Opinion | Injections of Bleach? Trump’s Coronavirus Response Is Breaking Down

The Four Percent


“And he’s going to get re-elected.”

Not a day goes by without several friends — Republicans as well as Democrats — saying that to me. It’s the blunt coda to a bloated recitation of Donald Trump’s failures during this pandemic. It’s a whimper of surrender following a scream of disbelief.

Tens of thousands of Americans die; what does the president do? Spreads bad information. Seeds false hope. Reinvents history, reimagines science, prattles on about his supposed heroism, bellyaches about his self-proclaimed martyrdom and savages anyone who questions his infallibility. In lieu of leadership, grandstanding. In place of empathy, a snit. And he’s going to get re-elected.

With that refrain we perform a spiritual prophylaxis. We prepare for despair.

But somewhere along the way, we started to confuse a coping mechanism with reasoned analysis. We began to treat a verbal tic as inevitable truth.

It isn’t. While Trump may indeed be careening toward four more years, it’s at least as possible that he’s self-destructing before our eyes.

Maybe a toasty beam of sunlight is all that we need to wipe out the coronavirus? What if we just injected disinfectant into our veins? He floated both of those fantasies on Thursday, when he might as well have stepped up to the lectern in a tin foil hat. They’re the ramblings of a dejected, disoriented and increasingly desperate man.

He can read the polls as well as the rest of us can, and they show that while he stands there nightly in the White House briefing room and blows kisses at himself, Americans aren’t blowing kisses back.

A fleeting one, too. His uptick quickly took a downturn, reuniting him with his anemic norm. According to the polling average at FiveThirtyEight as of late Friday afternoon, 52.5 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance. Only 43.4 percent approve.

True, his favorability ratings weren’t any better in 2016 — in fact, they were worse — and he got to the White House regardless. But the dissonance of that victory could be explained partly by what he represented: a protest against the status quo. Now he is the status quo, and voters have had a chance to sample the disruption that he pledged. It tastes a lot like incompetence.

I know, I know: He’s Trump. He carries the secret weapon of his spectacular shamelessness, which means that he’ll resort to ploys and lies that even the most unscrupulous of his opponents wouldn’t attempt. He’ll destroy what he must so long as he gets to rule over the wreckage.

And the usual laws of nature don’t apply to him. He was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the crotch. Didn’t matter. He got nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Still he won. If he wasn’t exactly found guilty of elaborate coordination with the Russians, he was certainly shown to be open to it. Onward he rolled, and he kept rolling past his gross abuse of power in dealing with Ukraine and his richly deserved impeachment for it.

He’s Houdini, he’s Scheherazade, he’s all the escape artists of history and fiction rolled into one and swirled with golden-orange topping. He’s lucky beyond all imagining. But here’s the thing about luck: It runs out.

There’s incessant talk of how fervent his base is, but the many Americans appalled by him have a commensurate zeal. For every Sean Hannity, there’s a Rachel Maddow. For every Kellyanne Conway, a George Conway. She and her ilk may be wily in their defense of the president. He and his tribe are even better in their evisceration of him.

Don’t tell me that his nightly briefings are just a new version of the old stadium rallies; their backdrop of profound suffering makes them exponentially harder to stomach. Americans who take any comfort from them were Trump-drunk long ago. The unbesotted see and hear the president for what he is: a tone-deaf showman who regards everything, even a mountain of corpses, as a stage.



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