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ESTRICH: The death tolls and the unemployment rolls - Odessa American: Columns

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ESTRICH: The death tolls and the unemployment rolls

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Posted: Monday, May 18, 2020 5:45 am

Three months ago, it was difficult to find an honest Democrat who privately believed that President Donald Trump would lose reelection. The economy seemed to be, quite simply, too strong to convince a majority of Americans in some of Trump’s red states that they’d be better off with a Democratic president.

Three months ago, it was difficult to find an honest Republican who privately believed that Trump was vulnerable. Most of them, best as I can tell, simply didn’t think he was, notwithstanding his erratic performance; notwithstanding comments and tactics that have shocked Republicans and Democrats alike; notwithstanding him having the most fractious relationship between a president and the press, at least since Richard Nixon. Trump managed to convince himself and a majority of Americans — and even, it seemed, a majority of the press corps — that he was headed for reelection, like it or not.

As of today, it is nearly undisputed that Trump bungled the coronavirus situation (a majority of Americans now disapprove of his handling of the crisis, a number that is likely to increase as he is rightly blamed for triggering a second wave of infection by forcing people back to work without adequate precautions). Given this and the fact that 1 in 5 Americans is unemployed and the economy has been in free fall, Trump’s chances reportedly don’t look as rosy to him — and he’s angry.

Trump angry is Trump at his worst. Putting aside the death tolls and the unemployment rolls, last week he interacted with Asian American CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang, who dared to ask him why he was turning this into a global competition about who has conducted the most tests when “every day Americans are still losing their lives.” Trump’s response: “Don’t ask me. Ask China that question, OK?” Not OK.

Jiang followed up by asking the president, “why are you saying that to me specifically?” — a fair question given a CBS journalist is asking questions about lives lost in America that China would be in no position to answer. He said he would give the same answer to “anybody who would ask a nasty question” and then walked out of the news conference.

From the get-go, President Trump has attempted to play the race card to deflect blame for his administration’s woeful underpreparedness and deliberate misdirection to the Chinese so as to minimize the political impact of the virus. And he is accusing China of doing exactly the same. The critique of China — the blame game, as it were — would have a whole lot more teeth if it hadn’t emerged as this political strategy.

If any reporter had been treated by another American president in the racist way Trump has treated Jiang, there would be screaming headlines, rounds of bipartisan denunciation, legitimate criticism that such rhetoric fuels the racially based attacks Asian Americans are already facing.

With Trump, such gross misconduct by a president occurs so often that it’s not a major event; it’s just another Monday.

There are only so many Mondays Americans are willing to put up with when they’re out of work and their friends and relatives are dying. There are only so many Mondays until November.

The latest polling numbers make clear that the president is in trouble. They show him significantly behind Biden in both Michigan and Pennsylvania — states he won in 2016. Florida is looking more and more like a toss-up. Trump’s road to victory continues to narrow, even as members of his own party tell reporters that they, too, are concerned about losing control of Congress as well as the White House. In short, the pandemic of the last three months may have done almost as much to change the face of American politics as it has to change the face of American life.

Odessa, TX

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