Sunday, July 12, 2020

How Can We Fight the Coronavirus Pandemic Under Political Leaders Who Enable the Spread of the Virus?

The Trump administration has written the book about how not to prepare for a pandemic, and how to mismanage the response once one occurs.  We have previously posted about how President Trump and his administration have hindered pandemic management in the US and around the world.  We have noted the President's support for such counter-productive policies as allowing vulnerable elderly people to fly, keeping passengers cooped up on cruise ships in which the virus was spreading, and reducing testing for the virus (in March).

Furthermore, early on we noted  instances in which the President personally promoted events at which viral spread was enabled: the CPAC conference, a large indoor event, some of whose attendees later tested positive; and a meeting at Mar-a-Lago that included officials from Brazil, some of whom later tested positive (again, in March).  Later, in May, Trump visited a factory which makes N95 masks but insisted on not wearing a mask himself, and several of his top officials, including the Secretary of Health and Human Services, followed his (bad) example and also eschewed masks.

A few such episodes could have been written off as merely particularly horrendous bungles.  However, the pattern is now so well established that it appears Trump and his followers are systematically trying to increase the spread of the virus. We have now cataloged numerous instances in which they seemed to do so. In some, there was evidence that such actions actually enabled viral spread.  I will list them by category, and within categories, chronologically.

President Trump Acting Personally to Enable Viral Spread

Trump Avoids Masks but not Close Personal Contact at Public Events

Public health experts, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under Trump have suggested social distancing, avoiding close contact with others, and wearing masks as key measures all people can undertake to decrease viral spread.

Trump, instead has frequently sought close personal contact with others and has conspicuously avoided wearing a mask.  For example, Trump continued to shake hands with supporters, including some elderly (in Florida, March 11).  Trump continued to show up at events without a mask, usually accompanies by other administration officials who also were maskless: in Phoenix, at a mask factory, (May 5) apparently in violation of the company's policy (per the Washington Post); at another mask factory in Pennsylvanis (May 14); in the Rose Garden, accompanied by Secretary of DHHS Azar and Secretary of Defense Esper (May 15); and in a Ford manufacturing plant, violating company policy and state law (May 21).

By decreasing the number of people wearing masks and preventing social distancing at these events, Trump made it more likely that there would be virus transmission there.

While Trump Avoids Masks and Social Distancing at the White House, His Staffers Increasingly Test Positive

Similarly, Trump has deliberately tried to reduce the use of masks and social distancing in the White House and generally in his personal vicinity.  Again, this increased the likelihood of virus transmission.  On May 4, 2020, Yahoo News reported:

As the country copes with the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are following social distancing guidelines from the White House coronavirus task force to slow the spread of the infection: staying 6 feet away from other people, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks or cloth face coverings.

But inside the White House, many of these rules are not being observed. There are regularly large events with unmasked attendees in close quarters — including inside the Oval Office, where some people have been allowed to enter without wearing masks or taking tests for the virus.

Although some people have their temperatures checked,

Not everyone who goes inside the Oval Office, the president’s inner sanctum and one of the most secure spaces in the West Wing, is being tested. For both governors’ visits, a pack of pool reporters and cameramen were brought in. Though their temperatures were rechecked before they entered Trump’s office, the press pool, which stood feet away from the president, the governors and staff, were not given tests. And in the crowded confines of Oval Office press scrums, while Trump sits apart from most of the crowds, the 6-foot distancing rule is not observed, with reporters and top officials packed close together.

Another report by the Washington Post on May 8, 2020, emphasized that the lax approach at the White House was at the behest of Trump:

Several security officials with executive branch experience said in interviews Friday that the White House has taken a lax and risky approach that, in their view, reflected Trump’s consistent efforts to minimize the threat from the virus.


Like Trump, most of his aides, including Pence and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have not worn face masks, and the president has huddled with guests at the White House for photo-ops that undermine the efforts at social distancing that do take place, such as seats placed more than six feet apart.

