Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Donald Trump has done much to imperil American democracy, destroy the norms and laws that hold the country together, and hobble our ability to tackle the major crises of our era from wealth inequality to climate change. He has actively hurt many people, from the immigrant children he forced into abusive conditions to the Kurds and Puerto Ricans he abandoned and left to suffer and die. He has also toyed irresponsibly and recklessly on several foreign policy fronts from North Korea to Iran.

But never before has Trump actively endangered the lives of millions of Americans like he did today in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak. Ever the narcissist, Trump is incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. For him, a potential pandemic unprecedented since World War I isn’t important for its cost to human life, but rather for its cost to his re-election prospects. Ever the businessman with an eye on the bottom line, Trump isn’t worried about the damage to his re-election prospects due to administrative incompetence, but rather from a potential economic downturn as a result of people taking reasonable precautions to protect themselves and others.

So we are confronted with the flabbergasting reality that the President of the United States is telling the world that the coronavirus is a “hoax”, in the hopes that everyone will just keep congregating, spending, buying and traveling like normal to protect his political short-term interests–even as the Dow Jones market index has fallen by 12 percent now that investors have finally wised up to the level of the average informed newspaper reader. And in so doing, Trump is tying the virus in with his broader persecution complex about Democrats, the “deep state” and all those very bad mean people constantly out to get him:

President Donald Trump said Friday that Democrats are using the virulent coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him and his administration.

“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said from a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina.

“One of my people came up to me and said ‘Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well.’ They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation,” he continued.

“This is their new hoax,” he said, referring to the coronavirus.

It’s not just Donald Trump. Fox News is downplaying the threat to their audience, and Rush Limbaugh says it’s just like the common cold (not true, of course: the coronavirus death rate far exceed that of the flu.) Not to be outdone, the president’s son said that Democrats hope the virus kills millions of Americans to “end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”

It’s hard to know exactly what is going on at Fox News headquarters or at the White House (but I repeat myself.) Perhaps the president himself doesn’t know it because he is legitimately that far disconnected from reality, but certainly those around him must know how big a threat this virus really is to millions of Americans. At a crass political level, they must also know that their own elderly base of voters is most at risk if it becomes an uncontrollable pandemic. Someone at some point must have had a conversation with Donald Trump, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh that if they tell their gullible audiences not to worry about coronavirus, not only will it haunt their reputations forever but many of their most dedicated listeners may die on account of it. Is the risk really worth it just to mitigate a hit to the market indices? Are they simply praying that nothing comes of the virus and they can just get away with it? Do they believe their political situation is so desperate, and so based on economic performance, that they’re willing to put all their chips down on a pandemic not occurring?

It’s hard to say, but obviously their actions and their rhetoric are incredibly dangerous. The coronavirus is deadly and spreading rapidly. It is easily transmissible, hard to detect and particularly devastating to the elderly and those with health complications. Many will die if the public does not take it seriously. And a large percentage of the public trusts only what Trump, Fox News and Limbaugh say, and no one else.

Never before has a president put so many people in danger so intentionally, for such a bad reason. It sets an appalling new low for a presidency that seems to hit a new nadir every week.

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David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.