More Magical Thinking on Covid from the Trump Camp

The Chief of Staff wants to play pretend.

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on the Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic:

From the CNN write-up:

“We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,” Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.

“Pressed by Tapper on why the US isn’t going to get the pandemic under control, Meadows said: “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He added that the Trump administration is “making efforts to contain it.”

“What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this,” Meadows said.

What this sounds like is that the Trump plan (if one can call it that) is to pay little to no attention to stopping the virus from spreading and focusing on treatment.

Meadows is also doing what Trump has been doing, using the word “therapeutics” like a talisman. Since the early days of this pandemic, Trump has been hoping for a magic bullet. Remember hydroxychloroquine? He now thinks because he received treatment that the magic bullet has been found and promising a vaccine is supposed to demonstrate that this is almost all over (and by “almost” it is clear he wants us to believe it will be “weeks” not months or even another year).

The notion that the federal government should eschew trying to control spread is a pretty awful re-election rallying cry.

I agree with Matt Glassman: this is not the message that is going to garner Trump more voters. It will assure those who have bought into the notion that this is “just like the flu” and therefore no big deal, but those people are already voting for Trump. I don’t know if it is incompetence, ignorance, or just being too steeped in the right-wing media bubble, but the Trump camp clearly does not understand that to have a chance to win it has to expand its voter base, not just preach to their choir.

I am not even sure Meadows understands what “mitigation factors” means. At one point he equates mitigation with treatment and later pays some lip service to social distancing and masks.

Plus, the obvious misinterpretation about what “dark winter” means is maddening. Quite clearly Biden was asserting that the coming winter will be dark because right now the trends in infections suggest more illness, which will put pressure on hospitals and will, in turn, result in more death. The notion that “dark winter” means that Biden wants to shut down the economy is simply not correct.

Indeed, the notion that the choices on the table is close down v. open up is a false one. For one thing, to my knowledge, no one of consequence is suggesting that we engage in a national lockdown. Likewise, even if things are “open” human behavior will still lead to lots of people making choices that will impact the economy.

A simple example: regardless of what the federal government does, I expect a lot of business travel will go away (especially in the short term) since we have all gotten a lot more used to video conferencing for meetings. A lot of companies will decide the cost savings is worth losing personal contact for certain types of engagement.

Just keeping things open and mitigating the virus through therapeutics is not a policy. It is a game of pretend.

In regards to his statement that “we’re Americans” therefore we are “going to defeat” the virus because “we do that” reminds me of a scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Facing a crippled USS Enterprise, a Klingon commander wants to send over a boarding party to take the ship. One of his subordinates points out that the crew complement of a Federation starship far outstrips the size of the bordering party, and the Klingon commander angrily shoots back, “we’re Klingons!”

As one might guess, the Klingons lose (although not because of numbers, but that is a different discussion). Indeed, at the end of it all, all but one Klingon dies.

Bravado is great and all as a motivator in some contexts, but at the end of the day, bravado loses to prevailing conditions. In the context of over a quarter million deaths and recent spikes in infections, bravado and a couple of bucks will buy you a cup of coffee (and even then, wear a mask and social distance, please, when ordering).

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. sam says:
  2. drj says:

    I suspect even the term “magical thinking” is too kind.

    Because then, at least, there would be some kind of (misguided) expectation that external reality would, ultimately, change.

    What Meadows did, is far less ambitious: it’s just about coming up with some inane bullshit in order to survive the interview.

    They have no interest at all in changing reality. They simply don’t care about the death and suffering, it’s just that they can’t say this out loud.

    So it’s not even magical thinking, it’s just deflection and excuses.

  3. CSK says:

    I recall when Trump claimed to be popping hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure. Does he remember saying that?

    Barbara Res, who worked for Trump for a number of years, says there’s no way Trump would have ingested such a substance; he’s far too phobic about being poisoned, accidentally or deliberately.

    As far as being a preventative goes, the HCL–if he took it all, which I doubt–didn’t work for him, did it? He caught the plague, as he calls it.

    And no, Trump doesn’t believe he needs to expand his voter base, because, in some very literal sense, only those who already support him exist, at least in his eyes.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Cleek’s Law: Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.

    Democrats: You can contain a contagious virus through government efforts.

    Republicans: Well, there’s really no way to contain a contagious virus.

    I always though Cleek’s law was a bit of an oversimplification, but I guess not?

  5. Paine says:

    Reminds me of a scene from West Wing when Josh Lyman made some gaffe at a press conference and spent the rest of the episode getting chewed out. Meadows is most likely in the same boat now.

