From very early on the response, Trump has insisted on blaming the Chinese for the disease that has swept the planet. This phase of Trump’s blame game at least had the benefit of some factual basis—Chinese officials both covered up information about the early outbreak around the city of Wuhan in December and persecuted doctors who tried to get out the word about cases of a SARS-like illness appearing in local emergency rooms. But the manner in which Trump tackled this issue included explicitly labeling the virus itself in a way that promoted violence against Asian Americans and helped plant both racist and xenophobic memes.
In the last month, Trump has ramped up the rhetoric, promoting the idea that there should be some form of retribution against China, as well as retweeting and endorsing conspiracy theories that take scattered bits of intelligence information and weave it into a scheme in which China was working with coronavirus for nefarious purposes, and either intentionally or unintentionally released this virus on the world. Showing once again that, when it suits their purposes, Trump and others on the right are perfectly willing to validate the most poorly sourced speculations of the same intelligence community they’ve spent years dismissing as unreliable.
But when someone has screwed the pooch as badly as Trump, just one enemy isn’t enough. So in the last few weeks Trump has increased the rhetoric against the World Health Organization. Even though that organization was absolutely, fundamentally, completely transparent in its actions from the first day it became aware of the outbreak in China, and even though that organization has provided every scrap of information to governments around the world, as well as being the first to track every aspect of the epidemic on its way to pandemic, Trump—along with Fox News and others on the right—have declared the WHO an enemy. Because … reasons. Actually, there are no reasons. They’re just an enemy now, and that’s all it takes for Trump to suspend funding that is vital for every nation, including the United States.
And that’s still not enough. Because China and the WHO may be enemies that Trump can point to as he ramps up his excuse plan to phase eleven, but they don’t do a sufficient job of creating domestic chaos, destruction, and anger. They don’t drive wedges into America. Don’t create genuine life-threatening situations that Trump needs to distract from the fact that he has, through his inexcusable actions, personally sent tens of thousands of Americans to their graves.
So now Trump is building on something else he has done from the beginning of his response—threaten Democratic governors and openly suborn insurrection in states with Democratic majorities. This isn’t just an action that will cost lives by interfering with first responders, distracting from critical needs, and generating additional spread of the virus in the targeted states. This is an action deliberately meant to cause chaos, endanger officials, and generate deaths in those states. His actions would be no more blatant than if he was deliberately encouraging arson, with the intention of killing citizens and firefighters.
It’s not clear that the national media grasps the knife edge America is walking at the moment. Donald Trump’s actions in calling for open insurrection against state governments in the middle of a crisis that has already generated huge amounts of fear, rumors, and conspiracy theory is fundamentally different from what he has done before. It builds on the anger and distrust that Trump has worked to engender from the day he rode a golden escalator into American politics, but it is more than just the latest extension of those actions.
Trump already said he was a wartime president. It just took some weeks for him to make clear his real enemies.