Like a cartoon dog in a burning room or a river in Egypt, we know Trump will spend his post-presidency looking for the real reasons he lost the election.
America faces no issue more pressing than the coronavirus pandemic, and so the president has found the message that he believes will carry him to reelection. It goes something like this:
Everything is fine. The pandemic is no big deal, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
We could call this “denial,” but that doesn’t begin to describe it. Because not only are we in the horrific situation we’re in because of President Trump, in the last week before the election he’s actively trying to make it worse.
The outbreaks have been both utterly predictable and totally shocking. The Trump administration has consistently downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, encouraged Americans to resist safety measures, and promised that the pandemic is nearing its end. But the people orchestrating the country’s disastrous coronavirus response had no plausible deniability: The very best experts, information, and precautions were all available to them, even if they refused to pass that help on to others.
People will write books on everything Donald Trump did wrong during the pandemic, with explanations both personal and ideological for his administration’s often willful failures. But for a group of people for whom self-preservation has long been an obvious goal, their willingness to put themselves in optional danger, given all the resources at their disposal, can’t be completely explained by Trump’s lack of empathy or his advisers’ policy goals. It suggests that on top of everything else, the administration fell prey to an error of intuition: Presumably, Trump and his coterie felt safe, despite the mortal danger nipping at their heels for all to see.
Trumpworld’s infection fiasco is an especially bizarre case study of one of the pandemic’s defining features: how different feeling safe and being safe actually are. This misperception has played out in millions of homes and workplaces across the country as regular people make good-faith efforts to grapple with the swiftly changing circumstances of American life, absent the resources available to the federal government. Things that used to be safe, such as visiting grandparents and attending a friend’s wedding, are now potentially deadly. Things that used to be foreboding, such as the sight of many masked strangers in public, are now a source of comfort.
The most obvious problem has been the White House's inability to take the coronavirus seriously. Over the weekend we learned that five members of Vice President Mike Pence's inner circle, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, have contracted the virus. As with Trump's own illness a few weeks ago, these incidents threaten the good functioning of American government. Pence — despite being in close contact with Short — plans to maintain his busy schedule rather than isolate. Meanwhile Trump himself continues to hold large rallies in the final days of the campaign, even though coronavirus cases appear to surge in the cities he visits. And as The New York Times reports, “masks are not routinely worn” in the White House.
Trump has been recycling remarks from earlier stump speeches.
In 2016 Trump won Montana by 24 points.
Fortunately, Trump has been bad at being an autocrat, but not for trying.
Unlike Trump, however, Modi and Erdogan have diversified their means of self-perpetuation.
For one, they have been far more successful than the U.S. president in forging new realities for their audiences through conspiracy theories and fake news, which has helped them avoid crushing judgment on their performances.
They not only mastered digital technology and social media, they’ve managed to control the legacy media through a regime of intimidation that has silenced and marginalized critics.
Though successful in packing the Supreme Court, and assured of stalwart support from Fox News, Trump could not begin to imitate Modi and Erdogan’s long march through national institutions, from the education system and television channels to the military.
Even Republicans rallied relatively late around Trump. Modi and Erdogan have long had dedicated ideological cadres working for them.