One of the most memorable moments in the presidency of Donald J. Trump is the March 6th 2020 visit he made at the Center for Disease Control. COVID-19 hadn’t even been named yet and the World Health Organization (WHO) hadn’t yet designated it a pandemic but we all knew that something very bad was happening. California and Washington state had seen cases. The story of a cruise boat sailing off the West Coast carrying sick people and no place for them to moor caught the attention of the entire country. The president was reportedly angry about the whole thing and was resisting dealing with it but finally agreed to travel to the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters for a photo-op to show his concern. It was one of most remarkable presidential performances of all-time:
Trump defends gutting the federal government’s pandemic preparedness over his first 3 years in office: “I just think this is something that you can never really think is going to happen.” pic.twitter.com/0fzOUSUBYE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 6, 2020
Perhaps the most memorable was this:
My uncle was a great man, as you know. He was a professor at MIT. He taught at MIT, I think for a record amount of years. He was a super genius. Dr. John Trump. This stuff is great. It is easy for me to grasp. People are amazed that I get it. Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” Maybe I have a natural ability. Perhaps I should have done that instead.
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These exchanges highlighted the fundamental dilemma Trump was in at the beginning of the crisis. He wanted to “downplay” the virus, as he admitted Bob Woodward at that time, but he also wanted it to be the very stable genius who solved it personally. He was inconsistent throughout, saying various times that the whole thing was just going to go away and that his political enemies were trying to make it worse for his re-election chances. On other days he promoted snake oil cures, even offering advice to scientists on what they should be researching to treat the virus, apparently convinced that he had brilliant ideas that hadn’t been explored:
“I think a lot of people are gonna go outside all of the sudden” — Trump on DHS’s preliminary finding that the coronavirus doesn’t do as well in sunlight as it does inside pic.twitter.com/tmMCiCh3tq
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 23, 2020
He became frustrated with the medical professionals who kept giving him bad news and turned to the quack remedies like Hydroxychloroquine. People like these quack remedies. Fox NewsLaura Ingraham was promoting personality. He listened to quack physicians like Fox NewsDr. Scott Atlas, radiologist, would tell him what he wanted. Dr. Deborah Birx is Dr. Scott Atlas’ COVID taskforce coordinator. testified before Congress, during the final months of his term, Trump completely lost interest in COVID altogether — at least until he came down with it himself.
Trump wanted to be credited for the vaccines that were finally available towards the end. He claimedHe repeated over and over that while everyone claimed it would take five more years, he made certain they were completed in record time. No one could have done that better than him. In his first press conference after winning the election, he stated this:
The vaccines, and by the way, don’t let Joe Biden take credit for the vaccines. If Joe Biden… Joe Biden failed with the swine flu, H1N1. Completely failed with the swine influenza. Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before. But the vaccines are the best thing. It’s a medical miracle. Don’t let anyone try and take credit for it.
As you can see he was eager to get credit. As if he had spent those months in the White House kitchen making the vaccines. After all, he had a genius uncle who taught at MIT and all the doctors were astounded by his “natural ability.” As he put it, “the vaccines were me.”
We found out later that he and Melania Trump were among the first to be vaccinated while they were still in the White House, although they didn’t announce it or do what all the other politicians were doing by having cameras present to record the moment as a way to reassure the public that they were safe. Trump would continue to vaccinate himself over the next few months. from time to time talk up the vaccines, mostly as a way to talk up his part in it, and while always emphasizing that people “have their freedoms.” Last September, he even joined the freedom from sanity club himself saying that he probably wouldn’t get the boosterThey became available when they became available.
His followers were not convinced.
After months of Trump downplaying this virus, refusing a mask and encouraging his voters that the mitigation strategies were a Democratic plot to bring down Trump, they have continued to seek snake oil solutions and refused to get vaccinated. They don’t see the “medical miracle” of vaccines as a Trump triumph. They see it as a threat.
This week Trump told another audience that he had received the booster after all — and he got booed. He took the opportunity to once again try to make the case that he should get credit and that his supporters are “playing into [the Democrats’] hands” by booing him.
“Take credit for it. What we’ve done is historic,” Trump told an audience over the weekend. “If you don’t want to take it you don’t have to, you shouldn’t be forced to take it, no mandates. But take credit because we saved tens of millions of lives, take credit, don’t let them take that away from you.”
He meant, “don’t let them take that away from me.“
Many people have seen those comments as Trump encouraging people to get vaccinated, but it really wasn’t and I doubt any of his followers saw it that way. In fact, he made it clear that he doesn’t care if they do it or not and that all that matters is that he is acknowledged as a big hero. In other words, his comment was really just more of his partisan politicization of the pandemic that’s gotten us into this mess in the first place.
And even if he did make an explicit pitch for people to get vaccinated, it’s unlikely that it would make a difference. Polls showThe MAGA psyche has now accepted the fact that vaccine resistance is part of their DNA, whether they are with him or not. He may have created this problem but he has no power to fix it and I imagine that’s intensely frustrating for him.
Trump longs to be revered as the great leader that single-handedly saved the planet, but his followers are inexplicably willing to sacrifice themselves as human sacrifices.