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Trump's mixed messages about the coronavirus pandemic aren't helping

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

I don't blame Trump for the hate, but I do condemn his callous indifference to the fear that his words stir up in a major segment of our society.

Moments like this give a sinister tone to the deep sighs of "That's just Trump being Trump."

But it's not hard after years of watching Trump to see through this tactic. As a lot of his fellow conservatives would say, he's just "triggering the libs," deliberately provoking outrage among his political critics to distract from more substantive issues that he might rather not have to handle.

I'm talking about issues like the widespread shortage -- or nonexistence -- of testing facilities for the presence of COVID-19, the virus that causes the coronavirus illness. While thousands of South Koreans, for example, have been tested, giving officials a workable idea of how the virus has spread and what progress is being made to fight it, most Americans are left in the dark.

But Trump, who seemed to be out of his comfort zone, to say the least, with the virus crisis until he had an adversary or scapegoat onto whom he could shift blame, received a big gift from Chinese leaders who have tried to shift blame on Americans.

Some Chinese officials criticized American officials for politicizing the pandemic. Other Chinese officials and news outlets floated unfounded theories that blamed the United States.

Some of their conspiracy theorists, apparently out of embarrassment after allowing the virus to spread unchecked for weeks of valuable time, have been pushing the notion that COVID-19 is really an American disease brought to Wuhan by visiting members of the U.S. Army. So much for that long-standing partnership.

This plays right into Trump's hands -- but so, alas, do media pundits like me who can't find enough space to handle all of the outrages that he pushes our way. As if to taunt us, he threw in some more freewheeling assaults at "fake news," and the coverage of his administration's handling of the crisis.

 

Never mind the rare moment Monday when he praised reporters for helping to keep the public informed of the nature of the crisis. Reporters were doing so, I might add, during weeks of his attempts to play down the danger from COVID-19.

In a time of crisis, the public looks to the White House for leadership, an easier word to say than to display. We saw President George W. Bush rise to the occasion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with speeches that helped unify and reassure the nation with a sense of shared purpose. President Trump is still learning.

He still has a problem with mixed messages. After weeks of playing down the threat posed by the virus, for example, he suddenly whipped around, insisting two weeks ago that, "I've felt it was a pandemic before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do was look at other countries."

Right. Meanwhile, there were those occasions when Trump either downplayed the threat of the virus, overstated the government's capacity to reduce the crisis or openly speculated on untested treatments. Unreliable information is not necessarily a scandal, but it can lead to one.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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