As COVID Burns Through the South and West, Trump Fans the Flames

Donald Trump has labored since March to imagine himself into a world where COVID-19 will go away in time to save his re-election campaign. Sure, people were getting sick and dying by the thousands in places like New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit, but those weren’t “his voters,” so Trump decided they weren’t his problem.

“Red State America” had barely been touched by the pandemic during that agonizing spring, and a majority of those voters were stoutly in Trump’s corner. More to the point, those Trump voters watch the same “news” networks as he does, and they all joined each other in a soothing feedback loop that proclaimed this was no big deal, COVID only affects Democrats and people of color, so please reopen the gun stores and hair salons so we can get a Glock and a trim, as promised by the Constitution.

No national testing regimen set by the Trump administration. No significant contact tracing. No bully-pulpit push to wear protective masks. As the number of newly unemployed citizens erupted after Trump declared an emergency far too late, a single and utterly insufficient stimulus bill was passed through the eye of Mitch’s McConnell’s ideological needle as Trump crowed about reopening the country by Easter. Hearing this, a number of Republican governors, Trump toadies all, were happy to oblige.

“What happens,” I asked all the way back in the middle of April, “when this thing really and truly burns through rural America? It has already begun, and because of all those Trump supporters standing shoulder to shoulder at capitols and churches to shout their defiance of science and the ‘Deep State’ into the virus-polluted air, it will get worse. It begs the deadly, wretched question: How many Trump voters are going to die between now and November?”

We are in the process of finding out.

“States that President Trump won in the 2016 election account for about 75 percent of the new cases,” reports the Associated Press, “a trend that has accelerated since the end of May. Counties that voted for Trump in 2016 have seen cases and deaths rising — now seeing an impact nearly even with counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.”

White House hostage Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious disease, informed a Senate committee yesterday that COVID-19 is out of control in many such places now, and we could be looking at 100,000 new infections per day very soon, especially if the July Fourth holiday sees similar crowds flouting basic safety measures in the manner of the super-spreader Memorial Day weekend.

“More than 47,000 coronavirus cases were announced across the United States on Tuesday,” reports The New York Times, “the most of any day of the pandemic. Officials in eight states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas — also announced single-day highs. Tuesday was the fourth time in a week that the United States posted a new single-day case record.”

Twelve states — many with significant rural and exurban populations — are seeing spikes in hospitalizations, and 17 states are now pausing or rolling back plans to reopen their economies. Workers newly returned to their jobs are being whiplashed out of them again as the federal government’s muddled, staggering reaction to the pandemic sows uncertainty and fear.

Of the most affected states, only Arizona appears willing to fully face the reality that many “blue states” have already endured. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who isn’t listening to Trump anymore for a refreshing change of pace, has ordered all gyms, water parks, movie theaters, nightclubs and bars to close for 30 days, banned gatherings of 50 people or more, and told school districts to pause on restarting classes.

In contrast to Arizona, the governments of Florida and Texas appear all too ready to go down with Trump’s ship, and appear more than willing to take significant chunks of their populations with them. Both states are currently enduring horrific spikes in infections, and their hospitals are on the verge of a lethal and all too familiar crisis as they struggle to treat the flood of new patients.

“We’re not going back, closing things,” Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday. “I don’t think that that’s really what’s driving it, people going to a business is not what’s driving it. I think when you see the younger folks, I think a lot of it is more just social interactions, so that’s natural.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas was even more emphatic than his Floridian colleague. “Locking down doesn’t work,” he roared on Fox News. “If it did, those two states would be doing better than Texas. Fauci said today that he’s concerned about states like Texas that have skipped over certain things. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We haven’t skipped over anything. The only thing I’m skipping over is listening to him.”

Of note: “Fox News Channel was the most-watched network in prime-time television last week, counting both broadcast and cable, the Nielsen company said. It was the second week in a row that happened, and the third time in June,” the AP reports. “Before this month, that had never happened before. Ever.”

DeSantis and Patrick remain loyal soldiers who can reach Trump devotees via the megaphone of Fox News, but back in Washington, D.C., Trump himself is experiencing a hemorrhaging of Republican support that is, at the barest minimum, very much welcome and half a damn year too late.

No lesser lights than Vice President Mike Pence, Senators Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander, Rep. Liz Cheney and her execrable father Dick, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Fox News lickspittle Steve Doocy, former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and even Failson-in-Chief Donald Trump Jr., have all finally summoned the courage to telegraph a message to the president: WEAR A DAMN MASK.

This is where we are today, more than four months and nearly 128,000 deaths later: Gaping in awe at Republicans who actually dare to tell Trump something he does not wish to hear, something so simple a toddler can do it yet so vital that thousands of lives can be saved if the president of the United States decides to model responsible behavior for his people to emulate.

Will it happen? Is something so fundamentally basic to public health actually possible in the Trump White House? Depends on whom you ask.

A tussle has broken out in the administration over how to react to this latest iteration of the COVID crisis. I’m so old, I remember when Trump put Pence in charge of this fiasco… but Pence, at least, wants to keep the country informed on a daily basis regarding the status of the pandemic.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Jared Kushner, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump counselor Hope Hicks, however, are firmly in the fingers-in-ears-la-la-la corner when it comes to informing the public, a corner Trump has called home since this debacle first unfolded.

Care to wager on where that debate ultimately lands? Like as not, it’s a bet that will pay out in blood and tears.

What was said by legions of experts months ago — this is only just beginning — remains just as true today, and for no better reason than because Donald Trump would step on the dead faces of his own supporters in the street if he believed doing so would carry him closer to victory in November. As those same people all across the land burn on the pyre of his creation, he remains in furiously obdurate denial. I pray more and more of them, at long last, will finally see the light.