After a hospitalization and course of oxygen treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center following a diagnosis of COVID-19 last weekend, President Donald Trump was eager to project an image of strength to his followers. Following the hospitalization, many pundits imagined that the President would emerge from his own COVID-related crisis with a more subdued attitude towards an illness that has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Americans.
Playing Fast and Loose With the Facts About the Pandemic
As is often the case with Trump, however, an attitude of humility in the face of a crisis was simply not to be. Now discharged from the hospital and ensconced in the White House, the President is currently attempting to play down both his experience with the virus and the devastating effect that the virus has had on American society.
Spreading Misinformation About COVID
Indeed, Trump’s supporters have long called into question the seriousness of the virus, and the President himself has consistently portrayed COVID as an overblown issue that will go away on its own in due time. He has long questioned the veracity of the scientific consensus that exists around the virus and has often been pictured in public without a face mask. During a recent debate with Biden, Trump even mocked the former Vice President’s mask-wearing practices.
This is undoubtedly part of a wider White House public relations campaign aimed at playing down the severity of the Coronavirus in order to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic on American society. As political strengths go, Trump’s ace in the hole prior to the COVID crisis was been a surging stock market. But COVID decimated any economic gains that may have occurred during Trump’s tenure as President, and Americans are now facing an economic crisis rivaling the Great Depression.
The President Weighs His Election Chances
In other words, much is at stake for Trump over the next month. If unemployment numbers continue to increase, the President could face a resounding loss come November. An increase in COVID-related deaths could also turn on-the-fence voters to the Democrat ticket. Clearly, the President has a personal and political investment in downplaying the effects of the Coronavirus. Even if it means throwing his supporters and staff under the bus, the President clearly feels that COVID-denying is a good election strategy.
To that end, the famously social media-savvy leader created Facebook and Twitter posts recently in which he suggested that the Coronavirus is less dangerous than the common flu. In the interest of public safety, both Facebook and Twitter opted to censor the President’s posts. The companies were right to do so; by any measure, Trump’s words were misinformed and dangerous.
Manipulating Facebook and Playing Down a Deadly Virus
In the posts, the President suggested that the American public should “learn to live” with the Coronavirus and that the disease is “far less lethal” than the flu in “most populations.” The dangerousness of such misinformation should be apparent to anyone who has followed news about the virus in recent months.
Of course, Trump has not been above making misinformed and dangerous statements in the past when such statements have suited his political aims. Over the summer, for example, he chastised government officials in California for not “[cleaning their] forests” as wildfires devastated communities throughout the state. He has sought to portray peaceful protestors as “anarchists” and labeled cities such as New York and Seattle “anarchist jurisdictions.”
Sowing Fear and Mistrust to Win and Election
Without question, this latest stunt is part of a wider plan on Trump’s part to stoke feelings of fear and mistrust in his political base. Trump knows that anxieties about an uncertain future largely keep many Trump supporters from shifting their political allegiances to Trump’s political rival Joe Biden. The President is also aware that a second term in the White House will largely hang on the votes of a few key demographics in swing states. In 2016, he lost the popular vote by an astonishing 3 million ballots. To the President, any wavering on the part of his base would be a disaster.
Trump therefore knows that he must continue to use “strong” words in front of the voters who will make or break his campaign in November. As with many things in Trump’s orbit, however, the truth lies in stark contrast to the embattled President’s assertions. Trump’s recent social media posts claiming that the flu is more dangerous than COVID simply add to a long list of lies made by the President since he took office in January 2017.
The Science of COVID
According to scientists, for example, the Coronavirus differs from the common flu in a number of important ways. Firstly, it spreads far faster than the flu; secondly, it is far more deadly. Within the United States, the Coronavirus has already killed almost ten times as many people as the flu did during last year’s flu season.
But perhaps more importantly, Trump’s lies essentially prey on the ignorant and misinformed. Many of Trump’s supporters will see his “recovery” from the Coronavirus as a green light to ignore social distancing and mask-wearing measures put in place by Trump’s own Center for Disease Control. The President’s claims of a possible “immunity” to the virus will also cause many Trump supporters to further engage in risky behaviors.
The 2020 Election: A Bleak Outcome?
The result will no doubt be catastrophic. Make no mistake, COVID is deadly. Doctors within the US are already grappling with the disease’s long-term and possibly permanent effects. Many people who have recovered from a COVID infection have reported long-term breathing and exhaustion issues. This is to say nothing of the 200,000-plus Americans who have already lost their lives due to the virus.
But it is clear that the President has no concern for such people. He remains fixated on his own personal interests and is aware that another shutdown will hamper his election chances next month. He also knows that projecting weakness will not play well with a Republican Party that prizes toxic masculinity over reasonable discourse.
Sadly, it is the American people who will bear the consequences of Trump’s political dice-roll. Tragically, many such people will only realize that Trump isn’t interested in their well-being until it is far too late.