Trump’s remaining days of COVID misrule are a US version of the USSR

Tom Nichols, Opinion columnist
Published 4:00 a.m. ET Oct. 7, 2020 | Updated 6:03 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2020

Trump is telling Americans to ignore basic COVID protocols and believe in miracle cures that don’t exist. He couldn’t care less about risking their lives.

Over the past few days, we have seen the sickly gasps, literally, of a fading authoritarian regime. A brush with a potentially mortal illness might change other men, but not President Donald Trump, whose immaturity and selfishness are as immutable as the elements themselves. Other men might have spoken to a concerned nation with empathy and reassurance. Trump play-acted the part of a petty dictator, mugging and saluting for the cameras. 

When the president on Monday night climbed the stairs to the Truman Balcony — named for one of the many far better men to occupy the White House — and stood there gulping for air and pantomiming bravery, observers saw many images, from Mussolini to Pinochet. Broadway star Patti LuPone, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Eva Peron, had perhaps the best reaction. “I still have the lung power,” she tweeted, “and I wore less makeup. This revival is closing November 3rd.” 

Trump is like a fading Soviet leader 

But I saw something else. I had a flashback to my early career studying the old Soviet Union, and in Trump I saw the fading Soviet leaders who climbed to the top of Lenin’s tomb, gamely waving and putting on a brave face as their health and grip on power slipped away from them. Trump was Leonid Brezhnev or Konstantin Chernenko, but this time struggling to take in the muggy night breeze in Washington instead of the frigid and polluted air of Moscow. 

And this Washington version of the old Kremlin is the pathetic station to which the United States has been reduced in the waning days of Trump’s misrule. We have a paranoid leader who will do anything to hold on to power, including squashing any talk of allowing his second in command to act in his stead even for a day. (Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush allowed such temporary transfers for health reasons.) The White House is now a bunker, administered by a cult of personality whose disciples treat the boss’ health as a secret, while the favored television networks of the state air cheery obfuscations about the president’s strength and selfless devotion to country. 

President Donald Trump and the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, the president’s medical team sounds like the doctors from the Soviet Ministry of Health. They are all very honored, they made sure to tell us, to be on the great leader’s medical team. The president is a “phenomenal patient,” and we must all do our part to keep up the happy talk. You could hear the echoes of the old USSR as Physician to the President Sean Conley gave his reports under the watchful eye of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.  

“Comrades. The president is a strong man, and he has a slight flu, as many of us do here in Moscow. The Central Clinical Hospital here in the Kremlin has the best care in our nation, and he is receiving drugs developed by our scientists that are available nowhere else in the world. His fever and the condition of his lungs are, as I am sure you understand, a matter of state security, and we will not be discussing them. The president is attending to matters of state even in his suite, and indeed, we have cautioned his aide, Comrade Meadows, to stop trying to give him yet more work!” 

Our View: On President Donald Trump and COVID-19, just tell the truth to the American people

After these farcical briefings, Trump returned to the White House, where he and his claque continued his assaults on science and the public’s health. He pulled off his mask like a spoiled toddler pulls off his shoes after being told he has to wear them for the grownups.

He overcame the virus — “Maybe I’m immune,” he mused, as infections continue to rip through the West Wing — while Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted that the president has “once again defeated China,” a moment of cringe-worthy sycophancy that managed to stand out in a week full of such embarrassments. 

When did the president know he had COVID-19? 

And while Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pulled negative ads against Trump while the president was in the hospital, Trump got right back to business. “I’M BACK!” he said in a fundraising email sent shortly after he checked out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life! This is the greatest country in the world, and under the Trump Administration, we have developed some really great drugs and knowledge. WE WILL BEAT THIS, TOGETHER!” 

Millions of people are heading into the cold weather and facing both the coronavirus and the flu. The president, like all authoritarians, couldn’t care less about the risk to the lives of the citizens under his charge. At the end of weeks of mendacity, evasion and outright lying — we still don’t know when Trump first knew he had the virus — the American president is calling on his followers to ignore basic health protocols and instead to believe in miracle cures that do not exist. (As for Mrs. Trump, who also tested positive, she has vanished from the public eye, just like the Soviet wives of old.) 

A president who undermines public health: Getting COVID-19 didn’t help Trump evolve his thinking

The only bright spot in all this is that none of it seems to be working. The president is falling behind in the polls and his path to reelection is, at least at this point, vanishing. If this really were the old Soviet Union, we would all have to wait for our televisions to start playing nothing but classical music, after which we would find out who was chosen as our new leader. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for Fox News or OAN to start playing “Swan Lake.” We can vote and bring this sad detour into the Soviet past to a quick, democratic, and very American end.  

Tom Nichols is the author of “The Death of Expertise,” a senior adviser to The Lincoln Project and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @RadioFreeTom


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