April's Fools

The coronavirus is reshaping so much of our lives – what we do, where we go, what we think. Is it really possible that people are impressed with the nation's response?

April's Fools

One of my favorite podcasts, NPR’s Politics Podcast, ends each episode with a segment it calls “Can’t Let It Go,” where the contributors tell about one thing, politics-related or not, that they can’t stop thinking about.

That catchy phrase, the way they ask, “So-and-so, what’s your Can’t Let It Go?” is stuck in my head after I saw an article in The New York Times yesterday, entitled “Who Are the Voters Behind Trump’s Higher Approval Rating?” After I became THE blinking white guy I just couldn’t stop wondering, “Who are these people?!” I honestly can’t let it go.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not surprised that anybody supports him. I know a great number of Trump supporters and diehard Republicans whose support for the president is unwavering. But the notion that people not predisposed to support President Trump through any gaffe or controversial decision or scandal would look at his administration’s response to a growing pandemic and see something positive is beyond me.

I understand the impulse for national unity in a time of crisis. I understand the desire to unite behind a strong leader. But aside from banal platitudes, President Trump hasn’t leaned into national unity. He hasn’t shown decisive action or taken responsibility for his administration’s lackluster response thus far. So it causes me no small amount of consternation to look out into the world, a world utterly unrecognizable to what we’d call “normal,” and see that people see this performance as strong or adequate or worthy of the “greatest country in the world, as Trump is fond of saying.

Is there any utility in bringing this up? Probably not, as people will make such subjective evaluations using whatever metrics they deem most relevant. But that does not change the objective truth of what’s happened so far. Does the U.S. have far and away the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world? Yes. Have more people died in the U.S. than in China? Yes. Is the total number of American deaths now greater than the number of deaths from 9/11? Yes. Did over 3.3 million people lose their jobs and will many more likely be lost? Yes.

Did President Trump say that he told Vice President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington and Michigan, where millions of people voted for their ticket, because he thought the governors were not appreciative enough? Yes. You can watch it here.

And it’s in this type of statement that I fail to understand Trump’s appeal to conservatives. Conservatives, lovers of local government, always believing that those closest to the people in a given state are best situated to represent their needs, are rallying behind a man who goes after governors who are advocating for the people of their states. He belittles them for daring to criticize his response as it pertains to their states. Trump is speaking out loud, in front of cameras, and saying that the pleas of the people of two states – one of which is an important swing state in a general election – simply don’t matter to him because, in America, where sometimes the other party wins, these states happen to have Democratic governors who haven’t been quite so impressed with the federal government’s response during this crisis. Those governors (duly elected by the people of these states, mind you) are suddenly reduced to the letter beside their name on a ballot, instead of the spokespersons for an entire state in the midst of a global pandemic. But, as I said, while this confuses me about conservatives, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I just won’t get it.

People on the fence, though, people who didn’t have their minds made up about the president already, find this worthy of approval? People see what he’s doing and saying, of his own free will, and decide that he shouldn’t be held responsible for it? Has he so greatly infused this country with distrust for the media that somehow the fact that CNN is the particular broadcaster of that video overrides the simple fact that he’s saying the words himself? Is there really any way to blame that on “fake news”? His words are not being interpreted by a columnist, not being used to extrapolate greater meaning than he intended, not being taken out of context, or any other gripe a president might have about press coverage. CNN had the audacity to do nothing more than simply point a camera at him, and President Trump did the rest.

So, in the spirit of my utter amazement, I bring you two articles today, to be viewed in tandem, to illustrate why I can’t let it go. The first is a masterwork of data journalism from The Washington Post, where flawless execution completely elevates a relatively simple idea. The premise: On the left side of the page, a timeline of President Trump’s statements about the coronavirus outbreak, while on the right side of the page, there is an ever-growing visual representation of confirmed cases and deaths from the virus. The visual representation of the outbreak is transfixing in itself, but the quotes induce more than a few forehead-slapping “what-the-absolute-hell?” moments.

Let the forehead-slapping commence:

Trump’s quotes on covid-19 show how his response has changed over time | Washington Post

Now, for your second course, I give you the New York Times article that started this most-recent obsession. My confusion started right out of the gate, as here’s the top of the story:

Justin Penn, a Pittsburgh voter who calls himself politically independent, favored  Joseph R. Biden Jr. in a matchup with President Trump until recently. But the president’s performance during the coronavirus outbreak has Mr. Penn reconsidering.

“I think he’s handled it pretty well,” he said of the president, whose daily White House appearances Mr. Penn catches on Facebook after returning from his job as a bank security guard. “I think he’s tried to keep people calm,” he said. “I know some people don’t think he’s taking it seriously, but I think he’s doing the best with the information he had.”

Although Mr. Penn, 40, said he did not vote for Mr. Trump, his opinion of the president has improved recently and he very well might back him for a second term.

For more insights from voters inexplicably impressed by President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus:

Who Are the Voters Behind Trump’s Higher Approval Rating? | The New York Times


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