If your morning (or late night) was anything like mine, it was consumed with speculation about what it means that the president has tested positive for coronavirus. That’s a natural impulse, and cable hosts and social media pundits will continue obsessing over the tiniest clues from a White House that has consistently revealed too little, too late.
But what has stuck with me this morning is the point my colleague David Corn’s makes here—that we’re dealing with two diseases: Coronavirus, and disinformation.
“One of the best weapons to deploy against a killer virus is accurate information—that is, the truth,” David writes. “If the public is fully and well informed about the dangers and the best counter-measures, the better the chances this threat can be arrested.” Instead, the president “is one of the world’s leading disinformation agents. And given that Trump has demonstrated he will do practically anything to win reelection—belittle a pandemic, appeal to racism, encourage confrontation and possible violence, make false charges of voting fraud, use Russian disinformation, debase the discourse, place his own supporters at risk, and crassly exploit the White House and US government agencies—there is no reason to expect he will be honest with the voters about any aspect of the White House coronavirus crisis.”
David is right—and one of the grimmest aspects of this moment is that the victims of Trump’s denialism, already numbering in the millions, now include the president himself. In the coronavirus, Donald Trump has met his match—a reality that won’t budge to alternative facts. The virus isn’t susceptible to bullying, lying, or gaslighting, instead it thrives on all of these. You can call public health policy a hoax and masks oppressive, you can muzzle the scientists and rhapsodize about how “it goes away.” The virus doesn’t care.
The president hasn’t had a lot of experiences like that. His enablers and his own narcissism have always worked to create a bubble of self-serving fictions for him, a bubble rarely pierced by reality. In Trump’s alternate universe, the pandemic is under control, and the biggest threat to Americans were antifa super-soldiers and low-income housing marring the lives of “suburban housewives.” In that world, only one thing is consistent: Whatever the problem, only Donald Trump can solve it.
But the virus doesn’t care. And every once in a while, we’ve seen Trump catch a glimpse of that. That’s the voice you hear on the Bob Woodward tapes: The germaphobe president riffing about how “you don’t have to touch things, but the air? You just breathe the air, that’s how it’s passed, and so that’s a very tricky one.”
Those words have a grim resonance now. Trump has not shown compassion for the hundreds of thousands of Americans killed by a pandemic he could have done much to thwart. But that doesn’t mean compassion must be denied him. As he battles the illness, we can wish him a speedy recovery. But we can also not forget the lethal consequences of his actions for so many others who have not had access to the kind of care he will receive.
There’s one thing you can count on at this confusing moment: Mother Jones journalists like David will be on the job, unfazed by the chaos of the headlines, focused on cutting through the fog of disinformation. We’ll keep you posted as we can. Meanwhile, please, please, stay safe and well.