In the Donald Trump era, Democrats and Republicans generally live with two completely different concepts of reality. Their views of Trump, his competence and character, could hardly be more different.
The Pew Research Center last week released the results of a poll that found that an overwhelming majority of Republicans and independents who lean Republican viewed Trump as intelligent. After all, he describes himself as “a very stable genius.” Maybe they believe him. Maybe they see his business dealings and political maneuvering — no matter how shady — and his ability to avoid major punishment as markers of brilliance.
But, they are largely alone on that island. Only 19% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents view Trump as intelligent.
Furthermore, 71% of Republicans and Republican-leaners believe that Trump is honest, even though he has single-handedly provided a jolt of energy and a shield of job security to fact-checkers.
As The Washington Post wrote in January:
“Three years after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made more than 16,200 false or misleading claims — a milestone that would have been unthinkable when we first created the Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement he has uttered.”
Trump is a lying machine. It is pathological. It is compulsive. It is unrepentant.
Democrats and their leaners see this, as only 7% view Trump as honest.
Sixty-two percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents see Trump as morally upstanding. This is a thrice married man whom multiple women have accused of sexual misconduct, and at least one has accused of rape. This is a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, who was outed for paying off women who claimed to have had extramarital affairs with him, and who has appeared (clothed, thankfully) in at least three soft-core pornographic films.
Again, precious few Democrats and their leaners agreed with this assessment of Trump’s morality.
But perhaps most telling to me was that 87% of Republicans and their leaners say that Trump fights for what they believe in, while at the same time 35% say that he is prejudiced. There is clearly some overlap here. Allow that to sink it.
Some people don’t like him in spite of his prejudices but because of them, because they share them.
But, there were a couple of areas of general agreement among Democrats and Republicans, one of which was that overwhelming majorities of both groups viewed Trump as self-centered.
That self-centered sensibility has been on full display since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Trump sees this budding pandemic through the lens of how it will affect him and his reelection prospects. The fact that the people infected and those fearful of becoming so are real people who desperately need the steady hand of a steady leader is lost on him.
Instead of being the president that the country needs in a time of crisis, he has chosen to employ his worn political strategy: lying. Rather than addressing the issue straightforwardly, he has told lie after lie, and in some cases contradicted the scientists trying to manage this issue.
This has real-world consequences for people’s health and the management of the virus’s spread. As a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found, “Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent threat to the United States,” and “More Democrats than Republicans say they are taking steps to be prepared, including washing their hands more often or limiting their travel plans.”
Furthermore, when asked last week if he would consider canceling some of his large political rallies to avoid the risk of spreading the virus, Trump responded, “It doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t bother them at all.”
Trump could be making his most ardent supporters a petri dish of disease.
But in his mind, it’s not really about them, and certainly not about the rest of us. This is about him, only, always.
Whereas his supporters can be lied to and gaslighted, a virus cannot. A virus is going to do what a virus does. Viruses are not thinking and aware. Technically, they’re not even living things. They are like an army of androids, multiplying as they attack and infect living things.
So none of the tricks that Trump has learned and deployed will work against this virus. Only science, honesty, prudence and genuine concern for public safety will work now.
And precisely for those reasons, this virus exposes Trump’s enormous weaknesses as the chief executive officer of this country.
The public needs to be assured that we have a real leader at the helm, but we are being shown that just the opposite is true. The fact that he wants to spin media coverage of the virus as politically motivated, the fact that he keeps lowballing the number of people infected, and the fact that he has said that the virus may miraculously disappear, all show that Trump is as much a public health threat as the virus itself.
Charles M. Blow is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.