A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump was in the throes of a love affair with Kim Jong Un, I advanced a theory of his behavior. He wanted the photo-ops and signatures and the sense of a nuclear nonproliferation deal, but was incapable of making a deal, in his words. His incapacity lay in his ignorance about how treaties are negotiated.
How would he proceed from those photo-ops, as North Korea was continued to accumulate fissile material and build weapons, even test missiles? When North Korea issued statements insulting Trump and the people working for him? When there were no talks to develop a path towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Complete, Verified, and Irreversible Disarmament (CVID) and variants on that theme? When North Korea explicitly said that no way would that happen?
At some point, my North Korea watching colleagues maintained, Trump would have to recognize that his photo-ops had no effect whatsoever. Would he freak out against the unfaithful “Little Rocket Man”? Would he admit failure? No problem, I said. His continuing response would be “LALALALA I can’t hear you.”
And so it has been. North Korea continues to make nuclear weapons and missiles, and Americans have largely forgotten about it in the rush of continuing Trump malice.
The pattern now repeats itself with the covid epidemic. Trump has been in explicit denial since January, with no indication that he will face the problem.
He has been consistent in saying that the disease will just disappear – poof! – one day soon. It was to be soon in January, and it’s soon now. It will go away.
Politically, it would make sense for him to take hold of the response to the disease, but he doesn’t. As recently as this past Tuesday (August 4), a source familiar with the coronavirus task force meeting said “He still doesn’t get it. He does not get it.”
“He starts talking about something else.” LALALALA I can’t hear you.
The Guardian documents some of his starkest statements that the virus is no problem and will go away.
In his business life, Trump was able to practice this kind of denial because his assistants were willing to clean up his financial messes or lie to him about them. We now see, via Jonathan Swan’s interview, that he has assistants who are willing to lie to him about the covid epidemic, but unable to make it go away without the national effort that only a president could lead.
As with North Korea’s progress in building its nuclear arsenal, Trump will continue to lie to himself and to us about the epidemic. We don’t see North Korea’s bombs being produced, so that recedes into memory, but we do see people around us sickening and dying. Trump will continue with “LALALALA I can’t hear you.” It’s all he knows how to do.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner