Wissot: Lying won’t contain the coronavirus
I get why the president’s supporters love him. He seems to them like a breath of political fresh air. He represents a formidable challenge to normative politics. He doesn’t couch his words in euphemisms, doesn’t suck up to the established political order, doesn’t kowtow to the niceties of lawful obedience, doesn’t care if more than half the country hates him, and doesn’t hesitate to belittle, taunt, insult, and humiliate his enemies on his Twitter account.
He is their guy. America’s first smack-happy, trash-talking president. The most unfiltered, politically incorrect president in the modern history of the presidency. A man who doesn’t let the truth get in the way of his political ambitions.
Trump’s rise to power came at a time when our politics had become so detached from reality that a conspiracy-loving percentage of the electorate was willing to believe him when he questioned the authenticity of then-President Obama’s birth certificate. Down the rabbit hole of alternative facts and tribal truths, they gladly followed him.
George Orwell’s “1984″ found a home in Donald Trump’s 2020 America.
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But Trump is an effect, not a cause, of the penchant for lying which has invaded our body politic. He is the beneficiary of decades of growing mistrust in our leaders by many Americans. The public has come to expect deception as the new norm.
Both Democrat and Republican presidents have tested the public’s capacity to trust them. Lyndon Baines Johnson expanded a Vietnam War he knew we couldn’t win; Richard Nixon covered up Watergate; Ronald Reagan hid his Iran-Contra fiasco; Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman”; George W. Bush misled us about why we invaded Iraq; Barack Obama told us “we could keep our doctor.”
And for the past 18 years, multiple presidents lied to us about the progress we were making in Afghanistan.
But neither LBJ or Nixon or Reagan or Clinton or George W. or Obama said the truth existed in two forms: mine and my enemies. None of them had a political party willing to engage in a conspiracy of deceit on their behalf. Nixon was forced to resign when told by a Republican delegation led by Barry Goldwater that his time was up. None of the Democrats who voted to acquit Clinton during his impeachment trial claimed he did nothing wrong. Contrast that with the behavior of House Republicans in the impeachment inquiry who refused to offer the only credible defense of the president, namely, that he committed an impeachable offense but it is better for the voters to decide his fate than us.
Up until very recently, Trump was able to lie without much consequence. But that changed with the new coronavirus. Being unprepared for a looming pandemic because the president downplays its seriousness at first, calls it a hoax, then tells the public that “anyone who wants a test gets a test,” in direct contradiction to his vice president who said, “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate to be the demand going forward,” puts the health of the nation at risk. He was forced to back down a bit, but not entirely, from his preferred version of reality when his own health experts convinced him that the virus was immune to his lies and a historically rapid stock market plunge proved that Wall Street was not buying his malarkey.
The coronavirus may prove to be Trump’s Waterloo, his undoing, the watershed moment in his presidency when his resorting to an alternative reality filled with alternative facts won’t work with even his political base.
The coronavirus has no party affiliation. It’s not part of the “deep state” that Trump has alleged is out to get him. It’s not a Democrat-inspired conspiracy, a hoax, a witch hunt, a plot to defeat him in November.
Telling the public that we have everything under control, that the virus is contained when it clearly isn’t, stretches the boundaries of credulity with even the most faithful of his followers.
When you are worried about the life of an elderly relative or the economic impact of not getting paid because businesses are forced to shut down during the worst of the outbreak, the last thing you want to hear from your President is happy talk which flies in the face of the reality you are experiencing.
The only talk the public wants to hear during a health crisis is truthful talk and that is something this president seems constitutionally incapable of doing.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.
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