying Sunday evening that “the peak in death rates is likely to come in two weeks”—even as he extended the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” (you know, the one that he started talking about overriding after a week) to the end of April. Now, he says, “we can expect that by June 1, we’ll be well on our way to recovery. By June 1, a lot of great things will be happening.” You can see the gears turning in his head as he says this, hoping that if he says it enough times, with enough dates, at some point it will be true.
Days ago, he was saying Americans would be back to their lives by Easter. Now, he says that “was just an aspiration” and that “Easter should be the peak number (of deaths), and it should start coming down and hopefully very substantially at that point.” Since the worst-case scenario is now 2.2 million deaths, he said that "if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000, it's a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job."
Every whipsaw change in policy—“It’s a quarantine! It’s a travel advisory! I hate the Defense Production Act! I love the Defense Production Act!”—every broken promise, every line of get-me-through-the-night horseshit out of Donald Trump’s mouth compounds the damage to the states.
Every infantile, one-sided beef makes him smaller and less presidential. Calling Governor Gretchen Whitmer “that woman in Michigan” and referring to Washington Governor Jay Inslee as “a snake” or his endless spritzing of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accomplishes nothing more than giving his base a tiny hate chub.
Every day, we see a president prove himself unworthy of risks and sacrifices already accepted by first responders and health-care workers—and unworthy of leading a nation of which much, much more will soon be asked.
Until now, none of this would have put a dent in Trump’s support. I mean, we’ve learned that lesson by now as a nation. Trump’s base loves his transgressive nature—not that they can define it—and love that he’s a middle finger to decency, normality, tradition, and the law.
Before the coronavirus, his political and media votaries, and of course, the president himself could laugh it off. There are really only three tenets of Trumpism that matter: a hatred of elites, a war with the news media, and the worship of Trump as an infallible and impervious avatar for their social insecurities. The rest of it—judges, taxes, regulations—is window-dressing, sad attempts by Washington Republicans to slap a coat of makeup over the dead-eyed husk of the GOP, an undead party led by a political necromancer.
But COVID-19 is coming to pay a house call they won’t soon forget, and the damage in some of the places in this country where the Trump-Fox party’s support is the most passionate and unwavering will be staggering. Look at this poll from The Daily Beast from this weekend, showing that, for once, Republicans are about as skeptical of Trump’s health talk as everyone else. No amount of manic press conference performance art will stop the coronavirus from coming, and, because of Trump, they spent weeks blind to the danger.
No, MAGAs, this isn’t a disease of the degenerate socialist coastal elites states. The coronavirus doesn’t see this through the lens of Flight 93 Trumpism; it’s about to scythe through red states, red districts, red towns, and red neighborhoods while giving no fucks what’s on Fox, MAGA Twitter, or on the local Sinclair agitprop outlet.
In three meaningful ways, these red states are less prepared for the days to come than their blue counterparts.
First, and most importantly, they are where the Fox audience lives, and for seven long weeks, they were told coronavirus was a seasonal flu… no big deal… totally under control. Nothing to worry about. Trump had shut down travel with China, and one day soon it would all just—poof!—disappear. “It’s a great time to travel!” said Frau Ingraham.
The second pain point for Trump states is just beginning to play out. Louisiana is the fastest-growing hotspot, with the case curve nearly vertical in the last five days. In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves seems intent on winning the award for Darwin’s Waiting Room by slow-rolling preparations and laughing off efforts to flatten the curve.
In my home state of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is great at closing off reporters from public meetings, but refused to close down beaches and take other steps to tamp down the spread of coronavirus. There was a broad consensus among DeSantis allies that flattening the curve wasn’t worth the economic hit, or—more importantly—angering Donald Trump. Notably, Florida, where the governor has seemed more concerned about confronting New Yorkers than with closing the Sunshine State’s beaches, had received 100 percent of what it had requested from the federal government at one point, while New Jersey, the second-hardest-hit state, had received 6 percent of what it had requested.
Finally, New York may be the hardest-hit state, but it also has one of the most robust hospital networks and health-care systems in the country. In many states, the number of ICU beds per capita is much lower; the defense-in-depth New York is mounting can’t be replicated.
Before this, Trumpism was, for many of his supporters, fun. They loved the fuck-you middle finger to the elites and the experts. They loved the piratical swagger, the wink-and-nod lies and bullshit. They loved the games he played with the media and the old order.
Now, they need experts and elites. Experts are the people in emergency rooms, admitting them. Experts are working around the clock to unfuck Trump’s ineptitudes. Experts are mapping the inexorable spread of this disease and mapping strategies to mitigate it. Their lives are now literally in the hands of experts. They need truth and facts and transparency. Lives depend on it. Suddenly, the world of fuck-your-feelings shock-jock presidential leadership fails utterly when called on to deliver measurable results and to hit real metrics.
They never expected that they—or their parents—would be called up on to sacrifice themselves to revive Orange Moloch’s economy.
Some will never, ever leave Trump, just as there are still men in the world who believe the South will rise again, or that al Qaeda is poised for a comeback. Mere facts won’t break their bet on Trump—and his bet on a mendacious, reality television style that would forever appeal to his audience, or a death toll higher than it should be.
Many, many more, though, have at long last felt the show wasn’t worth the ticket price, the jokes and japes have grown stale in a world suddenly more serious and more dangerous than it was in the halcyon days of 2016, and that Donald Trump’s prescriptions are making the coronavirus more dangerous, and more deadly, than they can bear.