Trump clearly knows that accurate, meaningful information is his enemy.
By E. J. Dionne, Jr. | The Washington Post | May 20, 2020
Stop trying to distinguish between the signal and the noise emanating from President Trump and his party. The noise is the signal. And it’s the sort of clamor that despotic leaders use to sow confusion, division and distraction.
Trump clearly knows that accurate, meaningful information is his enemy. Too many voters whose support he needs have decided that his epic mishandling of the covid-19 crisis has made both the pandemic and its economic consequences worse than they had to be.
As a result, chaos and mystification are his only friends. He wants the electorate and the media to focus on absolutely anything except the virus’s death toll and rising unemployment. Thus his targeting of former president Barack Obama on the basis of an entirely false narrative about the Michael Flynn case and his claim to be taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug whose use health experts declare unproven against the novel coronavirus — and potentially dangerous.
And on Wednesday came the ultimate subject changer, as Trump’s supine Republican allies on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee subpoenaed documents concerning the work of former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter for a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
Senate Republicans are in no hurry to challenge Trump’s efforts to shut down proper investigations of his own administration by firing one inspector general after another. But they sure would love the word “Burisma” to push aside the words “pandemic” and “unemployment” in as many news cycles as possible. “It’s like in a third-world dictatorship,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared in denouncing the committee’s party line vote, “a show trial with no basis in fact, with no due process, with no reality.”
Speaking of authoritarian rule, Trump took to Twitter at 7:51 a.m. on Wednesday to lie by denouncing the state of Michigan for sending out “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people,” and to issue a dark threat to “hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” He later made a similar threat against Nevada.AD
Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called out Trump’s stupid but frightening nonsense by turning to Twitter herself to point out that her office had sent out “applications, not ballots,” and in doing so, she had acted “just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia.” Trump’s vote fraud claims are, of course, a fraud. And threatening to cut off federal aid to influence the conduct of an election is the stuff of tyrannies, not republics.
To understand Trump’s frantic scramble to get us talking about anything except the one issue that matters, look no further than Maricopa County in Arizona. It bodes to be the swing county for the entire 2020 election, since Arizona is one of the likeliest battleground states in the country.
The county cast about 60 percent of the state’s ballots in 2016 and gave Trump a 3.5-point advantage. It thus sent shock waves through the state, said Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), when a poll conducted earlier this month not only showed Trump seven points behind Biden statewide but an astounding 13 points behind in Maricopa, which includes Phoenix and its suburban cities and towns. Stanton, former mayor of Phoenix, told me it was a break with the state’s political history for a Democrat to be “up more in Maricopa than he is statewide.”
But the result did not surprise him, he said. “Suburban moms and dads and aunts and uncles are swinging against the president” because of “a belief among these moderate voters that he has mismanaged this crisis.”
“When you put people’s own health and their children’s health at risk,” he said, “it’s almost impossible to recover from that.”
Adding to Trump’s anxiety: He has been running slightly behind Biden in Wisconsin, generally seen as one of his best bets among the swing states. Ben Wikler, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, said that Trump has been a master at using “the most high intensity, divisive, emotionally fraught tactics with the hope that those tactics will dominate the conversation and make people forget the things that are happening in their own lives.”
But this approach is hitting its limits in the current crisis. It’s hard to believe that “people will care more about the intricacies of our Obama-era counterespionage rather than the fact that family members are on ventilators in the hospital and lost their jobs.”
“There are very few people,” Wikler added, “who can honestly say that they’re better off now than they were four years ago.”
Blocking that thought is the point of Trump’s noise. Creating Election Day chaos is the point of his attacks on voting by mail. And “Burisma” is shorthand for: Pay no attention, dear voter, to what is happening around you.