Opinion | Trump puts deceitful spin on COVID-19

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Photo Courtesy of Shealah Craighead

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during the coronavirus update briefing on Friday, April 10, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.

By Austin Stadelman, Columnist

A skillful head of state possesses the keen ability to twist something. Taking a terrible circumstance and making the public believe that their leader will be able to guide them through the storm is a necessary task for any sitting president. But it’s worth noting how the leader carries themself and the nation during such an occurrence.

Donald Trump is not unique in attempting to present his own spin on the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when Trump realized that he couldn’t just ignore the virus that has already made its way into American communities, he resorted to framing the outbreak in a manner that presents him as a righteous leader, as opposed to a negligent officeholder.

Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus,” claiming we are “at war” with it and Trump’s unequivocal assurance that the United States will “win” against the “invisible enemy” are all attempts to frame his administration as victims of a terrorist attack, absolving himself of any responsibility for the United States being the new epicenter of the pandemic.

Yet there is no enemy here, simply a virus that has no political agenda. The president, primarily through politicizing his daily health briefings and the usual Twitter antics, treats the virus like a wartime enemy for no purpose other than to rally support for his own satisfaction.

Attacking China through empty words and tweets gives his administration a boogeyman, or scapegoat, during the outbreak. This allows his supporters and any swing voters to focus their anger at the source of the outbreak instead of the administration’s inability to prepare for the virus.

Although China is certainly in no small part responsible for the outbreak’s spread, terms like the “Wuhan Virus” or “Chinese Virus” are just racially charged cheap shots for political points, as opposed to any real diplomatic attempt to hold China accountable.

Trump has also been able to use the high-bar estimates for deaths in the United States in order to create his own goal to beat. The president recently went to the podium and announced that the virus has the potential to kill 2.2 million people in the United States, despite his allies mocking such a figure a month prior, placing a morbid worst-case scenario upon the people.

However, even with the lethargic initial response to COVID-19 from the administration, states implementing stay at home orders and encouraging social distancing have curbed the potential plateau. 

As of April 8, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that the likely number of total deaths will be around 60,000, down from around 100,000 a week prior. 

By presenting such a morbid worst case scenario, Trump can tout a victory, no matter how many people end up having to suffer, given that the eventual final number will be substantially less than the 2.2 million figure.

This allows the president to present himself as the epidemic tactician who was able to prevent more deaths in the United States, despite his reluctance to prepare for the virus in January or February when he most likely feared that such actions would tank the stock market and cause a hiccup in the economy, harming his reelection chances. 

Had the Trump administration taken the virus seriously from the first reported domestic case, immediate preparation for mass testing and access to equipment would have greatly lessened the number of people who will have suffered. 

The exact number will never be known, but weeks of inaction from the administration should not be negated when Trump claims victory. A less-damaging outcome does not render the president’s inaction redeemable.

Trump has even gone as far as accusing the states of failing to prepare for such a pandemic, claiming that it is the states’ responsibilities to individually handle the spread of the virus within their borders. But viruses know no borders. 

Any real solution needs to come from coordination at the national level, given that the people of the United States move freely between each state, bringing the virus with them. Never before has a wartime president called upon the states to lead the charge into battle.

When we are over the peak, and the daily new cases and deaths steadily drop down to zero over the next sum of months, Trump will be declaring victory. If the economic fallout is less than feared and total deaths in the United States are anywhere less than what experts predicted as being bad case scenarios, the president will have a strong ability to use this virus to his electoral benefit.

The American people should remain vigilant and call Trump’s bluff.

Austin is a senior in LAS.

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