If Trump still had an ounce of sanity after three years in office, he would stared at himself in the bathroom mirror sometime in mid-February and said something like this:
“OK, Donald, this virus is coming on much stronger than you expected, and it looks like it could take down half of the economy with it. You thought you were going to sail through to re-election, but now you’re Winston Churchill in May 1940 with the Nazis in France and Norway and Britain alone and adrift in between.
“What the hell are you going to do? If you pretend the danger doesn’t exist, the epidemic will grow by leaps and bounds. That means emergency rooms overflowing with people hacking and wheezing, overloaded intensive care units, a shortage of protective gear, and ambulance sirens blaring night and day. And throughout it all, people will be pointing the finger and blaming you, you, you!”
“So what are you going to do? Say something stupid like we have it all under control? That it will all go away April? What kind of jackass are you?
Then would come the breakdown. “I’m a fool, an idiot,” Trump would mutter between sobs. But then, after splashing cold water on his face, the soliloquy would resume:
“Calm down. The virus is not going away, so you’ve got to pull yourself together and get the job done. Maybe it’s time for a big speech, something about fighting them on the beaches and in the elevators or whatever it was that fat Brit with the cigar used to say. But whatever, you’ve got to do something. Because if you don’t and the disease runs amuck, then you can kiss that sweet second term goodbye.”
With that, Trump would towel himself off and bark at some aide: “Quick, get me that bastard Fauci! I need that little prick to tell me what to do!”
Ah, how differently things would have turned out! Sure, the economy would have crashed. That was inevitable. But once the virus was under control, liberals would have had no choice but to give credit where credit was due. Conservatives would have fallen into line – once they got over their shock, that is. The Washington Post and New York Times would run the usual front-page articles citing unnamed intelligence officials blaming the new strategy on Russia, Russia, Russia, but, fortunately, everyone would be too concerned with more important matters to notice. Re-election would have been in the bag.
But Trump so ignorant he barely knows who Churchill is. So in the end, he did nothing. As a result, the long-awaited calamity has arrived. The daily infection rate has quadrupled over the last six weeks while deaths have doubled from 491 on June 8 to 1,039 on July 21. Even worse, the liberal Northeast is doing relatively while it’s the South and West that now bear the brunt. That’s Trump country, and once all those people out there start seeing their parents and grandparents on ventilators, they’re going to look around for someone to blame. And it won’t be poor old “Sleepy Joe.”
Worse than shooting oneself in the foot, it’s like using an AR-15 to blow off one’s entire lower leg. “Perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations,” is how the New York Times described Trump’s nonresponse the other day. But why “perhaps”? Why not “definitely,” “surely,” or “unquestionably”? If Churchill had declared that all those German aircraft advancing over the English Channel were nothing more than blips on a radar screen, if FDR had dismissed Pearl Harbor as a Republican plot, if Lincoln had said he didn’t give a damn about some distant outpost known as Fort Sumter, if … well, you get the picture. The point is that by refusing to take a mega-event like Covid-19 seriously and then topping it off with asinine statements like “we have it totally under control, it’s one person coming in from China,” it’s almost as if Trump wanted Americans to think of him as the greatest do-nothing since Nero.
As a result, what should have been an easy glide to victory is now an uphill fight. This doesn’t mean Trump will lose. To the contrary, he might still pull it off. But so thoroughly has he painted himself into a corner that the only way conceivable way out is a campaign of fear blaming Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and urban Democrats for a surge in urban crime. The idea is to make Americans think that the only choice is between social breakdown and martial law. Unless Democrats are able to come up with a different framework, voters may well opt for the latter.
If so, Trump may still slip through in the end. But is that how he really wants to go down in history – as the man who, by virtue of his own stunning incompetence in battling the coronavirus, brought America to the brink of fascism?