Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a staunch Trump ally, said this about the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic: “I think the biggest mistake people make in public life is not telling the truth, particularly in something with as much public interest as here, because you know the real story is going to come out.”
The president has spent many months adamantly denying the “real story” of the virus, which has now killed more than 200,000 Americans. But the facts are unvarnished, undeniable and unavoidable. As Trump admitted privately to author Bob Woodward back in February, “This is deadly stuff.” And now he too has become infected, along with his wife, numerous White House aides and at least three Republican senators.
“I think he let his guard down,” Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle. “I think he got out over his skis and frankly, I think it’s a lesson to all of us that we need to exercise self-discipline.”
Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a pro-Trump Super PAC, described that lesson in somewhat blunter terms: “There was panic before this started, but now we’re sort of the stupid party.”
Now, the last thing this president is ever going to exercise is self-discipline, as he graphically demonstrated when he returned from the hospital, ostentatiously removed his mask and posted a video saying, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
But “The Trump Show” is losing its audience and heading for cancellation. The ratings are in, and they’re down — especially among women, who favor Democrat Joe Biden over Trump by 31 points in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, and by 34 points in the new CNN survey. By 25 points, voters told CNN, they believe Biden to be more “honest and trustworthy” than Trump, and by 20 points they feel the Democrat “cares more about people like you.”
Trump’s profound mishandling of the COVID crisis has become a symbol, a metaphor, for his entire presidency — a presidency built on “alternative facts,” as his adviser Kellyanne Conway famously put it. A presidency where “truth is not truth,” as another confidant, Rudy Giuliani, alleged.
Trump has always been the Lord of the Lies, the Emperor of Error, the Super-spreader of Infectious Inanities. The Washington Post calculates that by early July, he had made more than 20,000 “false and misleading statements” since assuming the presidency. And the pace of his fabrications keeps accelerating, from 12 a day early in his tenure to almost double that rate today. “The tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger,” writes Glenn Kessler, the Post’s fact-checker.
The result has been to undermine the basic foundations of government and rational decision-making. Without facts, there is no future, and without truth, no tomorrow. Peter Wehner, a conservative analyst who opposes Trump, put it this way in The New York Times:
“No president in the history of our Republic has been as disorienting as Donald Trump. His goal, even before he became president, was far more ambitious than to tell mere lies. It was to annihilate the distinction between truth and falsity, to make sure that we no longer share facts in common, to overwhelm people with misinformation and disinformation ... [But] If there are no knowable truths to appeal to, no common set of facts we can agree on, no shared reality that binds us together, then everything is up for grabs. Justice is impossible to achieve. Might makes right.”
Here’s just a small sample of how Trump has shattered our shared reality: He said his tax bill would pay for itself, when in fact, it has exploded the deficit. He says immigrants drain the economy and cause crime, when in fact, they boost economic growth and are more law-abiding than native-born Americans. He says Russia did not try to help him win the last election, when in fact, his entire intelligence apparatus agrees that Moscow did interfere — and is doing so again. He says the horrific fires incinerating the West are caused by poor forest management, when in fact, most reputable scientists cite climate change as a major cause.
But COVID has caught up with him. Infection cannot be ignored or intimidated, and this pandemic affects every American household every day. On this issue, at least, a growing number of voters believe their own eyes and experiences — not what Trump or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity tell them to believe.
The “real story” has finally come out. Reality is winning. And that’s why Trump is losing.
Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2020 Steven and Cokie Roberts
Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication for UFS