Wednesday, May 06, 2020


It seems odd to Thomas Edsall that President Trump isn't doing better in the polls.
One surprise with Covid-19 is not what happened but what didn’t happen.

Although the pandemic might yet benefit President Trump — through heightened xenophobia, increased acceptance of authoritarian leadership, racial and ethnic schism — the political winds have not, to date, shifted in Trump’s direction.

In fact, the opposite is the case.
Trump's poll numbers, as I keep telling you, aren't bad, are slightly better than they've been for most of his presidency, but are worse than they were in late March -- all while governors are polling well.

Edsall quotes Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute:
If history has a lesson for us here, it is this: Where there is a massive wave of suffering and death, a second wave of racism and xenophobia is typically not far behind. Experiences of mass grief and economic stress easily generate a desire for someone to blame....

We have seen this scapegoating reflex play out before. An 1832 cholera epidemic in New York was blamed on Irish Catholic immigrants who were changing the culture of the white Protestant-dominated city. An outbreak of smallpox in San Francisco in 1876 was blamed on the Chinese population, sentiment that fueled the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.
Trump has called the coronavirus "the Chinese virus" at times. His secretary of state insists that the virus came from a lab in China, despite the weakness of the evidence.

And yet he's not attacking China as relentlessly as he might have. He's not scapegoating Asian-Americans. He announced an immigration ban, but it's temporary, and porous. He might have been expected to blame much of the crisis on undocumented immigrants, but he hasn't.

Trump's response to the pandemic has been jaw-droppingly awful, but in this way, it could have been worse.

He seems not to want to racialize the pandemic as much as he might have for three reasons:
1. There were only a couple of weeks when he was willing to acknowledge the severity of the crisis; he was in denial before that and he's in denial again, convinced that the economic downturn is the real crisis and the virus itself is a big nothingburger.

2. He's holding back from racial scapegoating because he thinks he can win a lot of votes from non-whites in November.
Yes, really.

And finally:
3. The most important reason: He'd much rather attack his favorite enemies, the news media and Democrats, along with #NeverTrump Republicans.
Let's look at some recent Trump tweets.

We're being spared full-scale presidential xenophobia largely because the president likes picking fights with Nancy Pelosi, CNN, and George Conway more than he hates non-white people.

I'm not saying that Trump isn't a racist -- he is. But he hates Pelosi and Jim Acosta more than he hates Asians and Hispanics. I guess that's a small blessing.

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