Donald Trump and the CoronavirusA Death Cult
CJ Werleman argues that the more deadly the US President’s actions become, the more backing he receives from his most ardent supporters
It has emerged that, in an on-the-record interview with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, Donald Trump revealed that he deliberately misled the American people about the life-threatening consequences of the Coronavirus.
On 7 February – the day after the country suffered its first COVID-19 fatality – the President told Woodward that the virus is far “more deadly than even your strenuous flus” adding that “this is 5% versus 1%” – presumably comparing the fatality rate of COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.
But, instead of preparing the US for the pandemic, Trump spent the next four weeks calling the virus a “hoax” and downplaying its spread and effects.
Three days after his sit-down with Woodward, the President told supporters at a rally in New Hampshire, “I think the virus is going to be – it’s going to be fine”. Then on 26 February, he declared COVID-19 to be no worse than the flu, telling White House reporters that “this is a flu. This is like a flu.” Throughout March and April, he assured the public it was “under control” and demanded that governors end social distancing measures.
“To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on 19 March. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Operating in sync with the President, the country’s most watched cable news network Fox News ran segment after segment parroting Trump’s downplaying of the virus and promotion of miracle cures, producing a deadly divide in the way Americans viewed the virus. A Pew Research poll in July found that only 46% of Republican voters considered the Coronavirus to be a major threat to public health, compared to 85% of Democrats.
Sadly, local newspapers across the country have carried testimonies of those who have died from COVID-19 after believing it was a hoax or an exaggerated threat. In August, the former Republican Party presidential candidate Herman Cain tweeted that “it looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be”. A few days later, he was dead – having contracted the virus at Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
What portion of the now 200,000 dead Americans died like Cain, putting themselves in harm’s way because of Trump’s deceptive remarks and antics towards the virus?
Perversely, the President’s most stubbornly loyal supporters seem to be loving these damning revelations, including staunchly ‘pro-life’ evangelicals. After all, their political and moral barometer is guided by the sight of liberals and journalists appearing angry and upset with Trump – even if he is killing them.
Trump Like Jesus
On Thursday, the very next day after the Woodward interview tapes aired, more than 2,000 people attended Trump’s rally at an airport hangar in Michigan, with almost none wearing a face mask and with no social distancing measures – despite public officials warning that these rallies have become “super-spreader events”.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden, continues to hold his campaign events in compliance with best practice guidelines, ensuring that his supporters and their family members, friends and work colleagues are kept safe. His approach forms a contrasting image of the America taking its cues from scientists and experts, and the America taking directives from a cult leader.
One ‘MAGA’ cap-wearing attendee of a Trump rally told CNN: “I’m not afraid. The good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die. We got to get this country moving.”
Jared Yates Sexton, an associate professor in political science, observes that “Trumpism is a wilful and violent denial of reality that harms those drowning in it all around them. For them to rally, unprotected, in the midst of a pandemic, right after their leader is caught on tape, dead to rights, admitting he’s misled them, is sadly predictable”.
It doesn’t matter to Trump’s supporters how many of their fellow citizens are sick or dead because of his incompetence, which explains why his other moral and ethical transgressions have mattered even less. They don’t seek saving from a deadly virus. They seek saving only from their perceived and imagined enemies – including racial and religious minorities, secularists, homosexuals and sexually promiscuous single women.
Like all extremist ideologies and groups, Trump’s supposedly biblically-inspired ‘pro-life’ supporters are locked in ‘out’ group versus ‘in’ group thinking, or a ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ binary. To them, it doesn’t matter what Trump does because the other side consists of the Devil incarnate.
“By voting for Trump, you are stopping a flood of evil in our nation,” said right-wing evangelist Mario Murrilo on Wednesday. That same day, Mary Colbert, an evangelical activist, told her audience that they shouldn’t feel offended when Trump attacks people or lies, because Jesus had to do those things too and thus “you don’t want to take offence at Jesus”.
Trump deliberately misleading the American people about the Coronavirus, resulting in the death of 200,000 people, will do nothing to strip away his most ardent support.
The President once boasted that he could shoot someone in the face on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and not lose a single supporter. But it seems he could also drop a nuclear bomb on the cities of Los Angeles and still maintain an 80% approval rating among Republican Party voters.
This arguably makes Trumpism the world’s largest death cult.