“If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easy. Let’s not hurt the working people in this country…go to your local pub” pic.twitter.com/jXdhOfwe9R
On Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci on CNN urged people to stop going out to eat and drink. “I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction that we see in restaurants and in bars,” he said. “Whatever it takes to do that, that’s what I’d like to see.”
The same morning, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) appeared on Fox News with an almost diametrically opposed bit of advice. “If you’re healthy — you and your family — it’s a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant. Likely you can get in easy,” he said, adding: “Go to your local pub.”
Nunes said he didn’t want the lack of work to harm the employees of those establishments, and that’s a legitimate concern as the stock market tumbles. But Fauci indicated the bigger concern right now is the spread of a deadly disease.
And even as officials like him have increasingly urged people to socially distance themselves and take coronavirus seriously, a number of top allies of President Trump like Nunes have pressed forward with very different messages. Some of them have even floated conspiracy theories. While Trump’s own commentary on the virus has routinely been more optimistic than health officials, these allies seem to have taken his cue and gone quite a bit further in stoking doubts about the whole thing.
Among them Sunday was a man Trump recently pardoned, former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik. Kerik said on Twitter, “Why do I feel this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President @realDonaldTrump?” He then compared the death toll of the virus (which is still climbing rapidly) to other causes of death worldwide.
Why do I feel this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President @realDonaldTrump?
Worldwide Deaths… Jan-Feb 2020
69,602: Common Cold/Flu
In another set of tweets, Kerik attacked mayors and governors who he felt were overreacting to coronavirus.
“Where is the unity, calming of fears, leadership, and the message that we as a country are going to get through this?” Kerik said. “President @realDonaldTrump is the only leader in the whole damned country! The rest are instilling fear, and are going to push 30% of the country into poverty!”
Where is the unity, calming of fears, leadership, and the message that we as a country are going to get through this? President @realDonaldTrump is the only leader in the whole damned country! The rest are instilling fear, and are going to push 30% of the country into poverty!
Another outspoken Trump-supporting former police chief, former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, was even more conspiratorial. In a series of tweets, he suggested the alleged hysteria was being pushed by liberal billionaire George Soros — a common subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — and urged people to take to the streets.
“Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic,” Clarke said. “He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.”
Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.
Early in the Trump administration, Clarke accepted a post at the Department of Homeland Security, then abruptly withdrew that acceptance. He, like Nunes, also urged people to disregard the advice to stay away from crowded places. He told his 917,000 followers, in fact, to take to the streets as a form of protest.
“GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS,” he said. “Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools reopen. NOW! If government doesn’t stop this foolishness … STAY IN THE STREETS. END GOVERNEMNT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.”
GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS. Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW!
If government doesn’t stop this foolishness…STAY IN THE STREETS.
END GOVERNEMNT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.
Twitter has taken down other Clarke tweets in accordance with its policy against tweets that encourage self harm, including one in which he urged people to “defy the order” to not go to restaurants and bars and another in which he referred to the idea that “we have to err on the side of caution” using an expletive.
In case you’re wondering what the audiences are for these tweets, look at what else both Kerik and Clarke were tweeting about Sunday. Both, in fact, tweeted approvingly about a potential Trump pardon for Michael Flynn, which Trump floated Sunday morning. Tying themselves to Trump has proven a fruitful endeavor for each of them — particularly in Kerik’s case — and they seem to be taking their cues from him.
Ditto Fox Business Network host Trish Regan, whose breathless segment last week alleging that coronavirus was being used as another “impeachment hoax” preceded her show being shelved. She received the apparent sanction even though the message echoed one Trump had offered just a week before at a rally, in which he cited a “new hoax” connected to coronavirus.
Perhaps these Trump allies have come to truly believe what they are saying, or perhaps they feel it’s a message that will resonate with Trump supporters and the president himself. Trump is a master at seeding doubts about things by using suggestive language and without committing too hard, and his supporters are often happy to pick up the ball and run with it. That seems to be what happened here, at least to some extent.
But the things they are saying are very much opposed to what the Trump administration’s top health officials are. Whatever political effort people feel is afoot to undermine Trump, the guidance is clear that people need to take major precautions. And these comments all have the effect encouraging people not to heed that advice.
The sentiment has penetrated. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this weekend showed just 60 percent of people thought the worst was to come on coronavirus, despite health officials saying definitively that it is and despite numbers indisputably continuing to rise. The doubts are particularly prevalent among Trump’s base, with just 40 percent of Republicans fearing that a family member would catch the disease, another 40 percent agreeing the worst is yet to come, and just 12 percent saying they have stopped or plan to stop going to restaurants.
Large swaths of the country clearly aren’t heeding the warnings from people like Fauci, and they’re having their doubts confirmed by some of the president’s top allies. Even if the president doesn’t subscribe to any of these individual ideas of conspiracy theories, it’s the kind of moment in which you might expect him to clear the air.
Certain Trump allies like Newt Gingrich, who is in hard-hit Italy, and Rush Limbaugh fill-in host Mark Steyn are being much more forceful in urging people to take this seriously. To this point, though, Trump has opted not to join in that effort.
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