Letters From an American

Coronavirus Denial Syndrome

And election denial too.

Coronavirus Denial Syndrome

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 01: A volunteer wears an "I VOTED" sticker on a campaign themed mask before canvassing for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the penultimate day before the general election on November 1, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, remains ahead of President Donald Trump by about six points, according to a recent mean of polls. With the election only two days away, Trump held four rallies across Pennsylvania yesterday, as he vies to recapture the Keystone State's vital 20 electoral votes. In 2016, he carried Pennsylvania by only 44,292 votes out of more than 6 million cast, less than a 1 percent differential, becoming the first Republican to claim victory here since 1988. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Today, we set a record for new coronavirus cases: more than 181,000 people, with 1,389 deaths. Governors in Oregon and New Mexico have issued stay at home orders and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) late today gave in and ordered a statewide mask mandate. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) has tested positive. Recently, more than 130 of the Secret Service officers around the president have either tested positive or been told to quarantine because they have had close contact with other infected people. This is impacting White House security.

In a statement after he met with his transition Covid-19 Advisory Board today, President-Elect Joe Biden issued a statement warning that the facts are “alarming.” After pointing to the rising infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and to the exhaustion on the part of our healthcare workers, he praised the progress toward a safe and effective vaccine but warned we are still months away from widespread vaccination.

While Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner denied federal responsibility to address the pandemic, instead leaving it up to the states and private companies, Biden called for a return to the concept of a government responsible to ordinary Americans. “This crisis demands a robust and immediately federal response,” he said, “which has been woefully lacking. I am the president-elect, but I will not be president until next year. The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration….” He called for more PPEs for front-line health care workers, science-based guidelines for managing the pandemic, and more testing. He also asked Americans “to step up and do their part on social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing to protect themselves and to protect others.”

This afternoon, Trump spoke in public for the first time since the election, speaking to the press in the White House Rose Garden about the promising new coronavirus vaccine. He said it would be available to the entire nation as soon as April, “with the exception for places like New York state,” he said, where Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would want a panel of experts to examine any vaccine Trump tried to rush out before the election. Trump left the Rose Garden without taking questions.

As Trump continues to claim, against all evidence, that he won the election, he has refused to begin the process of transition to a Biden presidency. He will not share intelligence with Biden, or permit transition teams to begin getting Biden’s people up to speed on the current situations in their departments. The man in charge of the Trump administration’s effort to produce a coronavirus vaccine wants to brief Biden, but cannot get permission to. Yesterday, more than 150 former national security officials from both parties warned that Trump’s refusal to begin the transition is a “serious risk to national security.”

Today, Trump’s second chief of staff (the current one, Mark Meadows, is his fourth), retired General John Kelly, called Trump’s refusal “an increasing national security and health crisis.” The downside of not briefing the new team “could be catastrophic to our people regardless of who they voted for.” This “is not about the president or about Mr. Biden,” he said. “It is about America and what is best for our people. Mr. Trump should order the transition process begin immediately. It is the right and moral thing to do.”

Interestingly, in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, former deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe suggested that Trump’s refusal to share information might be about more than stubbornness. He noted that, while Trump has made motions toward releasing more information about the Russia investigation, it was incomprehensible that Trump would actually want that information released, because it “would risk casting the president in a very negative light.” Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo caught the implications of McCabe’s statement, suggesting that behind Trump’s refusal to let Biden see intelligence reports was the fear that those reports might implicate members of the Trump administration in wrongdoing.

Trump’s effort to overturn the result of the election by getting the courts to throw out ballots so far has come to nothing. A lawyer on Trump’s legal team, Sidney Powell, told Fox News Channel personality Lou Dobbs of “fraud,” and “staggering” evidence that Venezuela, Cuba, and China used Dominion voting machines to switch hundreds of thousands of votes from Trump to Biden. But, of course, no one speaking to the media is speaking under oath.

In courtrooms, where they face professional sanctions for unfounded allegations, Trump’s lawyers are not alleging any such fraud. Indeed, they are admitting they have no proof that such a thing occurred: a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania to stop certification of the vote says those bringing the lawsuit are in the process of compiling evidence of fraud and “intend to produce it” later. So far, Trump has lost every challenge he has brought. Sixteen assistant U.S. attorneys assigned to monitor cheating in this election today told Attorney General William Barr that they had found no evidence of substantial fraud. Respectable law firms are declining to represent him, at least in part because lawyers are not supposed to bring frivolous lawsuits. This afternoon, Trump put his lawyer Rudy Giuliani in charge of the campaign lawsuits as well as all communications about them to the public.

And yet, Trump followers are rallying around the belief that Trump won the election and Democrats are trying to steal it. This belief is being pushed across the internet by the “Stop the Steal” campaign. That disinformation project is the work of Republican political operative Roger Stone, a self-described “dirty trickster,” whose looming imprisonment for conviction of seven felonies Trump commuted this summer. Stone’s political action committee created a “Stop the Steal” website back in 2016, raising money with the warning that the Democrats planned to steal the election that year. Several right-wing groups launched a similar project around the 2018 midterms. Trump supporters are planning a rally in Washington, D.C., tomorrow.

Polarization might be out of step with the times. In a sign of how the election marks a change in the mood of the country, the 85-year-old billionaire industrialist Charles Koch has congratulated Biden and Harris on their “historic win” and told Washington Post reporters James Hohmann and Mariana Alfaro that he hopes to find “common ground and things that we can work together on for as many issues as possible.” Since the 1950s, the Koch family has poured money behind Republican and Libertarian politicians who promise to end business regulation, but now Koch says he worries about extremism and all the hate in the country. He wants everyone “to work together and help each other and move toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit.”

Still, Koch-funded organizations, together known under the name “Stand Together,” are planning to invest heavily in the Georgia runoff elections for Senate, hoping to keep the Republicans in office to maintain control of the Senate.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.