'This is a show of bravado. This is a show of ‘I got this. I’m in control,’ ' said one former security official familiar with White House security planning during past administrations.

'He’s tried to minimize this threat from day one. It’s the only way he can laugh in the face of this disease,' said this person, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly address sensitive security matters.

Multiple anecdotes suggest that the White House is a permissive environment for transmission.  Various staffers have tested positive for coronavirus, suggesting that lax policies driven by Trump's aversion to masks were enabling spread.  First, on May 7, CNN reported:

A member of the US Navy who serves as one of President Donald Trump's personal valets has tested positive for coronavirus, CNN learned Thursday, raising concerns about the President's possible exposure to the virus.

The valets are members of an elite military unit dedicated to the White House and often work very close to the President and first family. Trump was upset when he was informed Wednesday that the valet had tested positive, a source told CNN, and the President was subsequently tested again by the White House physician.

The next day, Politico reported:

Katie Miller, a spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence, has tested positive for coronavirus, according to two people with knowledge of Miller's diagnosis.

Miller's positive diagnosis for Covid-19 puts the potential threat of the infection squarely into the president’s inner circle. Miller serves as the vice president’s top spokesperson, traveling with him frequently and attending meetings by his side. She is also married to another top White House aide and senior adviser, Stephen Miller, who writes the majority of Trump’s speeches and spends copious amounts of time around the president, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

And on July 3, 2020, the New York Times reported:

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of President Trump’s eldest son and a top fund-raising official for the Trump re-election campaign, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday before a Fourth of July event at Mount Rushmore, a person familiar with her condition said.

Ms. Guilfoyle traveled to South Dakota with Mr. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., in anticipation of attending a huge fireworks display where the president was set to speak.

So it is likely that despite some extraordinary measures to prevent infection in the White House, such as multiple temperature checks and copious use of rapid (but perhaps not very sensitive) tests for coronavirus, the President's insistence on avoiding masks and social distancing is allowing spread of the virus, even to staffers very close to the President.

Trump Scoffs at New Jersey Quarantine Regulations

As reported by NBC on June 24, 2020:

The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump will not change his plan to travel to New Jersey this weekend despite a new order by the governor requiring visitors who have been in states with high numbers of coronavirus cases to quarantine for 14 days.

'The president of the United States is not a civilian,' White House spokesman Judd Deere said when asked about Trump’s compliance with the quarantine order given his travel Tuesday to Arizona, which has seen a rise in the rate of its COVID-19 cases.

Again, Trump demonstrated his intentional disregard of standard, lawful public health measures meant to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Trump's Tulsa Campaign Rally: No Masks or Social Distancing, Multiple Infections Documented

So far, the most vivid and elaborate demonstration of Trump's push to make the US safer for the coronavirus was provided by his campaign rally in  Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.  That location was one in which coronavirus cases were already climbing.  The rally went on despite Trump's and its organizers' apparent awareness of the dangers of it leading to worsening spread of the virus.

First, note that the campaign required that attendees sign a waiver to protect Trump and the organizers from liability.  As reported by CNN on June 12, 2020:

Attendees of President Donald Trump's upcoming rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, must agree not to sue the campaign if they contract coronavirus.

Rallygoers are asked to RSVP to gain admission to the event and by registering, they must agree to a disclaimer that states they acknowledge the 'inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.'

'By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,' the disclaimer reads.

The disclaimer proclaims that Trump and rally organizers were very aware that their event would likely lead to particular risk of spreading coronavirus.

Furthermore, local health authorities warned them about the risk, per Tulsa World on June 13, 2020:

Expressing concerns about COVID-19’s increasing spread, the Tulsa City-County Health Department’s director said he wishes the campaign rally for President Donald Trump at the BOK Center on June 20 would be pushed back to a later date.

In an interview with the Tulsa World on Saturday, Dr. Bruce Dart said Tulsa is seeing a 'significant increase in our case trends' that makes a large gathering like the rally dangerous for not only attendees, but the president himself.

Local health care professionals also added their warnings, as reported by Public Radio Tulsa on June 16, 2020:

Calling it a matter of public health, not politics, hundreds of health care providers have signed their names on a letter to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, calling on him to prevent President Trump's campaign rally planned for the BOK Center on Saturday.

'As our city and state COVID-19 numbers climb at a rate previously unseen, it is unthinkable that this is seen as a logical choice," reads the letter, dated June 14th and authored by Dr. Jabraan Pasha of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Tulsa. 'It has the potential to shake our cities [sic] infrastructure and stress our healthcare systems. It will undoubtedly cost lives.'

In case that was not enough, top public health experts on the President's own coronavirus task force also warned against the rally. As reported by NBC News on June 19, 2020:

Leading members of the coronavirus task force warned White House officials about the health risks of holding large-scale indoor campaign rallies and advised against such mass gatherings, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, and task force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx both vocalized concerns internally in the last week about the safety of holding a rally on Saturday with as many as 19,000 people in an enclosed arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Their dismissal was blase:

But President Donald Trump and his campaign advisers are proceeding with the event, which is expected to draw tens of thousands inside and outside the venue who will neither be socially distant nor required to wear face coverings. They claim attendees 'assume a personal risk' and 'that is part of life.'

Again, this response indicates that the President and associates were well aware that what they were doing would likely spread the virus.

Yet there was one final warning before the event.  As CNN reported on the day of the rally, June 20, 2020:

Six staffers working on President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have tested positive for coronavirus, the Trump campaign said Saturday.

Nevertheless, the show would go on, but not before one extra effort by the Trump campaign to make sure there would be no social distancing at the event. As we found out in retrospect on June 27, 2020 via the Washington Post

In the hours before President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, his campaign directed the removal of thousands of 'Do Not Sit Here, Please!' stickers from seats in the arena that were intended to establish social distance between rallygoers, according to video and photos obtained by The Washington Post and a person familiar with the event.

The removal contradicted instructions from the management of the BOK Center, the 19,000-seat arena in downtown Tulsa where Trump held his rally on June 20.

The effects of the rally were discovered very quickly.  First two members of Trump's campaign team tested positive for coronavirus after the rally (CNBC, June 22, 2020).  Then it was the Secret Service's turn, per the Washington Post on June 24, 2020:

Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents who were on site for President Trump’s rally in Tulsa last week were ordered to self-quarantine after two of their colleagues tested positive for the novel coronavirus

The agents originally testing positive were part of the six staffers who tested positive listed above. How many other Secret Service agents may have been infected is not clear.

A Secret Service spokeswoman declined to comment on how many of its employees have tested positive or were quarantined, but said the Tulsa event has not affected the agency’s ability to do its job.

A few days later, a prominent Trump supporter who attended the rally fell ill, as reported by Politico on July 2, 2020:

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain announced on Thursday that he has been hospitalized with Covid-19, almost two weeks after attending President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Okla.

Cain was diagnosed with coronavirus on June 29, nine days after the president's rally, and his symptoms worsened and required hospitalization on July 1, according to a statement from his Twitter account.

'He spent the past night in a hospital and as of today, Thursday July 2, he is resting comfortably in an Atlanta-area hospital,' the statement read, adding that Cain did not need a respirator. 'There is no way of knowing for sure how or where Mr. Cain contracted the coronavirus.'

Cain, briefly a frontrunner in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, tweeted a picture on June 20 of himself and others at Trump’s indoor rally.

“Here’s just a few of the #BlackVoicesForTrump at tonight’s rally! Having a fantastic time!” the caption read. No one in the picture was wearing a mask.

Finally, the director of the Tulsa Public Health Department concluded that the rally likely made an important contribution to the surge of cases overall in Tulsa.  As reported by AP on July 8, 2020:

President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and large protests 'likely contributed' to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

Tulsa County reported 261 confirmed new cases on Monday, a one-day record high, and another 206 cases on Tuesday. By comparison, during the week before the June 20 Trump rally, there were 76 cases on Monday and 96 on Tuesday.

Although the health department’s policy is to not publicly identify individual settings where people may have contracted the virus, Dart said those large gatherings 'more than likely' contributed to the spike.

'In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,' Dart said.

So despite multiple warnings from public health experts and health care professionals, Trump and his campaign held a intentionally maskless and socially compacted rally quickly followed by the spread of infection to staffers, at least one of his prominent supporters, and apparently a large but unknown number of the population of the city in which the rally was held.  Since then, Trump et al have held two large maskless and socially compacted events, one in an urban area with already a large surge in COVID-19, although it is too early to tally their effects.

The Trump Administration and Family

Ivanka Trump's Travels

Per the NY Times, April 16:

Ms. Trump herself has not followed the federal guidelines advising against discretionary travel, leaving Washington for another one of her family’s homes, even as she has publicly thanked people for self-quarantining.

In particular,

Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a senior White House adviser, traveled with their three children to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey

On Their Own, Top Administration Officials Avoid Masks and Have Others Take Them Off

Even when the President Trump is not present, his top officials have taken it upon themselves to prevent the use of masks and social distancing.  On May 8, 2020, the Washington Post reported that Defense Secretary Esper and Veterans Affairs Secretary Wilkie stood with several very elderly, and hence vulnerable to coronavirus, World War II veterans sans masks. On May 11, the Intercept reported that Vice President Pence attended an event without a mask, and that business executives in attendance were required to remove their own masks.  This occurred right after Pence was exposed to Katie Miller (see above), so soon after Pence entered quarantine.

How ICE Spread the Virus

Days ago, on July 10, 2020, the New York Times reported:

Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them.

An investigation by The New York Times in collaboration with The Marshall Project reveals how unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus — and how pressure from the Trump administration led countries to take in sick deportees.

The scope of the problem appears large:

So far, ICE has confirmed at least 3,000 coronavirus-positive detainees in its detention centers, though testing has been limited.


So far, the governments of 11 countries have confirmed that deportees returned home with Covid-19.

So members of Trump's administration and family have also undermined public health measures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, likely enabling infection in some affected people.

Trump Supporters in the US Congress

Trump's political supporters in the US Congress, and in state houses and legislatures have also enthusiastically followed his lead, promoting a maskless and not socially distanced life, despite increasing evidence that their efforts are leading to more people infected with coronavirus.

Republican Members of Congress Refuse Masks and Social Distancing

Republican members of the US House of Representatives have repeatedly refused to wear masks during their official duties while indoors and when close to other people.  On April 23, 2020, the NY Post reported:

Republican members of Congress were noticeably reluctant to wear masks on the House floor Thursday, sparking a sharp debate with Democrats, who readily accepted the federal guidance.

As lawmakers gathered for a morning debate on creating a coronavirus stimulus oversight committee, the GOP side of the chamber largely left their mouths and noses uncovered

The leadership provided the bad example, provoking mockery of masks as a pandemic prevention measure:

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) arrived on the House floor without masks, as did many GOP peers.

'Nice mask!' a colleague told Scalise.

'Thanks! I wear it for Halloween, too!' the second-ranking Republican said, laughing uproariously.

Those who did not wear masks included Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), James Comer (R-Ky.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.), David Kustoff (R-Tenn.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas).

Despite continuing exhortations from public health experts about wearing masks, House Republicans remained defiant.  As reported on May 28, 2020 by CNN:

A contingent of House Republicans continues to defy the recommendations of public health experts and Congress' top physician to wear face coverings to limit the spread of Covid-19, refusing to wear them on the floor of the chamber, in the hallways of the Capitol or when chatting with aides and colleagues -- even when they're unable to maintain a social distance.

Some of those anti-mask Republicans seem to have acquired coronavirus infections, suggesting that their deliberate avoidance of masks and social distancing has enabled the spread of the virus, even to those who advocated such defiance of public health orthodoxy.  As reported by USAToday on June 15, 2020:

South Carolina Republican Rep. Tom Rice announced Monday that he and his family contracted COVID-19, becoming the latest member of Congress to contract the deadly disease that has infected about 2.15 million Americans.

Rice, in a Facebook post to his constituents, said he and his family contracted the disease last week and were recovering. He joins seven other members of Congress who tested positive for the disease or who were diagnosed with a presumed case. But his case comes months after his colleagues' and comes as states push to reopen businesses and their economies.

And the defiance continues.  CNN reported on June 26, following up on a Congressman listed above whose state now experiencing a major surge in infections:

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert spends ample time on the House floor not wearing a mask, often talking with aides and lawmakers at length while not maintaining a social distance.

Asked why not, the 66-year-old Gohmert had an explanation that defied the science and the recommendations of leading public health experts.

'I don't have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I've never had it. But if I get it, you'll never see me without a mask,' the conservative Texan told CNN Friday.

Told that health experts say that people who don't have symptoms may be carrying the virus and can unknowingly spread it to others, Gohmert responded: 'But I keep being tested and I don't have it. So I'm not afraid of you, but if I get it I'll wear a mask.'

Leading Republican Member of Congress to Hold Fundraising Event in Florida During Huge Virus Surge

I found one other example of a well known Congressman who seemed intent on holding an event that could risk further virus spread in a state already experiencing a major surge.  On July 7, 2020,Axios reported

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s PAC is inviting lobbyists to attend a four-day 'Summer Meeting' at Disney World's Polynesian Village in Florida, all but daring donors to swallow their concern about coronavirus and contribute $10,000 to his leadership PAC.

Why it matters: Scalise appears to be the first House lawmakers to host an in-person destination fundraiser since the severity of pandemic became clear. The invite for the 'Summer Meeting' for the Scalise Leadership Fund, obtained by Axios, makes no mention of COVID-19.

Trump Supporters in State Governments

Maskless Governors Went To Restaurants

Early on in the pandemic, despite evidence that crowded restaurants provided an ideal environment for virus propagation, one governor who supports Trump made a point of showing up in restaurants.

March 16, 2020, via the Independent:

[Republican] Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, has declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak just a day after he was slammed for tweeting a picture of his family at a crowded restaurant.

Two months later, two others made the restaurant scene, sometimes encouraged by Vice President Pence.

May 14, 2020, via the Arizona Republic

[Republican Governor Doug] Ducey’s office posted photos on social media of the governor stopping for lunch at Pita Jungle in Phoenix with a bipartisan group of legislators.

The get together was a show of support for the restaurant industry as eateries reopened dine-in service this week as the governor pulled back state restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

None of the politicians were wearing masks in the pictures. Restaurant staff appeared to be wearing masks.

The state’s own guidance for restaurants says eateries should develop standards for employees to wear masks around customers and coworkers.

May 20, 2020, via ABC News:

Vice President Mike Pence did something Wednesday that most Americans haven’t done in many weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic: He sat down for lunch at a burger joint.

The vice president held a photo op at Beth’s Burger Bar in Florida along with GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis to highlight efforts to allow restaurants in the state to begin reopening for limited, in-person service.


Neither the vice president, nor Steele, nor DeSantis, or many others nearby, wore masks.

May 22, 2020 via the Atlanta Eater:

Photos posted to social media by WSB reporter Richard Elliott, AJC photojournalist John Spink, and AJC reporter Tamar Hallerman show Gov. Kemp and Vice President Pence speaking to the owners, staff, and diners at Star Cafe, and lunching on pulled pork and meatloaf paired with sweet tea.


Despite the governor urging the public to face wear masks and to social distance during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, neither Gov. Kemp or the vice president — or most of their entourage — entered the restaurant wearing a mask or when conversing with people before dining, and social distancing seemed to be on the back-burner.

Note that since then Oklahoma, Florida, and Georgia have all experienced big coronavirus surges.

Pennsylvania Legislators Concealed COVID-19 Infection Acquired by One of Their Own

On May 28, 2020, the Washington Post reported:

Democratic state legislators in Pennsylvania accused their Republican counterparts Wednesday of keeping a GOP lawmaker’s positive coronavirus diagnosis under wraps for days, arguing the lack of transparency may have increased their risk of contracting the potentially deadly infection.

