With this shortsighted call, Mr. Trump is essentially making a massive bet that political polarization is a more powerful force than the virus’s body count. By picking the usual fights with the press, the president is hoping to change the narrative around the virus.
Take the president’s continued efforts to brand the pandemic as a Chinese virus. For Mr. Trump, such language operates as a grotesque division tactic. It creates an enemy for his base at the expense of inflaming racial resentment toward Asians everywhere. The controversy also creates a diversion. News cycles about the administration’s trollish language compete for airtime with reporting around the administration’s slow and costly response to the coronavirus — one that’s left millions of citizens and health care workers vulnerable. In pro-Trump circles, the conversation focuses on a deranged media that’s more obsessed with political correctness than a pandemic.
Mr. Trump’s desire to end social distancing follows a similar pattern. The president’s short attention span, thin skin and obsession with the Dow Jones industrial average all lead him to push for a reopened economy. Only the president doesn’t have that power — states do. And most states are likely to continue urging their residents to stay home. So he’ll blame the media and Democratic governors for the economic fallout.