President Trump is tweeting again this morning, as he does most days. This time, he has returned to a common theme: herd immunity. Because the concept itself is connected to figures and math, figures which demonstrate that following that path will result in millions of deaths, he does not use the actual term. Instead, what he describes is “learning to live with the disease.”
By framing it this way, he opens the door to an interpretation which mirrors an argument I’ve made for months: that with proper precautions, testing and contact tracing, the numbers of infected and deaths in this country could be minimal and many businesses and activities could return to a modified normal.
This is how his defenders will explain his position when pressed with hard facts… such as Trump’s own oft-repeated claim that two million would be dead if nothing were done about the virus. The intent behind the statement, when combined with his other actions, demonstrates his preferences follow the “herd immunity” model, where few to no precautions are taken. This is shown by his rejection of the most basic protection, a facial mask worn by the infected to minimize transmission to those around him.
But, does the President truly embrace the flawed herd immunity model that has been peddled to his supporters? No. He does not.
There are various reasons for politicians to argue in favor of taking few actions. One is simple apathy toward the health of those they lead. Another is a misguided trust of fringe medical scientists. Another is fear of committing to a particular solution. In Trump’s case, it is sociopathy.
Trump has a goal: be re-elected. There are debates over his motivation, whether it be fear of incarceration or simple enjoyment of the attention and benefits he receives as President. There can be no doubt he wants to retain power, however. He is willing to risk his own life to maintain the Presidency.
With re-election as his goal, he has assessed the situation before him. His support base has overwhelmingly skewed toward white, moderately to poorly educated, elderly and male voters who view themselves as patriotic. These are the people he needs to turn out to the polls, but these are also his weapons. They are the people who can potentially convince others to vote for him.
This is nothing new, but Trump adds sociopathy to the mix. Leaders have put their people in danger before, for a wide range of reasons. Erdogan and Putin have violently suppressed uprisings, while Churchill allowed British locations to be bombed rather than let the Germans know their codes had been broken. Trump cannot distinguish between these actions on a moral level, he simply sees them as effective tactics.
The coronavirus takes a week or two to develop within a host, and with medical attention even many highly symptomatic victims typically survive for at least a few weeks. Without any concern for what happens to his voters after election day, and without any concern for their friends or families, Trump is going to use what weapons he has to motivate them… and his weapons are the voters themselves.
Rather than moderate his tone toward election day, expect Trump to ramp up his rhetoric and actions. He will be portraying “strength” not to offer hope to people but to motivate his fans. He will demand suppression of any information which might undercut his message that the coronavirus is dangerous, and his functionaries will dutifully follow orders.
Expect any Trump supporter who had previously been reasonable to grow irrational in their devotion. Expect the fanatics to become threateningly so. And expect outreach – this is where their next front will be, as they desperately try to follow the commands of their godling. You will hear about how schools are open, the artificially-inflated Dow is at record levels, and how people don’t need to wear masks anymore. The spike in infection rates and deaths will be ignored, and challenging the faithful on this point will cause anger or even rage.
None of it will work, of course. He has acted dangerously and dictatorially for four years, and the many stories of overreach, criminality and terrible judgement have been arriving and will continue to be exposed to the public throughout October. But he will try, and his supporters will die as a result.