The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

If you believe the Trump Covid conspiracy theories, you’ve fundamentally misunderstood how he works

There’s a very simple reason why this can’t all be ‘a clever plot’

Noah Berlatsky
New York
Friday 02 October 2020 19:12
Comments

"Either we see some test results proving Predator Trump and Melania tested positive for coronavirus or it's a lie to avoid debating Biden and garnering sympathy from those he has convinced it's a hoax," declared singer Ricky Davila to his 320,000 Twitter followers a few hours ago. And Davila is hardly alone: Many Democrats and Trump opponents online were skeptical that the president had actually contracted the virus after the news broke. Maybe the President was lying to gain advantage in the polls before the November election, they speculated. Maybe he was manipulating the press. Could it all be a clever plot?

The answer is no. It cannot be a clever plot. Trump lies all the time. He even lies about the weather. But even untrustworthy people can generally be trusted not to construct elaborate plans to step on a rake. In this case, Trump is demonstrating his incompetence, not his malice. And when skeptics insist that he is engaging in some elaborate ruse, they actually obfuscate just how viciously malicious his incompetence is.

Like Davila, most people who think Trump is lying about his virus diagnosis believe that he is trying to get out of future presidential debates. It's true that reliable polls show Biden won the debate handily. But Trump is not a self-reflective man. He thinks shouting and blustering and interrupting makes him look strong. There's no reason to think he realizes he lost.    

More, Trump has been downplaying the dangers of coronavirus for months. He continually and repeatedly tells his supporters the virus will disappear shortly. He hopes that if people don't realize how bad the virus is, they will not vote him out of office. Also, he does not want to cancel his rallies, which he loves because they give him a chance to bask in adulation and pontificate endlessly.

Trump's Covid diagnosis contradicts his central campaign message that the virus is under control. It keeps him from the campaign rallies that to all appearances are the only part of being president that he enjoys. The downside effects on his campaign could be substantial as well. No one knows for sure how this announcement will affect the election. But you don't generally want to tell potential donors that you might die before anyone can vote for you, especially when you're struggling to raise cash the way the Trump campaign is.

Diagnosis doubters are accusing Trump of constructing an elaborate lie that makes him look weak in order to gain a strategic advantage. But this fundamentally misunderstands Trump's approach toward falsehood. He doesn't, in general, bother with constructing complicated conspiracies. He just says whatever self-flattering nonsense comes into his head. Injecting bleach will cure the virus. Women want him to grab their genitals. Kim Jong Un loves him. It doesn't need to be logical or even coherent, as long as it makes him feel good about himself for a second or two.

Even when Trump does engage in a conspiracy, he tends to do it out in the open. He literally asked China to interfere in the US election on national television. Before that, he urged Russia to do the same, also on television. Part of what's been so surreal about the Trump presidency is that no Woodward-Bernstein style Watergate investigation has been required. Trump commits his crimes in plain sight — and then lies about having done so to your face. There's no subterfuge; he's always just daring you to disbelieve him.

Trump is so brazen in part because he clearly believes himself. He credulously accepts anything that bubbles out of his hindbrain as truth, as long as it's convenient. He obviously believed his own bluster about the coronavirus not being a serious threat. He has repeatedly refused to wear masks. He's also gotten his staff to do the same. At the presidential debate, many of his guests refused to mask up even after doctors asked them to do so. And Trump did not isolate on Wednesday, even though his staffer Hope Hicks was showing virus symptoms. It was only on Thursday, when Hicks tested positive, that White House staff finally began to wear masks.

Trump is not lying about getting the virus. He was lying about being invulnerable to it. And that lie, which he himself apparently believed, has had incredibly dangerous consequences. He may have exposed attendees at a New Jersey fundraiser. He may have exposed Biden to the virus at the debates as well. Other high-placed officials may also be in danger. Trump has thrown the government into chaos, all because he didn't like wearing masks, and thought it would be politically convenient if the virus disappeared.

We tend to think of evil people as being smart, devious, calculating. We think they manipulate truth to destroy us. But if there's one lesson of the Trump administration, it's that stupid, incompetent evil can be even more catastrophic and devastating than evil that knows what it's doing. Trump lies all the time. But Covid is real. Because of his negligence, it has struck more than 7 million people in the United States. Sadly, that number now includes the President himself. 

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in