The following was submitted by Joe M.
Pandemics don’t break societal institutions; they reveal which ones were already broken. Along with exposing a previously-unknown revelation that some Americans have mandatory weekly rendezvous with their favorite bartender, the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic have reemphasized that Donald Trump is incapable of effective governance. His administration has rendered America’s public institutions, such as the Center for Disease Control, spectacularly mismanaged, underfunded, and malpositioned to complete the basic functions that justify their existence.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump’s administration has received ample criticism for its spectacularly ineffective at handling the crisis, and for good reason. Following a brief attempt at downplaying the severity of the situation (with the expected blaming of Democrats and the media sprinkled in for good measure), the Trump
administration realized their wishful thinking that the pathogen would magically circumvent the U.S. citizenry would not be the reality, and government action would be necessary to hamper the rate of infection. This isn’t the first time this administration, which has largely based its staffing decisions on sycophancy and fealty to its figurehead, has been widely inept in handling the crisis, but it is the first time Trump has been unable to effectively absolve himself of the blame.
Traditionally, when Trump has to answer for his ability to govern effectively, he identifies an incarnate who represents the other side and goes on the attack. Whether it is a question of his character, such as a recording of him boasting about sexual assault, or a matter of global significance, like withholding military aid to Ukraine unless there is a faux-investigation into his political opponent, Donald Trump and the nation’s pop warner coaches are aligned that:: “the best defense is a good offense.”
Going on the attack offers him two advantages: first, it feeds the Trump ecosystem of supporters, political allies, and media personalities the red meat they so direly crave, perpetuating the financial contributions and aggrieved-based political fervor that cornerstones the MAGA movement. Second, it distracts the media from their central responsibility of helping the citizenry answer the question “is my government working for me?” with the more lucrative pastime of commentating on an unnecessary debate.
Trump’s recent brinkmanship experiment with Iran serves as an excellent case study: following the January 2020 drones strike that killed the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Solemani, perplexed Americans looked to their President to explain himself: he assassinated a foreign leader, who was traveling on a diplomatic passport, on the tarmac of an allied nation: “what was the legal justification for the strike? How was it in the best interest of the American people?” were just a few of the questions the public hand in the forefront of their minds.
Once their principal explanation that Solemani was “planning an imminent attack on Americans” (which would make the strike legal under U.S. law), was proven to be unsubstantiated, Trump and his allies bit down on their mouthpieces and swung like a boxer hunting the adrenaline rush of a knockout blow. Appearing on the radio show of future Presidential Medal of Freedom-recipient Rush Limbaugh, Trump claimed the Democrats believed Solemani was a “wonderful human being.” Trump had created the foundation for the classic head-to-head political fight that skyrockets page clicks and prime time views, and the media wasn’t going to pass it up. Op-eds and interviews alike shirked the question of paramount importance (“why had the U.S. killed a foreign leader?”), for the trivial one of whether Democrats were being too kind to Solemani by claiming Trump acted illegally. With the media putting Democratic candidates on the back foot, pro-Trump surrogates no longer had to defend the President from the question of legality and joined in on the offensive campaign.
Gone is the discussion of whether the strike was legal, or if the President lied about a foreign nation conspiring to attack U.S. troops, but rather if Democratic politicians are inadvertently saying Solemani was a good human being, a matter which could not be less relevant. This tactic has allowed Trump to avoid his duty of answering for the actions of his Executive branch, earning the moniker “Teflon Don.” Prior to the coronavirus, it worked exceptionally well.
What renders Trump’s typical strategy ineffective is that the coronavirus offers no incarnate: there is no person for Trump to attack. The virus isn’t the weapon of a foreign nation, the timeline of its spread far outdates the statute of limitations to blame the previous administration, and the only tie to Hillary Clinton is the beer she drinks while watching the news in Chappaqua. Deprived of a scapegoat, Trump is unable to name an enemy for his supporters to hate and the media to defame with the scarlet letter of implication. This leaves him, and him alone, to answer for his governance, which he cannot do.
Held to account, it is more apparent than ever that he is utterly ill-equipped to lead the country. His announcement of suspending travel from Europe without specifying whether or not it included American nationals lead to mass-panic and confusion as Americans abroad were unsure if they were allowed home. He claimed Google was working on a state-of-the-art website to assist with coronavirus testing, which was news to Google.
Without a supposed villain to blame for the President’s woes, Americans continue to look to Trump for solutions. They’re going to be looking for a while. Closed schools, mandatory work-from-home protocols, and the cancellation of professional sports seasons serve as perpetual reminders that the coronavirus is a legitimate threat to public safety, yet their President is unable to provide a legitimate solution.
Trump’s constant blaming of others accustomed his supporters and the media alike to always look for the enemy. Without a figure to direct their ire on, the gaze of those who have come to believe that every political problem has a single individual to blame continues to return to Trump. He’s trained them to blame someone, and he’s quickly becoming the only conceivable one who could be at fault.