Thursday, May 07, 2020


I don't buy the popular analysis that Trump and his team as geniuses, evil or otherwise, and that anything they do that looks nuts or counterproductive -- including the recent tweet from his tiny-faced campaign manager associating the Republican Party with the Death Star from Star Wars -- is actually brilliant. For one thing, the only talents and interests Trump himself possesses are entirely devoted to his grift -- his disastrous presidency confirms that outside the arena of self-promotion he is lost. As to his handlers, they have mainly been busy cleaning up after Trump's messes, like the functionaries in M.K. Brown's old "Whistle Stop" cartoon ("Do you suppose actually seeing the candidate eat the rat could cost us the election?"), which is why Trump's numbers have been underwater for the most of the past three and a half years.

But Trump has had a Gallup poll bump in the past few weeks, which gives a clue that the Death Star thing isn't about Brad Parscale misapprehending the point of a popular nerd entertainment, as critics suggest, but about the Trump team consciously pursuing a strategy that most of us thought was just the subconscious force behind their and Trump's clusterfuckery. In other words, they're doing it on purpose and here's why.

All things being equal, we can assume Trump has benefited from the reopening plans in most states, of which he has been a booster, if a passive-aggressive one. Now, it's not that voters can't appreciate good management over bad; high-profile governors of states with lockdown and reopening plans like Andrew Cuomo, Ned Lamont, and Gina Raimondo have had much larger poll boosts than Trump, while bumblers like Florida's DeSantis and Georgia's Kemp have seen large drops. So the voters are clearly favorably impressed by active and apparently competent leadership.

I would guess that the difference is that Trump has so accustomed everyone -- supporters as well as detractors -- to his gross incompetence that no one expects anything else from him. So for his base of idiots, and for a slice of that all-important persuadable constituency, it doesn't matter that he doesn't know what a virus is nor probably what day it is; it is enough, maybe more than enough, that Trump steadfastly expresses his fantasy, and theirs, that the whole thing is ending very soon and that it's okay to relax and get back to normal. We'd all like that to be so, and some of us are less clear on the difference between fantasy and reality than others.

But not even American voters, not even Republicans, are dumb enough to really believe Trump's insane assertion that the virus is "just going to disappear." What I think they do take seriously is what previously looked like subtext: That they can go back to normal only by passing through a deadly gauntlet, for the reopening of America after its mostly half-assed and thoroughly underfunded shutdown will come with, as Trump has been saying for weeks, "death... a lot of death."

Death has become a big part of Trump's palaver lately. At his bizarre Honeywell appearance the other day, the sound system played "Live and Let Die"; in an ABC News interview Trump said "there'll be more death." At his Lincoln Memorial stunt, he said "We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people," casually as if he were talking about average rainfall or crop yields.

A lot of people have remarked on his apparent lack of empathy when he mentions the people who, thanks to the quick reopening, will drown in their own phlegm, but he doesn't seem to lose much support for it. Have you noticed?

At the same time, Trump's operatives are playing down the death count, even saying it's all a big conspiracy of the biased media and the so-called scientists to make Trump look bad. We know that, under Trump, their reality has become, let us say, fluid and changes with the Leader's whims. But there's something about death that's pretty inescapable and, based on my experience of human beings, while it brings these guys pleasure and comfort to sneer at the libtards who try to bum them out with epidemiology tables, in their heart of hearts they know that a lot of people will die -- maybe even their loved ones, maybe even themselves. But at this point, if that's the price they have to pay for this wonderful fantasy Trump has given them -- where their diminishing job prospects and earning power are fake news because the stock market roars, where they'll get even better health care once Trump lets insurers do what they like with what they have now (the same way landlords are presumed to lower rents once freed of the burden of rent control), where their own lives gain meaning and purpose and dignity when Mexicans and Muslims are made to suffer -- then it's worth every sacrifice, including the ultimate.

If you watched the old Mad Men series -- which, I am told, is enjoying a kind of revival -- you may recall the subplot about tobacco advertising and the famous Surgeon General's report and the idea that consumers could be encouraged to make peace with the idea of death and the addictions that bring it to them more quickly. You probably don't need Mad Men to tell you that, as the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel already told everybody. We could spend all day talking about the way death is threaded into our culture, and how we embrace and deny it at the same time. We can even imagine a political cause that does that, and that advertises itself with an emblem of mass destruction. It's cool, to many people, to be associated with something of such enormous, deadly power -- even when it's likely to be turned on them.

I've been saying this is a death cult and I'm not kidding.

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