The Trump party line swaps new lies for old. Whereas once the ideological enforcers called concern over the virus a hoax, now they say that it’s a hoax to remember they said it was a hoax.
The Atlantic has been pulled into the crosshairs of the new lies that replaced the old lies in a retweet by the president himself. In response to an article that documented how China’s official lying had aggravated the crisis in that country, and lamented that Trump’s official lying had done the same here, the president’s Twitter feed repeated a slur that The Atlantic “spews communist China’s propaganda.” This from a man who as a private citizen condoned the Tiananmen Square massacre, and who as president praised the mass-murdering Kim Jong Un as “one in 10,000.”
Trump wants Americans to call the novel coronavirus “the Chinese virus.” Trump’s new slogan aims at two goals.
Peter Wehner: The Trump presidency is over
The first goal is to shift blame away from Trump’s failures and onto China’s. This goal is very unlikely to succeed. We all saw Trump’s catastrophic misjudgments inflict their toll in real time. It was not the Chinese Communist Party that decided to host a cash-for-access party at Mar-a-Lago for Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend on the weekend of March 6–8, when a responsible president would have already begun modeling safe behavior. It was not the Chinese Communist Party that closed trans-Atlantic aviation and made no provision to receive throngs of returning Americans—exposing air travelers to hours of penned-in close contact with visibly sick people. It was not the Chinese Communist Party that urged Americans to buy stocks at the end of February, devastating the savings of anyone foolish enough to trust financial advice from Larry Kudlow, Eric Trump, or this president.
No, Trump won’t succeed in shifting blame.
It’s the second goal that could succeed. By revving up hate among their supporters against China, Trump and Fox can redirect those supporters’ rage from the dangerous target it might otherwise find: the trusted political and media figures who lied and lied and lied to them, exposing those supporters to disease and death for their own crass ends. Hate China, not me!
A president who sincerely mistrusted China would not have to resort to name-calling after the fact. He would have acted decisively, in good time. Instead, Trump relied on China to do his job for him. Trump tweeted on January 24: "China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” It was Trump and Fox, not the independent media, who repeated Chinese propaganda and put Americans at risk.
A personal note: I was a target of one of Trump’s key media allies on Fox on Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson. Carlson has played an interestingly complex role on the Fox network. On the one hand, he was the first Fox host to speak some measure of truth about the virus, on Monday, March 9, two days after the infection-spreading birthday party at Mar-a-Lago. On the other hand, Carlson is the most explicit of Fox’s race-baiters, the Fox personality furthest from traditional conservatism and nearest to the new alt-right. Carlson is the main voice on Fox for Russian state propaganda, not only about Ukraine but even about such boutique issues as Montenegro. Carlson escapes the dilemma by attributing Trump-administration decisions to everybody except Trump himself, even blaming the Vanity Fair reporter who interviewed him instead of the president of the United States. “If you believe that the current paralysis is all Trump’s fault, you’re absolving an awful lot of guilty parties, maybe including yourself.”