Oregon governor Kate Brown, until Friday, could not get President Donald Trump on the phone. She noted this the day before, when she also revealed her state has never seen this amount of uncontained wildfire. The skies have turned into a literal hellscape and more than one million acres have burned to date, double what the state normally sees in a year. Right now, about half a million Oregonians are facing evacuation orders. At least five people there have died, and dozens more are missing. And yet, the White House hadn’t returned a governor’s call for aid.
Trump finally spoke with Brown that night, she said Friday. By her account, he said that “you have all of our support, please let us know what you need, and God bless Oregon.” But she already had been making it clear: the day before, Brown told reporters the state needed the Department of Defense to send an active battalion trained in firefighting. It needed National Guard assistance from other states. The emergency declaration didn’t even come until the middle of this week, and the fires have been burning, uncontained, since August.
Oregon was founded just before the Civil War as a segregationist’s promised land. It didn’t allow black people to live there until 1926. It still has a lot of white people. They make up nearly 87 percent of the state. Granted, they live in a state that tends to vote Democratic. But their being white, one might think, would have interested Trump and made Brown’s plea unnecessary. This president of late has made it crystal clear that his primary, if not sole, desire is to paint himself as the man to keep white people safe.
He’ll guard federal employees from the scourge of terms like “white privilege” and “critical race theory,” and will keep children from learning about the country’s fraught history with racism by reading the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, published last summer. The white suburbanites, he’ll protect from the supposed hordes of poor, black people who are threatening to further diversify their neighborhoods.
When those neighborhoods are on fire, though, where is this supposed “defender of white America,” as a New York Times report labeled him last week? We know that both he and his son can stick up for the young terrorist who killed two in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But what about doing something about racist terrorism, which provably endangers people of all backgrounds? And where was this concern for white people when the nation needed to know what he knew about the novel coronavirus back in February, when that knowledge could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives?
As we mark the 19th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks this week, we are faced with new evidence and allegations that underscore why the president is himself a national security threat. First, he is indifferent to actual threats of terrorism. Whistleblower Brian Murphy came forward this week to claim that to protect the president’s ego and his political interests, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli ordered officials to both “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference” and to downplay the nation’s top domestic terror threat, white-supremacist violence, in favor of prosecuting leftists.
Trump’s audiotaped interviews with journalist Bob Woodward further revealed a president with an utter disregard for both the truth and human life. They’ll try, but it may be tough for the “All Lives Matter” crowd to justify their president saying, out loud and on the record, that he was deliberately lying to the American public about the lethality of Covid-19.
The disease has killed more than 192,000 people to date, and yes, the toll has been disportionately heavy on black, Latina, and indigenous communities. Trump made it clear to Woodward that he couldn’t give a damn about us, scoffing when the author asked him whether they as white men of privilege have a duty to “understand the anger and pain” of black Americans. But Covid-19 has also killed tens of thousands of white people, which is something, theoretically, Trump would care about. Nearly all of them have died in the time since he told journalist Bob Woodward on February 7th that “you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.” Trump also confessed that Covid-19 was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu” and that “this is deadly stuff,” noting that the death rates could be as high as 5% of the American population. But he later compared it to the flu several times in the days, weeks, and months afterwards, even as he would tell Woodward privately that “playing down” the crisis was done to project strength.
Trump repeated that defense to ABC’s Jon Karl at the White House, who bluntly asked the president why he’d lied to the public and why he should be believed at all going forward. In an alarming display of toxic bravado, Trump said that “I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader.” Without recognizing that faith without works is dead, Trump added that “I want to show that our country is going to be fine one way or the other whether we lose one person.”
The presidency’s real draw for Trump is clear: the ability to use the government to service his personal desires and transform his ethnic hatreds into policy. He has been immensely successful, in many respects, in institutionalizing white power within the courts and through his legislation and rhetoric. His stupidity and incompetence can cloud our ability to recognize his evil.
Trump has governed with malevolence from the very start, issuing unnecessary travel bans and locking up immigrant children. But with regards to the pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Trump also has been utterly cavalier with virtually every American life but his own. What we now know, because it’s on tape, is that he consciously allowed his misbegotten notions of masculinity and fortitude to place millions of Americans in danger. Moreover, not only did he falsely profess Covid-19 would go away and promote dangerous miracle cures, Trump purposefully undermined the people who were trying to make it go away. And that is not merely unforgivable, in an ideal world, it would be prosecutable.
It may have taken learning that he has a kind of Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy, and has allowed the nation to get sick, for many to understand how evil he is. The Woodward tapes show that he obscures his malice with stupidity and incompetence, and too many fall for it. I don’t have much hope for a national moment of clarity, even after this. Asking Americans to vote altruistically is a sucker’s bet. If the pandemic has taught us anything, catering to their self-interest is essential. I can only pray, perhaps quixotically, that others who feel less threatened by his willful negligence now understand how he endangers them, as well.
That, however, is the dilemma of elevating a president on a platform of misogyny and white supremacy. Both of those social maladies are watered by violence and death, and never in our nation’s history has that violence and death touched merely those marginalized people whom it is meant to target. Bigotry kills us all, and as this administration began discouraging safe practices shown to stem the coronavirus pandemic, its danger should have been evident to every sick and bereaved white person in America.
Trump should resign the presidency today. He won’t, and we’ll just have to wait until the November election for the chance to fire him. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be demanding it. The offenses revealed by Woodward’s tapes are that egregious. Iif the whistleblower’s complaint is accurate, that is only further justification.
Moreover, his quotes to Woodward about the coronavirus only belie his promises to make life safer for white people in America, underscoring that whatever security he provides them is false. Frankly, for the sake of the republic, we can only hope that this week’s revelations scare white people in ways that he never intended.
I say that because the time for winning hearts and minds is over. This is a frightening America Trump has constructed. It is past time that those Americans who do not regularly feel threatened in it come to share our dread. When compared to the reality that we face — threatened by climate change, by domestic terrorism, and by a pandemic that Trump lets spread with abandon — will enough white people vote to preserve themselves, or instead their feelings of safety and superiority? The election will likely turn on that question.