In poker, a “tell” is a passive, generally unintended gesture by one player that reveals how he or she is about to play his or her hand. Last week, President Trump’s Tulsa and Phoenix rallies were full of not-so-subtle tells that reveal a lot about how he plans to play his hand leading up to the high-stakes November Big Ugly.
The Tulsa and Phoenix tells also reveal the hands President Trump is not going to play. Expect no serious policy initiatives and no inspiring message to the American body politic. President Trump’s Tulsa and Phoenix tells speak mostly of a campaign of personal ridicule and demagoguery that will underpin the Trump campaign. Sleepy Joe, Creepy Joe, Demented Joe, Slow Joe, and every other adolescent slur will flow from the Trump campaign like so much rhetorical offal. School-yard slurs will pass for campaign strategy, and personal insults will define the President’s encounters with his opponent. We know that because he is road-testing the strategy at each rally.
The rioting and looting that marred many of the peaceful demonstrations presented an ideal opportunity for the President to tap into the very genuine disgust most Americans felt watching thugs set buildings ablaze and, with complete abandon, loot stores of their merchandise. So, the President has been quick to describe himself as the-law-and-order President, and he has dusted off Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority playbook, assuring us all that the Silent Majority is alive and well. Expect to hear that often in the weeks and months ahead. His Tulsa and Phoenix tells made clear that President Trump plans to hammer away at the notion that the arsonists and looters will find a friend in Joe Biden. The Trump campaign will sublimate to the arsonists and looters the peaceful but frequently marred demonstrations that took place throughout the country and, indeed, the world.
Even Richard Nixon, our previously most flawed President, during the height of the Vietnam War had a sense of the moment when, before dawn, he traveled unannounced to mingle and chat with anti-war demonstrators on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The demonstrators hated him, and he knew they hated him, but he went to talk with them. The students had come to protest in the immediate aftermath of the Cambodian incursion and the Kent State massacre. And there was President Nixon, who many of the demonstrators held indirectly responsible for the carnage, sitting with them on the steps of the Memorial doing his best to assure the students that he shared their determination to end the war.
Flash forward to June 1st, 2020, when President Trump had Lafayette Square aggressively cleared of peaceful demonstrators so that he could strut through a cordon of riot-equipped federal police to St John’s Church to pose with a bible for a photo op, and then strut back to the White House.
Expect to hear pointed references, as we did in Tulsa, to the Kung flu and the Wuhan Virus or the Chinese Virus—anything but the Coronavirus, the toll from which has been enormously driven by the failures of the Trump Administration. History will be brutal in its assessment of the Trump Administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. That has become inescapable, his congratulatory self-assessment notwithstanding. The President’s Coronavirus braggadocio has worn thin, fooling no one other than those who are willing to follow his lead like Brothers Grimm victims in Hamlin following another of history’s pied pipers.
Concerning the Administration’s Coronavirus response, President Trump intends to bluff like a seasoned player at one of his now-defunct casinos. America maintains a substantial investment in health and human services in general and infectious-disease response in particular. Yet, we have managed, rather spectacularly, to lead the world in pandemic response ineptitude. President Trump telegraphs (tells), over and over again, his intention to portray as spectacular how he has played the Coronavirus hands he has been dealt since last December.
He leads by example, which is why millions of his supporters refuse to wear masks—the consequences be damned. He has referred to himself as a wartime Commander-in-Chief fighting the invisible Coronavirus enemy. So far, in the last 120 days, we’ve lost more Americans than were lost fighting in the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or World War One and the equivalent of roughly a quarter of all the American war dead in World War Two.
He even makes the case that testing is a double-edged sword because the more we test, the more we discover Coronavirus. He doubles down on the notion that, maybe, we should test less so that the level of (reported) infections will be lessened. And, to emphasize the point, he says he’s not kidding about the disadvantages of testing.
He has a point. Perhaps, we should curtail cancer screening as well.