By MARSHA MERCER
As the COVID-19 death toll neared and surpassed 100,000, President Donald Trump used his Twitter pulpit to sow fear, distrust and discord.
He even took after Fox News, calling some on-air personalities “garbage.”
Fox is “doing nothing to help Republicans, and me, get re-elected on November 3rd,” Trump complained in a tweet May 21.
Poor Donald. Then, a new Fox nationwide poll found former Vice President Joe Biden, the putative Democratic presidential nominee, leading Trump by 8 points, well above the 3-point margin of error and a healthy jump from a month earlier when the Fox poll showed a tie.
Such numbers explain Trump’s desperate rush to reopen the economy, even though he acknowledges it will cost lives. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, most severely affects the elderly, the poor and people of color. The states hit hardest tend to vote Democratic.
After nearly four years in office, Trump still claims to be an outsider and a victim – of “fake news,” of former president Barack Obama, of Democrats, and of the social media he himself manipulates so skillfully.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Trump believes he cannot win reelection without a bustling economy and strong stock market, but he should not present a false choice between public health and the economy.
He just as easily could wear a mask and urge his 80.3 million Twitter followers to do so and keep social distance, as medical experts recommend.
He could lead national testing and contact tracing programs. He could urge states to follow the guidelines his own administration issued for a safe reopening of the economy, even if it takes more time.
Instead, motivated by self-interest, he ridicules Biden for wearing a face mask and bullies governors who move cautiously to reopen.
“They would rather see our country fail,” Trump says of Democrats. And, if the reopening fails, we know he’ll blame the Democrats.
But the virus doesn’t know red from blue. The virus doesn’t care if you have the luxury of working from home or must risk your life in a store or restaurant.
More than 40 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the pandemic, and many small businesses may not survive.
Now Trump wants a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall. He threatens to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte unless North Carolina’s Democratic governor quickly promises to allow “full attendance at the Arena.”
To distract from harsh reality, Trump accuses Obama of unsubstantiated, unspecific crimes and even treason and Biden of, well, everything. Obama has indirectly criticized Trump’s leadership; Biden called Trump a “fool.”
In recent days Trump isolated himself from his usual allies by suggesting – without a shred of evidence – that a prominent critic, MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough, committed murder.
In 2001, when Scarborough was a Republican House member in Washington, a young female aide in his Florida office died. Authorities investigated the death of Lori Klausutis at the time and found she had an undiagnosed heart condition and fell, hit her head and died. Her body was found the next morning.
On Twitter, Trump has urged authorities to reopen the “Cold Case.” Her widower begged Trump and Twitter to remove Trump’s tweets, but they refused.
This time, Trump’s baseless attacks prompted a rare backlash from conservative media, including the New York Post – “Trust us, you did not look like the bigger man.” The Washington Examiner called the claims “vile.”
And my personal favorite, from The Wall Street Journal: “ugly even for him.”
“It’s a smear,” a Journal editorialist wrote. “Mr. Trump is debasing is office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so.”
A few congressional Republicans also spoke up. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, chair of the House Republican Conference, urged Trump to stop tweeting about Scarborough.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, tweeted that Trump’s Scarborough tweets were a “completely unfounded conspiracy. Just stop. Stop spreading it. Stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”
Twitter fact-checkers tagged two other Trump tweets as “unsubstantial claims” after he said, again without proof, that mail-in voting would be “substantially fraudulent.”
Trump is on the warpath against social media, which he and conservatives have long claimed stifle conservative speech.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus is still here and likely to stay around. Even if a vaccine is developed, it could take years to control the virus worldwide, if ever.
Our lives must and will change. Trump’s misleading tweets won’t stop that.
©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.