President Donald Trump headed into the hot zone of Miami-Dade County, Florida, on Friday intent on creating an alternate reality as the coronavirus ravages the United States. He wore no mask, showed no sense of remorse about the rushed reopening that has plunged the nation’s health care system back into chaos, and barely mentioned the virus.
Trump turns blind eye to pandemic and focuses on political grievances
By the time he returned to the White House that night, Trump had commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger Stone, who’d been pleading for relief, arguing the coronavirus would be a death sentence if he had to report to prison (as he was scheduled to next week).
In thumbing his nose at justice — intervening on behalf of a former political adviser who was convicted of crimes that included lying to Congress in part, prosecutors said, to protect the President — Trump continued turning a blind eye to the Americans for whom coronavirus has actually been a death sentence.
At a time when his poll numbers are sinking, the President has refused to take on a greater leadership role to beat back the virus. Instead, he seems caught in a cycle of anger and self-pity about ancillary issues that he believes are more important to his political fortunes.
The gulf between reality and the President’s delusion was in sharp relief during his visit to Florida, where cases are up 1,237% since the state’s reopening in early May. After touching down in a county where the rate of positive cases hit 28% on Friday, Trump focused on issues that are far from the pressing concerns of most Americans, underscoring once again that he has no strategy for confronting the virus that has infected more than 3 million Americans.
The President visited Southern Command to discuss drug trafficking prevention efforts and held a roundtable with dissidents who decried communist and socialist regimes in Latin America, which at times sounded like a campaign spectacle meant to praise the President and attack former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
The day’s political pettiness — which included more false tweets about mail-in ballots being tied to fraud — was capped off with Stone being spared from serving prison time.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Stone’s prosecution, arrest and trial as “unfair” in a statement Friday night and said Stone was “a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”
“Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case,” McEnany said. “Roger Stone is now a free man!”
Jeffrey Toobin, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, called the President’s move “the most corrupt and cronyistic act in perhaps all of recent history.”
“Richard Nixon, at the height of Watergate, never pardoned or commuted the sentences of any of the people involved in Watergate. He thought he could never get away with it,” Toobin said Friday night on “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“But our standards have sunk so low that the President could reach out to someone who was convicted of a crime that — everyone who was convicted of that crime goes to prison,” Toobin said, adding that while Stone was sentenced to 40 months, “he will do no time for the only reason that he is the President’s friend.”
Biden cited the commutation of Stone’s sentence as evidence that the President has “abused his power,” alleging that Trump made the announcement on a Friday night “to avoid scrutiny as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world.”
“He will not be shamed,” Biden said in a statement Friday night. “He will only be stopped when Americans make their voice heard at the ballot box this fall.”
But three years into a presidency where Trump has used many Friday nights to fire his perceived enemies or make moves that he believes will help him politically, the commutation of Stone’s sentence came as little surprise.
For months now as the pandemic has raged on in America, Trump has been consumed with grievance politics, using Twitter and his campaign events to lash out at his opponents, while complaining to allies and friends about how poorly he is being treated by the press.
Now in a critical danger zone four months before the election as he trails Biden in critical swing states, the President shows no signs of correcting course — instead blithely continuing to distract from the devastating effects of the virus, which has now killed more than 133,000 Americans, while distorting the facts about the grave situation that the country is facing as it confronts Covid-19.
On Friday, the number of new coronavirus cases in the US rose to 63,900, a new single-day record according to John Hopkins University data.
A new ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Friday showed that two-thirds of Americans (67%) now disapprove of Trump’s handling of the response to the coronavirus. That number had increased even among Republicans — 78% of GOP voters approve of his handling of coronavirus compared to 90% in June. And in the midst of a national reckoning on race following the death of George Floyd, 67% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of race relations, a finding that held across all racial groups.
While many Americans are scared of soaring coronavirus cases and worried about the risks of sending their children back to school, Trump threatened this week to withhold federal money from schools if officials do not reopen them in the fall and doubled down on his insistence that the states need to get their economies reopened as quickly as possible.
But a clear majority of Americans do not share that view. In the ABC/Ipsos poll, 59% of Americans said they believe the economy is reopening too quickly.
Trump doesn’t seem to be listening. Instead, while the red states that elected him are seeing staggering case numbers, he’s railing against his perceived political enemies.
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The chief example of that this week was Trump’s angry reaction to the Supreme Court rulings on efforts to obtain his financial records — even though the immediate outcome was essentially a win for him politically.
The Supreme Court ruled that House Democrats could not access Trump’s financial records but ruled that the President is not immune from a subpoena for his financial documents from a New York prosecutor. The cases were sent back to lower courts for further review, giving him a reprieve by making it unlikely that he would have to hand over those records before the November election.
Still, Trump tweeted: “The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!” (His attorney, Jay Sekulow, by contrast, hailed the decisions as a win).
Trump won’t have the opportunity to channel those grievances in front of a friendly rally crowd this weekend. His campaign postponed a Saturday campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, citing weather.
Ahead of the campaign rally, which would have been his first since the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where crowds didn’t meet expectations, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared to downplay crowd expectations, suggesting that supporters might stay at home during the pandemic because they already support Trump — an implicit admission that even Trump supporters are concerned about their health.
Trump has repeatedly made light of the virus’ danger — perhaps no more glaringly than last week when he falsely said that 99% of case are harmless. But this weekend, in a surprising reversal, and after weeks of pressure, Trump may do something publicly that his own public health advisers say is essential to curtailing the spread: wear a mask.
Trump has said he’ll wear one when he visits wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Saturday. It’s a decision that came only after repeated pleading by aides who urged the President to set an example for his supporters, according to aides familiar with the deliberations.
“You’re in a hospital setting, I think it’s a very appropriate thing,” the President told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday. “I have no problem with a mask.”
“If I’m with soldiers, people that — you know, I don’t want to spread anything,” Trump said.
“Hopefully I’ll look good in a mask,” he told Telemundo on Friday.
If he follows through, it will be a rare example of the President putting the common good before his own needs and his vanity — a simple move that could help him change his current trajectory, which appears headed toward defeat in November.