    I’m not sure how you could go about condensing this down to a bumper sticker or a talking point but the Dems really need to remind people that when facing the kind of disaster we are going through now, who do you want running the country? Someone from the party that believes in the efficacy of government action or someone from the government-is-part-of-the-problem camp?

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Except for the logic that there are too many moving parts, too many participants, I could succumb to the conspiracy theory that the Former Reality Show Host, never had covid and it was all a charade.

    Win or lose after the election the FRSH and his minions will never speak of covid-19 again and the states will be left to their own devices to survive. It will be interesting in that Darwinian world, which states due manage till a vaccine is widely distributed and which collapse under the strain.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:


    Republicans Don’t Care

    That should fit, coupled with an ad campaign to flesh it out.

  8. de stijl says:

    Republicans got trapped earlyi nto thinking this was a NYC problem and fuck those folks cuz they don’t vote for us.

    This is a blue state problem and an urban problem. It does affect us, so let’s use it as a cudgel.

    Wisconsin Rs and Michigan Rs did and are still doing. Amongst many others.

    My governor is seemingly gaming this as a way to exacerbate the rural / urban divide to solidify her base for 2022 as of this week still.

    The problem is viruses spread. Eventually everywhere. Even to smaller less dense areas.

    Out of the many things Trump fucked up is the concept that the President is the President of Red America not Blue America and those problems in states that did not vote for him were derided and actively ignored.

  9. Scott F. says:

    Just keeping things open and mitigating the virus through therapeutics is not a policy. It is a game of pretend.

    Seriously, what else is the Trump administration going to do at this point?

    They have invested 8 months now on the false binary of complete close down v. open up like normal. “The cure can’t be worse than the disease,” don’t you know? This investment has come on top of nearly 4 years of alternative facts and the cudgeling of any kind of dissent. A policy position based on science and a spectrum of controlled openness is utterly unavailable to them. Such nuance flies in the face of EVERYTHING that has come before during this administration.

    Sucks to be them, but when make your name selling snake oil, the townspeople are coming to come for you when they finally figure out it doesn’t work.

  10. de stijl says:

    Bravado is a poor leader’s substitute for resolve and competency.

  11. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    That’s because Trump sees life as purely transactional. If you’re nice to him, he’ll be nice to you. If he perceives you as being not nice to him, then he’ll bring all his petty vindictiveness to bear in punishing you.

    And there’s another element. Trump’s supporters believe that they’re the real America, so they enjoy seeing blue America suffer. Blue America, a hotbed of traitorous scum, deserves to suffer.

  12. de stijl says:

    Listen to Eisenhower’s D-Day speech for an example of resolve.

  13. de stijl says:

    This is linguistically nerdy, but the form differences between “resolve” and “resolute” are quite interesting.

    I blame the French.

  14. Paine says:

    @de stijl: “Out of the many things Trump fucked up is the concept that the President is the President of Red America not Blue America and those problems in states that did not vote for him were derided and actively ignored.”

    Exactly the problem with the Electoral college. Presidents should be accountable to the people, not to the states. The EC creates terrible incentives and disincentives.

  15. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    If it had been Trump, he’d have Tweeted the plans for the invasion on June 5.

  16. Arm The Homeless says:

    It’s less “magical thinking” and more “lie and blame”

    The tactic of just not admitting to data that started out to just obfuscate the spread in hopes that people–who weren’t their voters–wouldn’t notice turned into the strategy.

    These goons aren’t very smart and they almost certainly got high off of their own supply of right-wing doctors willing to espouse BS about “herd immunity” and “masks increase viral loading”. They had a small group of numpties telling them what the boss wanted to hear.

  17. Teve says:

    As far as being a preventative goes, the HCL–if he took it all, which I doubt–didn’t work for him, did it? He caught the plague, as he calls it.

    I mean, it would help if he was taking HCL…

  18. Teve says:


    I always though Cleek’s law was a bit of an oversimplification, but I guess not?

    no, it’s not. It’s losers being hateful to winners.

  19. Teve says:

    @Arm The Homeless:

    “Forget the myths the media created about the White House. The truth is, these aren’t very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

  20. Kylopod says:


    Reminds me of a scene from West Wing when Josh Lyman made some gaffe at a press conference and spent the rest of the episode getting chewed out.

    Josh didn’t just make “some gaffe”; he made a total ass out of himself because he had no idea how to handle a press conference. The entire episode (which I think is one of the show’s best episodes) is about gaffes by the White House, and the subsequent damage control. It begins with the president himself saying the wrong thing to a reporter, and having to deal with the consequences. Josh on the other hand is utterly inept at talking to the press, yet so arrogant about his abilities he never bothers to prepare himself. The scene is here:

  21. de stijl says:


    That was cool. Brought me back.

    I admit Sorkin or Sorkin’s writing room drives me a bit nuts after about 15 minutes. The talking is unrealistic.

    Let people breathe. For like ten fucking seconds.

    Mamet and Sorkin talk you into a revolt for blissful silence.

  22. MarkedMan says:

    @de stijl: The Eisenhower comparison is an apt one in many, many ways. Eisenhower was a Republican, an American leader, in the old vein. Understand the situation. Envision the outcome. Work night and day to plan and build towards that vision. Implement. Look at what worked and what didn’t. Level with the people, mop the sweat off your brow and head back into the ring for the next round.

    The Republican Party started to take the easy way out with Reagan. Like much of American industry they started coasting on what giants had built before them, and claiming the credit for themselves. They rallied behind the lazy know it alls and expressed nothing but contempt for those who tried to rally the country to move forward.

    This isn’t a Trump thing, it’s a Republican thing. Trump and his lackeys are just saying the ugly parts out loud.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: When all you’ve got is bullsh!t to get you through the interview, better to go with the craziest that you have. I base that on the adage that truth is always stranger than fiction–because fiction has to make sense. The more outlandish the BS, the more likely to get a paradoxical belief in it.

    Just don’t get caught in a lie. That can break the spell.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Maybe “Republicans don’t care, do U?” to riff off Melania’s coat.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: I recall reading an article about your complaint when the series was on. To the degree that I can recall, everyone was agreed that the pace of delivery was what it was because the stories as they were written could not be performed in the IIRC ~43 minute run time for an hour-long TV show at slower diction rate.

    Whether Sorkin couldn’t or wouldn’t condense the dialogue, I don’t remember. And I may have only imagined that I read this–or possibly that I read something different and don’t remember accurately. I do know that the show is popular enough so that someone here will be johnny on the spot to correct my recollection, if only because I’m just an ignint cracker. (It’s my superpower. 🙂 )

  26. DrDaveT says:


    The Republican Party started to take the easy way out with Reagan.

    I see it a bit differently. Up to that point, serious (Eisenhower) Republicans who were trying to do the best thing for America began to realize that all of the empirical evidence suggested that the @#%$ing liberals had been right all along about which policies really drive prosperity. Wealth inequality is a drag on growth; education and public health are growth multipliers; safety nets smooth business cycles; discrimination is economically inefficient; externalities are more expensive than regulations in the long run; etc. They were faced with a choice between doing what actually both helps Americans and makes America better, versus what their wealthy donors wanted, which was deregulation and tax relief. And so, being the serious patriotic adults they were (ahem), they… averted their eyes, preached voodoo Laffer economics, and launched the Southern strategy. We are reaping the harvest from that bad seed.

    Today, even the never-Trump Republicans have still not come to grips with the fundamental truth that the policies they want (for emotional reasons) to implement are just plain bad for everyone. It’s so counterintuitive! It fails to reward virtue and punish vice! People won’t work hard if they don’t get to keep nearly everything they earn! It assumes that governments can make better decisions than individuals! It pays attention to the parts of The Wealth of Nations that we don’t talk about! Lather, rinse, repeat…

  27. Bob says:

    @Gustopher: Yep, and the Republican platform, three words, “whatever Trump wants.”

  28. de stijl says:


    I was too young to judge Nixon contemporaneously.

    Reagan was a naive pup compared to my understanding of Eisenhower. And a blowhard. Iran goddamned Contra.

    GHWB was not my preferred person, but he was a decent person and a good steward. He was honestly doing his best for us. Not my guy (see above for Iran-Contra) but was willing to check and correct the worst impulses of his party.

    His son was an absolute disaster. Flippant, incurious. Killed 100s of thousands because Daddy did not go full Attila and acting President Cheney felt unsatisfied with the resolution of Gulf War 1.

    Trump is a full magnitude worse than Dubya. Shockingly bad at his job. His day to day demeanor is appalling. PDBs delivered by pictures that he ignores. Goes full Karen on the briefer if it indicts his Russian pal.

    The math escapes me, but Trump is at least 10x worse than our second worst President.

    Trump is chaos and spite and pettiness.

    This has been four very long and horrible years. In two weeks we will determine our future. I pray we choose well.

    That it is close is mind-boggling to me.

  29. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Possible nym change to Ignint Supercracker?

    Were you bitten by a radioactive spider?

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    When bravado runs up against reality, guess which one loses?

    Every time.

  31. @de stijl:
    Sorkin’s dialog was delivered much more slowly in Newsroom…. not!

  32. Ken_L says:

    whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments

    There is no vaccine, nor is it likely one will be available until well into next year. The ‘treatments’ that Trump received were experimental and may have been completely useless; nobody knows. We do know they cost so much they will not be available to most Americans.

    Or to put it another way, Meadows admitted the Trump Administration’s policy is to let the pandemic rip without doing anything to stop it.

  33. de stijl says:


    Unlike Sports Night which is known for it’s use of contemplative silence. Ha!

    I remember being impressed by Sabrina Lloyd and Joshua Malina when that was on. Malina’s character was a fairly obvious stand-in for Sorkin, but he pulled it off.

    Lloyd was also the gem on Sliders.

    Malina and Lloyd need more work. They are good.

    I like Moneyball a lot. Yes at times it is too talky, but Pitt nailed it as did Jonah Hill.

    My favorite bits were when Hill was too intimidated to speak freely and Beane (Pitt) gave him the space and time to go off his leash for a bit and let go.

    One of the best examples of a mentor / mentee interaction (that isn’t toxic).

    Moneyball is a super solid film. Pitt killed.

  34. grumpy realist says:

    @Ken_L: This is why I’m shrugging my shoulders about the “won’t wear a mask” == “FREEDUM!” idiots. Let them do as they want. They’ll die.

  35. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    98% of them won’t die.

    Also, wishing death or sickness on someone is wrong.

  36. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I am not a fan of The Social Network.

    I liked Brenda Song a lot, but she was gone after that one scene.

    The Winkelvi bits were amusing. Somewhat.

    The construction is very bold. Usually we are granted a likeable outsider trying to bring down the big bad. Nope.

    I can respect that. Zuckerberg is a prick.

  37. grumpy realist says:

    @de stijl: I’m not wishing “disease or death” on them. I’m wishing that their stupidity should bite them. HARD. Especially when they are spreading contagious diseases and not thinking about their neighbours.

    “Freedom” does not mean you have the right to infect other people.

  38. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I appreciate your passion.

    Be mindful in how you express it.

  39. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @de stijl: My assessment is pretty close to yours. In 1980, although I favored Carter, it was largely because I thought Reagan was incurious about things he needed to be curious about. Reagan was a “confidence shot” in the arm for the country. But it’s taken us a long time to recognize that the simple-minded thinking he favored has done a grave disservice to the country.

  40. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @de stijl: Yes, it’s wrong to wish death or illness of someone. But I’m reminded of a saying from Poor Richard’s Almanac: “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.”

  41. charon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’m not wishing “disease or death” on them.

    I like a nice orderly world where actions have consequences as appropriate. In such a world, intent should not matter, so if actions derive from ignorance or selfishness or gullibility about disinformtion is irrelevant.

  42. CSK says:

    HCL is an abbreviation I’ve seen for hydrochloroquine. I didn’t feel like writing out the whole damn thing again. 😀

  43. de stijl says:


    You spaced the “oxy”.

    Ironic lol.

  44. Kathy says:

    Getting very late to this thread, there are two things that are affecting Trumps’ and therefore the bulk of the GOP’s, actions: 1) Trump tends to stake a position early, and 2) he very rarely backs down or changes what passes for his mind.

    So having said COVID-19 was no big deal, and having said the states should open up fully, and having said masks don’t work, then he has to stick by all of it, even if hundreds of thousands of people die as a result.

  45. keef says:

    Of course “almost no lockdown Sweden” has excess mortality of, well, zero. And the US is similar to many of its European counterparts. And the recent rise in cases, which no one has stopped, has not transferred to deaths.

    But don’t let facts get in the way of a good political issue, right? Its all Trumps fault.

  46. @keef:

    has excess mortality of, well, zero.

    You might want to go back and actually select Sweden on the graph.

    And then go select Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden and tell me that Sweden’s choices in March/April were superior to their neighbors.

    As such, indeed:

    But don’t let facts get in the way of a good political issue, right?

    The only people who think Sweden is a model are people who have been told it is by right-wing media. If you look at the data (as well as actually study what Sweden did and did not do) the notion that Sweden went about their lives and emerged unscathed is just not true.


    Its all Trumps fault.

    The national policy response is his fault.