Donald Trump’s coronavirus conspiracies are spiraling out of control

Coronavirus (or more accurately the virus called SARS-CoV-2 responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak) is in danger of mutating. No, I’m not talking about its DNA. I’m talking informationally, that is, mutating from good, reliable, scientific information into the artificially created perception that coronavirus outbreak is being deliberately “weaponized” in order to destroy Donald Trump’s re-election chances.

I don’t know who invented this idiotic conspiracy theory, but Rush Limbaugh has given it wings. Not content with the racist division he’s disseminated over the years, this latest wholly unqualified recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is now endorsing the idea that the coronavirus outbreak is being deliberately overdramatized in an effort to hurt Trump.

“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” Limbaugh proclaims. “The coronavirus is the common cold, folks, it’s really being hyped as a kind of Andromeda Strain sort of strain or Ebola pandemic … that is going to wipe out the population of the world.” I don’t know anyone in any responsible position in any government saying that, of course.

Rush goes on to dazzle us with statistics. “The survival rate of this is 98% … 2% of the people who get the coronavirus die. That’s less than the flu, folks, that is a far lower death statistic than any form of influenza which is an annual thing that everybody gets shots for.” All of which would all be comforting, of course, if it were true. The truth is, the average death rate from influenza is .1%. Note the decimal point. In other words, coronavirus is 20 times as deadly as the common flu.

There was a flu outbreak that was as deadly as coronavirus. It was the 1918 influenza pandemic that devastated the world and killed 50 to 100 million people, more human beings in total than died in the world war that had just ended and the world war that was 19 years in the future.

Fortunately coronavirus is not the 1918 flu, and we have far more sophisticated means of fighting its potentially devastating effects. But what Limbaugh is doing isn’t just irresponsible, it’s evil. He’s giving people who already trust him bad information about a virus that might have deadly implications for those people and their families. He’s also endangering the rest of us who know better and need everyone to understand this is not a case of the common cold.

Nor is coronavirus bad for Trump. It’s neutral. It can make Trump look good just as easily as it can make Trump look bad. Any negative association with Trump is his own fault. Trump could seize this moment and make it all his own. Coronavirus has given him a golden opportunity to look and behave with presidential gravitas and concern. He could have gravely cautioned the American people, dispelled rumours and put their fears at ease while at the same time counselling caution. Instead he’s chosen to behave like the self-congratulating self-contradicting buffoon that we have come to expect. The fact that he’s blown it so far is because he’s stupid, and that’s no one’s fault but his own.

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