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Donald Trump has one particular skill: pretending things are different than they seem. He was never a good businessman, but he was fantastic at playing a good businessman on TV. His coronavirus response has been abysmal, but his public insistence that everything is fine has somehow managed to keep him from losing significant support. Trump’s specialty is PR – spinning bad things rather than doing good things.
But PR can only do so much. Trump has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic and encouraged people to resist public health measures. He mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask. Then, having taken few precautions to protect himself or others, he landed in the hospital with Covid-19 and has taken a course of heavy-duty experimental treatment meant for severe cases. He’s also been at the center of an explosion of new positive tests among high-ranking Republicans, including three senators, the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Trump’s new campaign manager, the White House adviser Hope Hicks, the former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. Trump is being criticized for having knowingly exposed staff, donors, and secret service agents to potential infection. Reality has finally caught up with the man who once suggested that “like a miracle, [coronavirus] will disappear”.
Trump has not, of course, responded by humbly admitting that he behaved stupidly and should have listened to his critics. Instead, he is reacting in the only way he knows: pretending nothing is wrong. Trump’s doctor has given misleadingly rosy accounts of his medical condition, and Trump reportedly became furious with his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, for contradicting the doctor and admitting that Trump’s vitals had been “very concerning”. Trump released videos to demonstrate that he is in good health and even appears to have staged a photoshoot in which he pretended to work while hospitalized. Trump’s advisers are doing their level best to spin the crisis, with the campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine even suggesting it’s a positive, because Trump now has “experience fighting coronavirus” that Joe Biden lacks. On Monday, when he returned to the White House after his hospitalization, he took off his mask to be photographed, despite being likely contagious.
Trump may have a sense that cavalierly flouting Covid-19 guidelines and then getting a severe case of Covid-19 is not a good look for the president. He reportedly pressed his doctors to let him return to the White House as soon as possible, to show that he is strong and capable. It is still possible that Trump will come out of this crisis better off politically than before. If he recovers quickly, which he claims to be the case, he will use it to try to humanize himself and may be able to revive his earlier insistence that Covid-19 is not much worse than the flu. Trump will work very, very hard to manipulate the American people into not judging him negatively over this. And with Joe Biden withdrawing attack ads during Trump’s illness, perhaps Trump will weather this scandal like he has weathered so many before. After all, Trump once said he could “shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue” and not lose support, and since then he’s essentially done everything short of that. Will this new crisis finally be Trump’s undoing? I don’t think we can count on it.
Trump is a television president and his presidency is a giant reality TV show. The reason people don’t see through his lies is that Trump makes sure the lies are all they see. He keeps people glued to the TV and to Twitter, where he creates an imaginary reality totally separate from the world that actually exists. His supporters do not question it, partly because it’s a reality they want to live in. It is, after all, a world where the president is fine, the virus is not too threatening, we can go about our business as normal, the economy is thriving, and America is becoming great again. It’s easy to see why people joined the throng gathered outside Walter Reed to wish Trump well (and probably spread coronavirus).
We can blame people for not seeing through Trump’s transparently false picture. But that’s not entirely fair. When our understandings of the world are developed through media, we are only as perceptive as the information we take in, and being deluged with lies has a tendency to make us believe them. Critics are flabbergasted by the sheer volume of Trump’s lies, but the regularity is critical to their success. Trump has to create an entire alternate reality that exists solely on Fox News and in the minds of supporters. As this fiction becomes more and more difficult to maintain, increasingly absurd claims must be made to sustain it. Trump had to deny the seriousness of the virus as it tore through the country; now he is having to deny its seriousness as it tears through his own body.
It sometimes feels like we are living in a reality television show. The problem, though, is that we aren’t, and Trump’s fantasy television world is suddenly coming into sharp conflict with the real one. Devastating wildfires are making climate denialism much more difficult to sustain, and the coronavirus pandemic has finally reached the White House. The reality TV clown we elected to rule is now facing serious crises that are harder and harder to wish away.
But do not expect Donald Trump to develop a more sober understanding of reality and take the show off the air. After all, the ratings are fantastic.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Will Trump’s Covid diagnosis hurt his political standing? | Donald Trump