It begs the question, why is the most powerful country on Earth failing to contain the coronavirus when most countries are succeeding? Perhaps it can be chalked up to government incompetence and scientific illiteracy, as I have mused in the past, but this explanation no longer seems to capture months of repeated failure and denial. So, allow me to propose one possible alternative and controversial reason: Trump is purposely throwing the coronavirus game. It sounds crazy, but stay with me.
Failing to Act
Let’s look at the facts. The WHO warned of the coronavirus’s potential for human-to-human transmission on January 21st, 2020. The Trump administration, other than implementing a China travel ban, (we will get back to that in a moment) downplayed and otherwise failed to take reasonable and prudent measures to protect America. Despite unprecedented lock-downs and staggering numbers of cases/deaths in China which should have served as a stark warning for America, Trump failed to order ventilators, masks, gloves, or even begin prepping test kits.
The Trump administration did not take the virus even halfway seriously until early March, over two months after the WHO’s warning. Even then, as the virus was spreading throughout the US, Trump refused to enforce mandatory lockdowns or a national mask mandate that would have greatly slowed and ultimately contained the spread of the virus. Trump wouldn’t even allow himself to be seen wearing a mask, behavior that is completely opposite of other world leaders who sought to set a good example for the people they led. Now, as we approach record infections and deaths, the Trump administration is bizarrely and publicly going to great lengths to force schools to reopen, even as far as threatening their funding if they hold online-only courses. Is the Trump administration really this incompetent, or is there an ulterior motive at play?
One of the key planks of Trump’s Presidency is xenophobia. Early in his campaign, Trump pledged to deport 11 million illegal migrants living in the US, he pledged a complete ban on Muslims travelers, he called Mexican immigrants rapists, and derided people from certain African countries as unwanted because they came from “sh**hole” countries. On many occasions, Trump has cast immigrants as invaders who bring “crime and disease” with them.
And its not just rhetoric. Since becoming President, Trump has sought to undermine legal immigration. He has cut the number of refugees and asylum recipients to the lowest level in modern history, upended Temporary Protected Status on about 300 thousand people, subjecting them to deportation. He is trying to end DACA protections on another 700 thousand, and issued arbitrary executive orders banning immigration and travel on no less than three different occasions. This is all in addition to more subtle moves, which include higher visa processing fees and longer delays in an already grueling immigration process. Even so, Trump’s actions against immigrants fell well short of what he had promised during his campaign, as each move he made against immigration has been challenged in courts or by Congress.
Given his penchant to cast blame on foreigners, it is no surprise then that the only tangible action taking by Trump in the early days of the virus was a travel ban on China. The virus provided a unique opportunity to close borders and blame a “foreign virus” on America’s economic and social ills. Since coronavirus, Trump has been able to stifle immigration and travel in ways that were previously impossible and unimaginable. The refugee and asylum program were virtually shut down in March. The border with Mexico, a frequent Trump target, was locked down. In April, Trump signed an executive order “temporarily” banning Green Cards for certain applicants, including the family members of immigrants and American citizens, under the false pretense of protecting American jobs. A few weeks later, this “temporary” executive order was extended through the end of the year and expanded, largely ending the issuance of H1-B, H-4, H-2B, L-1, J-1 visas and ending the Visa Diversity Lottery program.
Additionally, the Trump administration arbitrarily expelled over 3000 Chinese graduate students from American universities on spying allegations, but noted they had no evidence of any wrongdoing on behalf of any of the expelled students. Trump even tried, and failed, to revoke the visas of students whose university decided to hold online-only courses this semester, which could have seen the self-deportation of hundreds of thousands of students studying in America.
You see, while the coronavirus is distracting the American people, many of the avenues of travel and immigration into America are quietly being dismantled… and it is only the beginning. Indeed, the USCIS, the government agency tasked with processing visa and immigration applications, will soon be furloughing much of its staff due to a 61% drop in applications. The USCIS doesn’t receive funding from Congress, it self-funds through visa processing fees. The more visa categories that are banned by Trump, the lower the USCIS revenue will be, and the lower that revenue is, the harder process it will be to process visas at full capacity.
If the USCIS were to shutter in August as planned, even more legal immigration and international travel will come to a halt. However, this may be a feature of the Trump administration’s plan…not a bug. And here it is where this plan comes into focus: The USCIS also handles America’s citizenship naturalizations. Citizenship is a prerequisite for voting in the upcoming election. The more hamstrung the USCIS becomes, the fewer citizenship cases it can process, and the fewer new Americans who can participate in their democratic right to vote in upcoming November election. By one estimate, around 300,000 Americans could lose the opportunity to vote in November given the USCIS woes.
Many of those new Americans have witnessed nearly four years of being called murderers, rapists, or criminals by the President of the very country they love. Further, due to Trump’s policies, many of those new Americans have also faced multi-year delays in seeing their loved ones, or even had their loved ones outright banned from joining them in America. These new American citizens,therefore, will likely not be inclined to vote in Trump’s favor. For Trump, in an election with a razor thin winning margin, the greater the suppression of new American voters…the better.
Given Trump’s history of xenophobia, it isn’t too great a stretch to imagine that at least some of Trump’s “failure” to contain the coronavirus stems from the benefits that the virus provides him, both in terms of stoking xenophobia for his radical base, but also preventing unfavorable votes in November. But even if the failure to contain the virus is sheer incompetence, there is no doubt that Trump is now using this failure to his own ends. He is using the virus to close America off from the world outside, and silently rigging the election in his favor. The more coronavirus cases America has and the worse the economy becomes, the greater his ability to shut the door in the faces of people he hates. Make no mistake, if reelected, those doors will never open again.