Donald Trump lies, all the time, about everything. Right-wing media and congressional Republicans back him up on these lies. A lot of his supporters simply don’t care if he lies. They view his lying as fair game, because it’s in service of sticking it to the liberals. If they can claim big wins in the culture war, it’s justified.
But this may be Trump’s biggest deception of all, because, in truth, he doesn’t actually care about his own voters. His ease with betraying even his most loyal followers has been evident in his response to the threat of coronavirus, the viral epidemic that began in China and has now caused six deaths in the U.S. For most leaders, the threat of this disease turning into a global pandemic would cause concern for the well-being of the nation, and of humanity at large. The response of any normal president, of whichever party, would be guided by the principle that the most important thing is the health and safety of Americans.
For Trump, however, the priority is to make sure this viral outbreak doesn’t harm his chances of getting re-elected in November. If that means lying to his loyal supporters, even in a way that puts their own lives in danger, he won’t hesitate to do that.
That much was made obvious in a Feb. 26 White House press conference where Trump dismissed the situation, suggesting that the disease has already been beaten back. “We’ve had tremendous success,” he said, asserting the whole thing was likely to end quickly, with “just one or two people [infected] over the next short period of time.”
Trump has suggested his enemies have exaggerated the threat of COVID-19 to hurt him. He tweeted that the media was “doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible” for the purpose of “panicking markets” to hurt his re-election.
To make it worse, Trump-supported media has decided to attack one of the remaining competent people in charge, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re furious that Messonnier has spoken to media outlets on the virus and asking health care workers to prepare themselves.
To punish and discredit her for putting public health over Trump’s political interests, Trump ally Rush Limbaugh – who said COVID-19 is no worse than “the common cold” – has been spreading a conspiracy theory accusing Messonnier of being part of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump. His evidence? She is the sister of former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee now hated by Trumpers because he got fed up with lying for the president and started telling the truth.
Even advice from health officials – wash your hands, follow travel advisories – is being counteracted by Trump and right-wing media, encouraging people to distrust expertise. Trump doesn’t care if his fans get sick, as long as he feels his own interests are protected.