Since Tuesday, America has been caught up in the effort to process the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t simply ignorant and bull-headed when it came to failing to address the coronavirus pandemic. Trump was fully aware of the danger, repeatedly briefed on necessary actions, and fully cognizant of what was required to save American lives. He choose to … go another way. A way that involved repeatedly lying to the nation and talking about how the virus would “just disappear” even as he was privately admitting that he knew better.
That admitted lie is so shocking that it’s hard to remember that, just a week ago, the nation was busy being shocked to learn about the depth of Trump’s disdain for veterans. Multiple sources both within the White House and the military confirmed that Trump had not only displayed incredible disdain for John McCain, but for fallen soldiers at a military cemetery, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” Even Fox News had no problem confirming the story. Trump even explained to military leaders—military leaders—that he didn’t want veterans in his parade, because he found amputees unsightly.
A week before that was the news that the Department of Homeland Security had deliberately covered up evidence that Russia was working behind the scenes of the 2020 election to assist Trump with false claims about Joe Biden’s competence. That effort included dismissing the official in charge of counterintelligence, telling Congress they would get no more briefings on election security, and refusing to hand over standard reports. All while Trump was not only continuing to lean on the Russian talking points, but making racist claims about Kamala Harris. And in the middle of all this, snippets from Michael Cohen’s book suggested that not only had Trump extorted support from a televangelist with threats of revealing a pool boy three-way, but he gave a pretty good indication that the Russian “pee tape” is a real thing.
There’s a reason the Fascism Watch ticked down to midnight back on Jan. 31. That’s when Republican senators made it clear that Trump was free to do anything he pleased, no matter how odious. America might not have gotten that message. Trump already knew it.
It wasn’t until Feb. 6 that the Senate actually voted to give Donald Trump an official pass, despite a mound of evidence that he had used his high office to extort a foreign power into lying about a political opponent under threat of withholding military and economic assistance. It was exactly the sort of abuse of power available only to the White House. Exactly the kind of crime for which impeachment was created. There is not the slightest shred of doubt that Trump did it. But Republicans not only refused to hold Trump accountable—on Jan. 31 they made it clear that they would not even allow a single witness to speak in Trump’s “trial.” They didn’t care about Trump’s misuse of power. They didn’t care about lying to both Congress and the public. They just “owned the libs,” gave themselves a high five, and went on vacation.
Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans handed Donald Trump not just an absolute pass, but a clear signal that they would neither hold him to account for any action, nor challenge any statement he made. Why is it then any surprise that the next day Trump felt free to say that COVID-19 would go away in April? Why is it any surprise that Trump decided to cancel a planned national testing strategy because he thought COVID-19 would kill more people in Democratic states? What possible reason would there be for Trump to not cooperate with Russia in planting rumors about Biden? It’s not like anyone is going to do something about it.
And, of course, why shouldn’t Trump feel free to lie about COVID-19? It’s not just the Senate that’s happy enough to go along with whatever Trump has to say. The media is right there for him, supporting him in a very special way.
Following the astounding revelation that the FBI had found some additional copies of unimportant emails it had already seen, The New York Times not only filled every single column of its front page with this critical story, it handed over a large portion of that page for comments from Donald Trump. When Trump admitted lying to the nation about COVID-19, the “paper of record” not only thought this was a good day to devote two-thirds of its front page to an accidental explosion had happened over a month before and 9,000 miles away, but neither Biden nor any other Democratic leader was sought out for comment. Instead, the Times continued to represent the epitome of access journalism. It may seem that they, like much of the media, have learned nothing since 2016, but that’s not really true. They’ve learned exactly what it takes to keep getting interviews with Trump.
Republicans have learned they can get from Trump an endless stream of judges whose reading of the Constitution includes only one amendment, massive breaks for billionaires, and dropping all pretense of fighting corruption. And outlets like The New York Times have also learned that Trump will come through for them with an endless stream of jaw-dropping scandals that make great copy … so long as no one sticks with one story long enough to make impact. All for the low, low price of surrendering any pretense of integrity. A bargain.
Republicans are not about to call out Trump for his murder of 200,000 Americans. Or for his lies. Or for anything else. They made it all possible. So did a media more interested in seeing what the next scandal is than really driving home the impact of the last one.
For both of them, Trump is the fascist goose who laid heaps of gold-plated, if foul, eggs. Propping him up may be distasteful, but they like the results.