Republican state Rep. Andrew Lewis released a statement Wednesday revealing he received his positive test result on May 20 — a jarring announcement that rattled House Democrats who said they had no idea he had been sick or other GOP members had been told to self-quarantine due to possible exposure.

Lewis, whose last appearance at the state Capitol was on May 14, said he immediately went into isolation after testing positive and informed House officials about his condition.

In particular,

state Democrats were appalled that their Republican colleagues did not promptly inform them of Lewis’s positive test result or the subsequent self-quarantines of other GOP members, instead allowing them to potentially risk exposure by continuing to participate in person in voting sessions and House committee meetings. Several Democrats said Wednesday they only became aware of Lewis’s diagnosis from the media.

The connection between intentional behavior by the state legislators and their colleagues initially unknowing assumption of increased risk is clear.

After Refusing Masks and Social Distancing, Mississippi Legislators Acquiring Coronavirus Infections

On July 10, 2020, AP reported:

Packed elevators and crowded committee rooms. Legislators sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the House and Senate floor. People standing close to each other and talking, sometimes leaning in to whisper, without a mask in sight.

Those were common scenes at the Mississippi Capitol in June — a month that saw a historic vote to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag — and now at least 26 lawmakers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the biggest known outbreak in any state legislature in the nation.

That works out to about 1 in 7 Mississippi legislators.

Among those testing positive in the heavily Republican body are the GOP presiding officers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.

Again, there is a plausible connection between lack of masks and social distancing, and then rise in infections.  Note again that Mississippi has been also undergoing a major coronavirus surge.


We have thus seen an extensive array of examples in which President Trump, his administration, and his political supporters in the US Congress, state houses and state legislatures have deliberately undermined standard public health measures meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and better control the pandemic.  There are examples in which their defiance at least was temporally related to specific or general increases in infection.  These examples occurred before and during the latest and now most severe surge of the pandemic.  The examples occurred despite many, many warnings and cautions by public health and health care professionals, and protests by political opponents.

How can we explain this apparently perverse behavior?  Given its duration despite warnings and pushbacks, it is hard to attribute it to lack of knowledge, miscommunication, or error.  One can never dismiss the possibility of grotesque stupidity.

However, at this point, I cannot dismiss the likelihood of malevolence.  As Jurecic and Wittes postulated in the Atlantic back in March,

As the former Justice Department official Carrie Cordero declared on Twitter: 'To invert a @benjaminwittes formulation, the Trump administration #COVID19 response might be characterized as incompetence exacerbated by malevolence.'

It is an inversion in more ways than one. In the original formulation of the phrase—malevolence tempered by incompetence—the incompetence not only comes second, but it mitigates the malevolence. In Cordero’s rather apt reformulation, by contrast, the incompetence comes first, and the malevolence doesn’t mitigate it. It makes things worse.


[Addressing] the malevolence. President Trump’s statements since the virus first appeared in the United States have been wholly untouched by concern for anything except blame avoidance.


He barely bothers to express concern about public health, choosing instead to wax indignant about how the virus is affecting his public image. This has led to some scenes that might have been bleakly funny if not for the many lives at stake.

And as Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post on July 8,2020:

Not clueless and hapless.  Malevolent.

Once we dispense with the idea that Trump remains 'in denial,' we’re left with a few interpretations. The most charitable is that Trump continues to have principled disagreements with experts over these matters, but there are zero indications he has any substantively grounded views on them of any kind.

A far less charitable interpretation is that he’s merely indifferent to the catastrophic consequences that are resulting from these failures — and will continue to do so — and that he’s prioritizing nakedly self-interested political calculations over any such concerns.


Central to getting this right is dispensing with the idea that Trump is a hapless, clueless actor rather than a deliberate and malevolent one.

If he is right, only then will be come up with a real solution for a malevolent and now life-threatening regime.

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