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A Study in Contrasts: Governor Jay Inslee Steps Up and Forges Statewide Unity; Trump Deflects, Divides and Distracts

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Trump and Allies Escalate “Blame the Immigrants” Strategy to Cover for Their Mismanagement of the Coronavirus Crisis

Washington Governor Jay Inslee appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show last night to discuss the state’s ongoing response to coronavirus. He embodies the kind of leadership needed to navigate the outbreak of the coronavirus: let’s pull together, we need to listen to the scientists, my job is to communicate clearly, and let’s make sure everyone, no matter their background or birthplace, is included in the effort. 

A normal president would embrace and lift up Inslee’s leadership. But the graceless Trump called Inslee names: “I told Mike [Pence] not to be complimentary (sic) to the governor because that governor is a snake. I said, ‘If you’re nice to him, he will take advantage.'” 

Inslee’s response? “I really don’t care too much what Donald Trump thinks of me, and we just kind of ignore that. It’s background noise because we really do need to work together, Republicans and Democrats. This is a national crisis…We’re focussing on people’s health, not on political games right now.”

Attacking Democratic governors who are stepping up and leading the way isn’t working so well at controlling the spread of a virus. So, what do Trump and his GOP allies do when they want to deflect responsibility for their own misconduct and mismanagement? They point the finger at immigrants. They gin up fear of “the other.” They divide to distract. For the past week, we’ve been pointing out that Trump and his political allies are “going there.” Now it’s escalating. Yesterday alone:

  • President Trump: “We need the Wall more than ever!” President Trump retweeted a tweet from right wing activist Charlie Kirk that called coronavirus the “China virus” and that asserted that “border control” and building the border wall were needed in response to the virus. Trump added his own commentary: “Going up fast. We need the Wall more than ever!”
  • House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a blatantly racist tweet in transparent attempt to distract attention from Trump mismanagement: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy referred to the virus as “the Chinese coronavirus” on Twitter, a transparently racist and offensive tweet designed to shift focus from Trump’s mismanagement of the crisis.
  • Trump administration ordered coronavirus advice posters taken down in immigration courts: According to the Miami Herald, “Immigration court staff nationwide have been ordered by the Trump administration to take down all coronavirus posters from courtrooms and waiting areas. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which falls under the Department of Justice, told all judges and staff members in an email Monday that all coronavirus posters, which explain in English and Spanish how to prevent catching and spreading the virus, had to be removed immediately.” After sharp condemnation, according to Hamed Aleaziz of BuzzFeed, a Department of Justice spokesperson stated that the signs were taken down by mistake and that it will be “rectified.”Lots of passive voice, no accountability. One wonders whether Stephen Miller or one of his acolytes was involved in the initial decision.
  • Right wing allies join the “blame the immigrants” and “cover for Trump” fray: Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) tweeted, “if a global pandemic is a concern, why would we want policies that encourage more people crossing illegally & released unaccounted for into the country?” Perennial Kansas candidate and leading anti-immigrant mouthpiece Kris Kobach has weighed in, too, writing in Breitbart: If Congress had given the President all of the money for border wall construction that he needed back in 2017, the United States would be in a much better position to address this crisis…The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States will undoubtedly grow from the six known cases—in California, Arizona, Washington State, and Illinois. But worthy of note is the case in Reynosa, Mexico, right next to the U.S. border. The international border next to Reynosa is wide open. And so is our vulnerability to the coronavirus being carried across it.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

Inslee is right. We need to pull together and meet this with a can-do American attitude anchored in E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One. Not surprisingly, Trump and his allies are more interested in dividing and distracting us by pointing the finger at immigrants and foreigners. 

Trump sees the world through a zero sum, ‘us vs them’ lens. This is not only dangerous for our public health and our democracy, it’s fundamentally un-American. At our best, we are a nation striving to bring people together regardless of their race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference and class so we can rise to momentous challenges. But Trump and his allies don’t care about the American experiment. They are uninterested in realizing the promise of our multiracial democracy. They care about maintaining their power and privilege, even if it means ripping our society apart and scapegoating the vulnerable. 

Let us work towards a new day, a new President and a new opportunity to advance the project of building a nation that includes, protects and empowers one and all. Our survival as a nation and a people may well depend on it.