This past weekend in Arizona, Donald Trump ratcheted up his inadvertent impersonation of Freddy Kreuger — the villain of Nightmare on Elm Street — in a political horror show designed to infiltrate our dreams and then warp our reality.
Trump has been a flirt with, cajoled and encouraged anti-vaxxers for two years. He did so, despite having signed off on his administration’s huge investments in vaccine development, most likely because he saw that political hay could be made from tapping into the anger and frustration that a significant proportion of the American public felt over school and business shutdowns, and, by extension, the suspicion of science and of experts that animated the growing anti-vaccination movement.
However, Trump’s political fight against Florida Governor has intensified over the past few weeks. Ron DeSantis for control of the GOP has intensified, Trump seems to have realized that DeSantis — who has gone to bat against vaccine mandates, masking in schools and a host of other public health efforts — has outflanked him on anti-vaccine extremism. And so, the disgraced ex-president, never one to let principle or political coherence stand in the way of opportunism, has pivoted, apparently hoping to head DeSantis off at the pass before he picks up enough wind in his rather unpleasant tail to make him become a viable contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2024.
Trump formerly urged his armed supporters via Twitter to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN! … LIBERATE MINNESOTA! … LIBERATE VIRGINIA”Public health mandates (in tweets he referred to states that were all at the time controlled by Democratic governors). However, he now wants to occupy slightly more political territory: he has intensified the spat with DeSantis, by going onto One America News NetworkThe Floridian was mocked for not stating publicly whether he had been vaccinated or boosted. The ex-president once wondered aloud whether the former president had been vaccinated and boosted, much to the delight of his interviewer. injection of bleachcould be used as a counter to COVID. He stated that vaccines worked and that he had been boosted. “gutless”Conservative politicians who were vaccinated but refused to acknowledge their vaccination status out of fear of alienating conservative voters. He didn’t mention DeSantis by name, but the object of his derision was clear.
Having come out on the side of vaccinations, however, Trump couldn’t resist adding his own particularly toxic racist bile into the mix.
On January 15, at a political rally in the southwestern Arizona town of Florence — a town that has, for decades, been defined by its large number of state and federal prisonsIt includes detention facilities for immigration, but it is not. slated to soon lose one of its two state prisons, and, with it, hundreds of jobs — the demagogic Trump lobbed a racial Molotov cocktail into the vaccination conversation.
New York State recently issued guidelines regarding COVID treatment and vaccination priorities. This suggests that providers consider medical vulnerability when allocating scarce treatments. The guidelines point out that certain groups have been excluded from health care coverage and equitable health care efforts for centuries, resulting in deeply ingrained health inequalities between races. According to the guidelines, Black and Brown Americans are more likely to die from COVID than other races. Therefore, race is only one factor in determining how and when treatment should be given.
Trump ran with these guidelines and made it into something entirely new, something that was almost as deadly as a deliberate, murderous attack on whites, approved by Democratic state legislatures.
As the Associated Press reported, Trump told his audience at the grotesquely named “Save America Rally” that, “The left is now rationing lifesaving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating … white people to determine who lives and who dies. If you’re white you don’t get the vaccine or if you’re white you don’t get therapeutics. … In New York state, if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical health.”
These claims are completely false. New York Times The fact-checker found no evidence that white New Yorkers were denied vaccines or therapeutics. In fact, the fact-checker found that white New Yorkers were vaccinated more frequently than Black residents of New York. Even the UK’s Daily Mail, a bulwark of conservative opinion-writing noted the myriad falsehoods in Trump’s speech.
The speech was largely ignored by the media, and by the political leadership in D.C., but it oughtn’t to have been. This was racial fearmongering at its most naked, the covert dog whistles of racism being replaced by the overt bullhorns of fascism.
There should have been a coordinated denunciation of Trump’s attempt to put a lit match to a fuse here. But President Biden, who has spent much of the last few weeks on the attack against Trump, didn’t specifically call him out on this speech. Senior Republicans in Congress didn’t either. Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell didn’t even make a passing denunciation of the kind that was mentioned. McConnell, at least, used to be able to muster following, say, Trump calling the Nazi mob at Charlottesville “very fine people.” Perhaps the GOP leaders — having seen the political mischief they could unleash, particularly in majority-white suburbs, through waging a war against what they’re inaccurately referring to as the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” — are standing by to see whether Trump’s racist bomb-throwing on vaccines and COVID treatments will curry similar suburban favor. So-called moderates, such as Senators Mitt and Susan Collins, also remained silent.
Yes, we’re tired of Trump, and yes, it would be a blessed relief if we never had to listen to his vile rhetoric again. But Trump’s out there, and millions of Americans are still taking their cues from him. When he tells the same inflammatory lies as he did in Florence (Arizona), his statements are picked up and amplified on conservative television, radio, and internet personalities. His lies are then accepted by conservative media consumers who accept them as their new truths.
As President Biden’s administration flounders in response to the hyper-contagious Omicron variant, and as DeSantis outflanks Trump on the right with his anti-vaccine, anti-public health jeremiads, Trump is attempting to reinvent himself as the visionary proponent of vaccines, the leader who saw earlier than anyone else the need for a warp-speed effort to develop a variety of vaccines as a way to beat back the pandemic. As he makes this pivot, he also tries to energize his conservative white nationalist base, many who are staunchly anti-vaccine. And so, he has settled on a compromise: He now is pro-vaccine, but he’s also ever more explicitly positioning himself in George Wallace territory, tapping into racial resentment and spreading lies about whites being deliberately denied life-saving medical interventions.
This country is already a powder-keg in so many ways. Trump thrives in this chaos. Trump thrives in this chaos. newspaper ads urging that the African American and Latino teenagers falsely accused of gang-raping a white jogger in Central Park be executedHe refused to apologize after the teenagers were exonerated. This is the same man who opened his presidential campaign by making a dramatic accusation. Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and “drug dealers”, and the man who attempted to impose a travel banMuslims are being discriminated against. It should come as no surprise that this man is now spreading explosive lies about Democratic politicians allegedly stymying white people’s efforts to get vaccines. This is to distract from his bizarre attempt to get his supporters to accept the value of vaccinations.
It’s classic Trump-deflection. After a year of the ex-president pandering to anti-vaccine sentiment, he’s now working on a rewrite. Trump appears to be attempting to make himself the de facto head the Republican Party. He is able to criticize Biden’s handling of Omicron surge and find a baseless way for Democrats to blame Democrats for the large percentage of conservatives who have not been vaccinated, and are, on an almost daily basis, still dying from the disease. It’s a wild attempt to downplay the fact that the low vaccination rates within Trump’s base are actually due to the miasma of misinformation on vaccines that his own allies have aggressively been spreading.
Against such a propagandist, silence doesn’t work. He must be called out repeatedly, no matter how exhausting, until his lies are not accepted as truth.