PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s latest view on the novel coronavirus is another strange one. He has now said that 99 per cent of the virus is ‘totally harmless’. This view comes when the virus is spiking dangerously in the south and south-west with Florida, Texas and Arizona as the epicentres. The virus there is spreading faster than it spread in New York and the north-eastern states at the height of the pandemic in April and May.
Trump’s latest view is not true. It is misleading as most of his views related to the pandemic have so far been. Or else, the United States would not have been way ahead of the rest of the world on both infection and death from the virus. A total of 3,163,505 have been infected and 1,33,847 have died to date and the virus is far from declining. There is, however, a lag between infection and death in the current spike because states now know ways to treat those affected than they did when it was ravaging the north-eastern states. There are also a few medicines now to slow down the virus. Nevertheless, these new epicentres of the virus are on the edge.
Trump’s latest view of the virus is no different from the views he expressed when the virus had just hit the US shores from China and Europe in January and February. His views then was that the virus was a flu, a conspiracy of the Democrats and that it would just wither away — views that reflected his utter lack of knowledge and interest in science. He wasted precious weeks in the beginning when he could have taken lessons from China and Europe and saved thousands of lives.
His view now about the virus is as much in disregard and ignorance of science. But this time his role in the dangerous spread of the virus and deaths has been palpably obvious. He has, in fact, self-implicated himself. The north-eastern states led by New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo fought the virus heroically with frontline health workers, the doctors, the nurses. They showed the rest of the nation that till the vaccines and the medicines became available, lockdown of the virus hotspots, social distancing and wearing masks in public were the only ways to keep the virus from infecting and killing people.
The president refused to take lessons from the north-eastern states and accept the dictates of science. Instead, he looked at the pandemic with only his re-election in perspective. The pandemic affected the economy very badly and unemployment figures hit the ceiling. These reflected in the polls showing his re-election prospects on a freefall like the economy and unemployment. The president concluded that he had to end the lockdown in the states and open the economy to bring it back to the rails that he believed would improve his poll numbers. He knew a few thousand more Americans would die as a result but further concluded that his base and the extra percentage of voters that he needed to win his re-election would support him for his courage to put the economy ahead of the virus.
He, thus, deliberately put the lives of thousands of Americans on line and recommended the end of lockdown to open the economy. The strategy was a Machiavellian one at its worst. Nevertheless, he also knew that the states in the south and the west he was eyeing for opening the economy were the red or Republican states where the governors were his supporters and would listen to him. He did not stop at just forcing the economy to open; he also encouraged his supporters to come out into the open without the mask. That, of course, made no sense because it was like asking his supporters to jump into the water without knowing how to swim. And in the backdrop of all of these weird and utterly selfish steps, he is now forcing schools to be opened in red states, not caring about the chance that it would expose schoolchildren to the danger of contracting the virus.
Trump is literally at a loss on figuring what he needs to do because he has mishandled the pandemic so badly that at this stage it is the pandemic that is controlling him and his fate, and most importantly his bid to win a second term. He tried the race, religion and military cards in a quick succession after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, steps that were in violation of the constitution, to energise his base and the silent racists that he believes are out there among the American voters. The cards energised the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, instead, that has united the blacks like never before and has brought to the movement a significant number of whites.
Trump has, thus, very little if anything at all to show in handling the pandemic that is harming his re-election prospects badly. All polls are now showing him trailing Joe Biden by a significant margin, most by double digits. Nevertheless, the president still believes with a very few in his party sharing this view that the cards that he has played in recent weeks will bring droves of whites outside his base who are the silent racists to vote for him together with his base to help him win. With this belief, he is in recent days repeating his claim that he has saved the lives of 2.5 million people by his decision to stop flights from China in February that he calls the ‘strong wall’ to block COVID-19 from China.
The claim has been put under the microscope many times in the past and has been blown to smithereens. Yet, he is making it again because he has no more cards to play with the election now just a few days short of four months. His China travel ban did not include, first, the thousands of residents of Hong Kong and Macau who entered the United States by commercial flights; second, it did not stop US citizens from China coming to the United States; third, these thousands who entered from China/Macau/Hong Kong were not monitored and, finally, his ban did not restrict flights from Europe entering the United States through New York, in particular, that carried many thousands of infected passengers.
The pandemic has brought out the worst in Trump that notwithstanding the liberal abuse of him, the mainstream media have failed to articulate to expose his character or the lack of it. A British writer, Nate White, did that. He described the president as someone who has ‘no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace.’ And he added salt to Trump’s injury by stating in the same breath that all the qualities that he lacked were ‘… all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr Obama was generously blessed.’
Postscript: Trump’s strategies are failing to stop the free fall of his poll numbers without doing anything to the economy or unemployment. Instead, he is now being tied directly to the dangerous spike of the virus in the south and south-west and the deaths. A new dark cloud is gathering in the horizon for him. His niece Mary Trump has a book waiting to hit the stands soon titled Too Much and Never Enough: How the Family created the World’s Most Dangerous Man that would make his re-election chances bleaker than it is now.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador and writes from the United States.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion