Trump’s weekend represented yet another sign that he has moved on from a pandemic, which has killed more than 125,000 Americans and threatens to claim tens of thousands more, that he initially ignored, then mismanaged and politicized and has now has grown tired of talking about as his reelection fight looms. His negligence came despite his Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar delivering an alarming warning on CNN that appeared to contradict Vice President Mike Pence’s claim of “truly remarkable progress” in the battle against coronavirus and false statements that the US had “flattened the curve.”
Since Pence spoke on Friday, the United States racked up record numbers of new coronavirus infections, with more than 40,000 on Friday and more than 42,000 on Saturday. States like Florida, Texas and Arizona, which embraced Trump’s demands for a swift economic opening and failed to satisfy the administration’s own benchmarks to do so safely, are discovering that the virus is rampant. New cases are now rising in 36 states, are steady in 12 and are going down in just two, suggesting that the pandemic is close to raging out of control — even as some US counterparts, like the European Union and Asian countries have been far more successful in reducing the virus.
Pence denies early opening caused resurgence
The Vice President traveled to Texas on Sunday and appeared alongside Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and appeared to make a significant shift — calling on Americans to wear masks if they cannot observe social distancing guidelines — a step that Trump, who refuses to wear a mask and says that those who do are trying to hurt him politically, refuses to take.
“Wearing a mask is just a good idea and it will, we know, from experience, will slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Pence said.
The vice president’s comments, however painstakingly he tried to avoid putting Trump in a difficult position, will hike political pressure on the President to publicly call on Americans to cover their faces and to model a face mask himself. That political heat had intensified that morning when Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, effectively called on Trump to show leadership on the issue.
“If wearing masks is important, and all the health experts tell us that it is in containing the disease in 2020, it would help if from time to time the President would wear one to help us get rid of this political debate that says if you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask, if you’re against Trump, you do,” the Tennessee Republican said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.”
Apart from his remarks on masks, Pence heaped praise on the “leadership” of Trump and everyone involved in a misfiring government effort and made a new attempt to argue that the state openings had nothing to do with a rise in infections.
“About two weeks ago, something changed,” Pence said, seeking to portray the Texas reopening plan before that date as a massive success.
Medical experts, however, say that states experiencing a spike in infections are now paying the price for a lax opening.
“If I were to give a grade for all of us, except maybe from a few states like, New York, Washington state, New Jersey, I would say we are getting mostly an ‘F’, right at the moment, going from the first part of May until we reopened until now,” Dr. Michael Saag, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN on Sunday.
A new Russia storm
Reports that Moscow’s GRU military intelligence agency put a bounty on US and UK troops in Afghanistan whipped up a new Russia storm for the White House.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that “everybody has been denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” but the President, who has consistently undermined efforts by his own administration to get tough on Russia, did not vow to defend American troops come what may or to get to the bottom of the report.
If the plot is genuine and Trump knew about it but did not act, he could be considered negligent in his duty to defend Americans and there would be new questions about his strange deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. If he was not informed, his entire national security process will be exposed.
Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, publicizing a book deeply critical of the President, said Sunday Trump’s defense of himself exemplified his unfitness for office.
“The fact that the President feels compelled to tweet about the news story here shows that what his fundamental focus is, is not the security of our forces, but whether he looks like he wasn’t paying attention. So he’s saying, ‘well nobody told me therefore you can’t blame me,'” Bolton said on “State of the Union.”
Trump retweets ‘white power’ chant
The President had his own definition of leadership on his mind for much of the weekend.
In one shocking moment, he thanked “great people” in a Florida retirement community for their support, retweeting a video showing a man in a golf court emblazoned with “Trump” banners chanting “white power.” Trump later deleted the retweet with one of his spokesmen, Judd Deere, insisting that he “did not hear the one statement made on the video.” Earlier, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican senator, said that the video was offensive and “indefensible.”
“Since imposing a very powerful 10 year prison sentence on those that Vandalize Monuments, Statues etc., with many people being arrested all over our Country, the Vandalism has completely stopped. Thank you!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.
By ignoring the pandemic but spending his time defending monuments and base names honoring Confederate generals, the President is actively using darker moments of America’s history to try to stir up a culture war furor to solidify his political support as he lags behind Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden. His use of the word “heritage” invokes the suggestion that a traditional, White American culture is under siege from non-White protesters and radicals. He appears to be making a bet that such tactics, assurances that the coronavirus fight is over when it’s not, and an assault on Biden’s mental capacity will carry him over the line to reelection. The President’s constant rebellion against his own government’s advice on the pandemic — for instance, the wearing of masks — is part of the same approach designed to appeal to voters who long ago soured on what they see as liberal, elite values and the establishment’s version of truth.
Biden on Sunday laid into the President in a tweet.
“Today the President shared a video of people shouting ‘white power’ and said they were ‘great.’ Just like he did after Charlottesville,” Biden wrote.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation — and the President has picked a side. But make no mistake: it’s a battle we will win.”