By Greg Dolezal
It’s too soon to know if the 38% or so Trump supporting Americans have any cognitive dissonance right now when it comes to trusting government, relying on experts, and adhering to draconian mandates restricting their behavior. More interesting will be observing how the Right wing media reacts after socialist solutions like sending cheques to everyone or increased unemployment insurance take effect – it’s more FDR than Reagan.
Americans, and indeed the world, are tuned into the news for information about COVID-19, the global pandemic that has already disrupted everything from the presidential primaries, large sporting and entertainment events, festivals, and holidays to school closings and working from home. This puts the spotlight on what constitutes a trusted source, which drives today’s culture war.
Apart from a few religious groups still holding worship services and those spring breakers in Florida, most people are adapting to the new reality reluctantly. If media reports are correct, social distancing and staying home are fast becoming the new normal.
Before the novel coronavirus came along it had been more than 300 days since the Trump administration held a press conference. Since large rallies are now out of the question, Trump needs more than just Twitter to do his campaign messaging. We see him daily, using his signature tone, selling the ‘winning and succeeding’ message, which is only slightly more popular than his ‘blame Obama for everything’ riff.
This kind of bluster and bombast on a campaign stop earns him laughs, likes, and votes. But, in a once in a lifetime public health emergency the only winners are the survivors.
That doesn’t stop DJT from doing it of course – especially when it comes to talking about remedies like vaccines, treatments, and much needed medical supplies and equipment. Although his own Surgeon General and the CDC both say a vaccine is a year or more away and that research into drug treatments is not verifiable, Trump overstates the positive and downplays the negative.
It’s desirable for a president to calm the populace and provide a hopeful vision, but upselling a false narrative has already had dire consequences.
Throughout January and February when other nations were already coping with the problem, the American president along with reliably Right wing Fox News, the highest rated news source in the US, were calling the virus a hoax to harm Trump’s chances at re-election. It was all about him and his brand, not about the public.
That never mattered to Trump devotees before when he was disgracing Gold Star parents, making perfect phone calls with Ukraine, or taking credit for Obama’s economic recovery, but does it now? Do they see his profane lack of curiosity and seriousness of purpose as a liability now that civilians – their own families – are in peril?
The only real measure of how MAGA survives this ‘wartime crisis’ will be in November, if that’s not postponed. Until then we can look at the polls which show a lopsided view of how the president is handling the crisis with highly concerned Democrats aligned with experts from government agencies and less concerned Republicans following the president’s assessment that everything is rosy, which are frequently at odds with health professionals and reality.
If Trump does keep his base in November it might be that enough people are buying his pitch. “No one could have predicted this” (his own agencies did back in October), “nothing like this has ever happened” (the 1919 Flu pandemic), “No one is doing a better job” (Korea, China, Vietnam), “We will have enough supplies and help is on the way” (there aren’t and it isn’t).
Information vital to our society about how to behave during a global pandemic is not something that can be spun. There are no competitors and the public are not consumers wandering around the car lot.
The way to inspire confidence is not using every PR and marketing gimmick in the book to make everything seem amazing. If Trump can’t stick to the facts this time there will be consequences whether he’s re-elected or not.