Trump Tries to Change the Subject From Covid to Violence

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

With over 185,000 covid corpses in the U.S., Trump needs to change the subject. What better way than promoting mayhem in American cities by routinely portraying Black Lives Matter protesters as violent, angry mobs intent on looting? Granted he gets a big assist on this from Fox News, which has screamed about black insurrection for months. But Trump deserves lots of credit. He mobilized his base, shrieked about second amendment rights, telegraphed his support of violent, right-wing militias and voila! Confrontation and murder in American cities – most of them conveniently run by the opposition party. Trump needs blood in the streets to have a shot at winning the election. So you can be sure there will be blood in the streets. Or rather, more blood.

The Trump campaign claims these riots are what we can expect from a Biden presidency…except they’re happening during a Trump presidency. In fact, we hadn’t seen this level of unrest and violence for years – not until Trump came along, fanning sectarian flames, egging on fascist militias, aggravating racial division and adding his own novel twist – sending in federal police, against the wishes of local elected officials, to act as storm troopers. This president has not just taken a page out of the fascist playbook. He has taken whole chapters. He owns them. When he loses in November, the stage will be set for his authoritarian rejection of election results. And when his pugnacious followers take to the streets, don’t expect Trump to do anything other than throw gasoline on the fire of their rage. Because he’s doing so already.

When Kyle Rittenhouse reportedly murdered two left-wing protesters, radical right-wingers and Trump excused it as self-defense. The second murder – maybe. But the first one? That appeared to be cold-blooded first-degree murder, and the cops treated the killer with kid gloves. Very different from how they treated the leftist, Michael Reinoehl, who shot a radical right-winger while defending his companions. The police murdered Reinoehl, taking him into custody. So there are two justice systems in the U.S. – one for those police and Trump approve of and another for those they don’t.

Trump, the president of only half of America, has of course taken a side. He is hostile to BLM and supports the police. The police know this and they, in turn, support radical right-wing vigilantes. As Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post on August 31, “Trump unleashed a vile and frenzied tweetstorm,” that combined “superficial law-and-order appeals with open contempt for the rule of law.” Then Trump gave an interview to the very friendly reactionary Fox host, Laura Ingram, whom even he astonished with his bizarre claims about a planeload of black-clad anarchists coming to Washington, D.C. As he becomes more desperate, his fabulations become wilder, because Trump has learned one thing from making stuff up these last four years: the rubes in his base rarely hold it against him. Yeah, they know he’s fabricating, they’re not so stupid as to swallow the entire mess of lies. But some of it sticks. And Trump, with help from Fox, is trying to get them to believe more.

Except that it’s not working. A Reuters/Ipsos poll on September 2 showed Trump with no bounce from his new role as law-and-order Duce. All his screaming about insurgent African Americans has failed to shift attention away from the Trump regime’s inept handling of the covid crisis. People understand that this tough-on-crime business is Trump’s latest pose. For many in his base that’s fine. They know Trump’s an actor. But they don’t want to die a miserable death from a lethal pandemic that he has failed utterly to contain. And they can look around and see that other leaders in other countries – China, Vietnam, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea – have controlled the covid monster. The logical questions is, why can’t Trump?

Or, why won’t Trump? On September 9 the blockbuster revelation landed on newspaper front-pages that Trump knew how lethal covid was back in January and deliberately covered it up. So when he called the pandemic a Democratic hoax, he knew that in fact it was deadly serious, but lied to Americans, thus encouraging them not to protect themselves and causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. On CNN, Carl Bernstein called this a felony. It certainly bolsters the description of what the president has done as mass negligent homicide. And it certainly won’t help Trump’s poll numbers.

The Reuters poll showed Biden’s lead pretty much unchanged over the preceding weeks – weeks during which Trump bellowed about civil unrest and tried to paint his opponent – a centrist Democrat to the right of Eisenhower – as a radical left-wing communist. “But the poll showed the majority,” Reuters reported “78 percent, remain ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about the coronavirus.” Nearly 60 percent blamed Trump for the country’s economic woes and for the high number of U.S. covid cases, according to Reuters. “By contrast most Americans do not see crime as a major priority and do not think it is increasing in their communities.” That includes 65 percent of Republicans.

You can’t blame Americans for doubting Trump. After all, this is a president who said in July: “And you have people coming over with bags of soup and the anarchists…start throwing it at our cops…And if it hits you, that’s worse than a brick, because that’s got force…And when they get caught they say, ‘No, this is just soup for my family.’” No, changing the subject to rioting Bolsheviks won’t cut it. Covid is out there. It’s a killer. Anyone could get it. And President Trump has no plan to deal with it.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.