May 25, 2020

It has been a relatively quiet Memorial Day weekend. That being said, an overview of the news suggests there were some important optics this weekend.

Trump took to Twitter with a vengeance, but that frantic tweeting looked desperate rather than commanding. He tweeted or retweeted messages insulting female politicians; insisting that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine-- which has been associated with higher death rates for Covid-19 patients-- has “tremendous rave reviews”; attacking his former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (did you know that was Jeff Sessions’s real name?), and claiming falsely that mail-in ballots will rig the upcoming election.

He threatened to pull the August Republican National Convention from North Carolina if Democratic Governor Roy Cooper won’t guarantee that the event can be held at full capacity, despite coronavirus restrictions. The RNC is under contract to hold the convention in Charlotte, but Trump has talked about moving the event, wondering aloud to aides why it can’t be held in a hotel ballroom in Florida.

Most dramatically, though, he went on a Twitter crusade against television show host Joe Scarborough, tweeting inaccurately, and with no evidence, that Scarborough murdered a young woman in 2001. The 28-year-old woman to whom he was referring was working in a local office of then-Florida Representative Scarborough, with whom she had virtually no contact, when a heart condition caused her to fall and hit her head. There was no sign of a struggle or anyone else with her; the medical examiner concluded that she died of natural causes.

It all just looked mean and self-serving and small, and as if he had given up on appealing to any but the radical conspiracy theorists who make up his base. Some of them are listening: although at the end of April, 81% of Kentucky residents approved of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, on Sunday protestors in Kentucky hung an effigy of Beshear from a tree limb at a mock lynching at the state capitol. They attached to the effigy's shirt a piece of paper that said “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” the same motto John Wilkes Booth shouted in 1865 when he murdered President Abraham Lincoln, and the same words that were on the t-shirt Timothy McVeigh wore in 1995 when he set the bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City that killed at least 168 people and injured more than 680 others.

But while some are emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric, others recognize that his vitriol has become unhinged and that Americans are turning against it, and him. In response to Trump’s tweets about Scarborough, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted: “Completely unfounded conspiracy. Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”

While Trump tweeted, ordinary Americans grappled instead with the realities of reopening state economies on a long weekend that usually marks the start of summer, but that this year is filled with uncertainty.

They were remembering our soldiers, sailors, and airwomen and airmen, killed in the line of duty.

And over everything hung the pall of almost 100,000 dead from the novel coronavirus. Covid-19 has now taken more American lives than the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan, combined.

That grim milestone coincided with Trump’s return to the golf course, prompting opponents to circulate on social media pictures of the president golfing superimposed over the New York Times cover listing 1000 of our dead. It was a dramatic image, and one that I’m shocked his advisors didn’t see coming and work to head off by convincing him not to hit the links on this particular weekend.

Today, the president laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and spoke at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Baltimore’s mayor, Bernard C. “Jack” Young had asked the president not to come to the locked down city to avoid modeling non-essential travel and costing the city money it could not afford as the pandemic has wiped out tax revenues. Trump went despite Young’s objections. Neither he nor Vice President Pence wore a mask during their visit.

In contrast, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went out in public for the first time since mid-March to lay a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran’s Memorial Park. He and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, wore black masks and stayed six feet from the veterans with whom they spoke. “Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” Biden told reporters. “Never, ever, forget.”

Biden’s oldest son, who died of a brain tumor in 2015, served in Iraq.


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