The only re-election path Trump may have is to invoke yet again some image as a “war-time president” even if the enemy is his incompetence. In the post-impeachment period, this is another desperate act for re-election.
He’s always been a war-time POTUS* even as he was impeached. For example, on Jun 4, 2018 WaPo declared that Trump is a wartime president — in a war against his political opponents.
Remember when Major Bone Spurs's Continental Army “took over the airports” from the British in 1776. Trump said that the Continental Army “took over the airports” from the British during the American Revolutionary War during his Fourth of July “Salute to America” speech.
He’s trying to promote a war narrative since the COVID-19 pandemic could last as long as 12-18 months. His conduct of this ‘war’ for another, less-pathological POTUS* might be less suspect, but there should be plenty of evidence that the usual Trumpian tricks of deflection and distraction will fail, simply because of message fatigue, even for his base. Playing on fear might not even help his base laugh at “pwning the libs” or even their going to the polls or suppressing the vote.
Even for those obsessed with comparisons like Italy or Spain, a US death toll on an upward trajectory like Italy’s or Spain’s might not guarantee a November victory since other election mischief could happen. Trump will try for a narrative however clueless about the possible sado-populist narratives he likes spinning, exemplified by the “Chinese virus” meme. Then again he may resort to cancelling/postponing the election with another manufactured crisis.
On the campaign trail, Trump frequently invoked a false story about General John Pershing crushing a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, declaring, “There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years!” He vowed to impose torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Trump declared that he would “take out the families” of terrorist suspects, assuring skeptics that the military would not refuse his commands, even though service members have a duty to refuse orders that are manifestly illegal. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Although Trump was talked out of authorizing torture by his advisers, the president’s ardor for violations of the laws of war has manifested itself in his decisions to intervene in war-crimes cases on behalf of the defendants. In four separate cases since the beginning of his presidency, and for the first time in the history of modern warfare, an American president has aided service members accused or convicted of war crimes, against the advice of his own military leadership.
There are now clearer metrics for Trump’s incompetence.
The most consequential—and logically inexplicable—decision taken by this administration* in response to the current pandemic occurred in January, when German scientists developed the first test for COVID-19 and the World Health Organization offered the test to countries around the world and 60 countries accepted. We were not one of them. From Politico:
- Why the United States declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.
- The slowness of the testing regimen — which, administration officials acknowledged this week, is still not producing enough tests to meet the national demand — was the first, and most sweeping, of many failures. So far there have been confirmed cases in at least 23 states, and at least 15 deaths, while the stock market plunged and an otherwise healthy economy braced for a major disruption.
Let’s guess why this happened, and let’s leave aside for the moment that Jared Kushner’s brother runs a company that’s involved in testing, because that should not be any kind of surprise. What I’m fairly convinced is also behind that decision is the administration*’s disdain for international organizations, alliances of any kind, and foreigners in general. Couple that with the Republican Party’s similar xenophobic impulses and overall dislike of any science that can’t be replicated with baking soda and Fizzies, and you’ve got a pretty good reason why help from overseas is more terrifying in many minds than viruses from overseas are. American exceptionalism now means “except us.” That’s not a good development.
The (Imperial College) report breaks the possible strategies down to two: mitigation strategies (those that try to slow the spread of the epidemic), and suppression efforts that try to keep overall case levels low. Most of what has been done so far in the U.S., from closing schools to halting meetings, really falls on the “suppression” side of the line. But what the report finds is that, at this point in the epidemic, the best outcome—the outcome that says the government immediately implements an optimal mix of both mitigation and suppression—“might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over.”
The report concludes that an extreme level of suppression, essentially a lockdown on the most restrictive level possible, is the “only viable option.” And it makes a painful admission about how long everyone is going to need to practice social distancing and home isolation for these tools to be effective. Any break in harsh procedures would allow the epidemic to “quickly rebound.” As a result, there is no option but to hold those procedures in place … until a vaccine is available. Even if that takes 18 months or more. The only other option is to accept additional hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths.