The Anti-Trump Fantasy Theme

In 2008, the American political landscape was electrified by the emergence of Sarah Palin.  As a governor of Alaska, Palin's selection to be John McCain's vice presidential running mate added energy to McCain's relatively lethargic campaign against Senator Barack Obama.  Palin's hockey mom speech was well received at the Republican National Convention that summer.  Her populism continues to embody a sizable component of American politics.  Her skyrocketing fame was brought back to Earth in the fall of 2008 by the revelation of an important statement she made during the campaign: "She could see Russia from her house."  That turned out to not be the case — rather, Tina Fey, who made a fortune managing a parody of Sarah Palin that fall, had created a fictional character that had supplanted reality. 

A similar political absurdity is being attempted this week.  After a Thursday-afternoon press conference where President Trump extolled new scientific research on the power of disinfectants and UV rays from sunlight to breakdown and destroy the coronavirus, journalists at the White House meeting, and now, in a fantasy theme chain, elaborate how President Trump encouraged Americans to inject themselves with or drink Lysol, bleach, and any number of other toxic substances to beat the viral threat.  Our intellectual culture continues to attempt the character assassination of President Trump.  While 50,000 Americans and more die from this virus, the intellectual culture led by the Washington Press corps seeks to make a partisan advantage and finally drive the president out of the public sphere and out of the office of the presidency. 

The problem with this ridicule is its danger to the public.  We are told that Americans are actually considering injecting themselves with these toxic remedies and that calls to poison control are up.  All of this fits the fantasy theme of an intellectual culture that views the president as a madman aimed at delusional assaults on his fellow citizens.  Where did the people get the idea to inject themselves with Lysol or bleach?  The obvious answer is the media and their amplifying cousins in social media.  It is dangerous in our politically reactionary society to criticize the president for advocating something he did not say.  It plants the idea regardless of any caustic ridicule container with which it may be offered. 

The media tried to do something similar with hydroxychloroquine.  Enraged at the president's attitude of hopefulness and trying to encourage Americans to believe that treatments for the virus may emerge, the media set out to prove that the malaria drug not only did not work, but would kill people who took it.  This is the sad reactionary nature of our intellectual culture.  At the cutting edge of this argument was a woman from Arizona who told the media that she and her husband had taken a similarly named fish tank–cleaner at the behest of the president.  In the original telling of the story, it appeared that one member of this poor couple died and the other nearly did taking the president's supposed misguided medical advice.  Later, in less promoted news stories, we find out that the wife is an active partisan involved in anti-Trump political advocacy.  Moreover, she is highly involved in a partisan group that utilizes the "we believe in science" meme that supposes that the president's followers are anti-science.  The husband who died was an engineer.  It is powerfully plausible that this woman wanted to create this partisan fantasy theme about foolish citizens following dangerous advice from the president.  This reactionary intellectual culture creates a dangerous public environment.

At a time when thousands are dying from this virus, the nation ought to be coming together in a bipartisan spirit much as it did after 9/11.  The fatality rate in New York City is 20 times higher than almost anywhere in the nation, with subways left open and COVID cases ordered back to nursing homes.  The blue-privilege hypocrisy of our intellectual master class means that Cuomo and de Blasio are celebrated heroes of the crisis while the president and comparable red-state governors are demonized as malicious fools.  Blue states and cities are led down plainly empirically deadly paths, and their popularity soars, while red politicians are demonized with imaginary statements suggesting that the public drink fish tank–cleaner, Clorox, and Lysol. 

As my colleague Dr. Robert Denton and I argued in 2017, the nation is not primarily threatened by either political camp.  The nation is threatened by an interpretive class that deliberately sabotages public conversations vital to public protection.  In this current crisis, covering up important scientific discoveries such as the efficacy of UV sunlight and isopropyl-based sanitizers with fantasies about drinking bleach is a reckless disregard for human well-being that has cost human life.  The interpreters bear an important share of the blame for this.

In December 2008, one month after President Obama won election against John McCain and Sarah Palin, an arsonist set a fire around the entire perimeter of Palin's church with women and children inside.  Firefighters defeated the blaze in temperatures of 20 below zero.  This act of political terrorism was an important escalation to the ugly world we now live in today.  Whether a Bernie Sanders–supporter going onto a baseball field to shoot and kill Republican congressional members or anti-Semitic anti-Trump terrorism in California and Pittsburgh, our intellectual culture is indulging in dangerous incitements that are killing the innocent.  Reasoned deliberations and a press that uniformly and reasonably challenges both parties can encourage better policies in times of crisis.  What we presently have is an ideologically captive and reactionary press endangering every American and killing many.  The public is perfectly reasonable to rate the current practice of journalism as the most unreliable institution in the COVID crisis for its overly indulgent anti-Trump fantasy theme.

Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of communication and director of speech and debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  He has published three academic books on how free speech and debate are essential for better civic conditions.  He is completing his fourth book, Rwanda Rising, which examines this important precept internationally — including the problems incited by the government of China.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

If you experience technical problems, please write to