Denial and Defiance: Trump and His Base Downplay the Virus Ahead of the Election

With resistance to face masks and scorn for science, President Trump and a sizable number of his supporters are pushing an alternate reality minimizing a tragedy that has killed almost 200,000 Americans.

Jodee Burton, a retired preschool teacher who now helps with her husband’s logging business, lives on a remote patch in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a state that has been embroiled in a partisan battle over how to respond to a pandemic that has killed nearly 7,000 people there and almost 200,000 nationwide.

Ms. Burton, 63, who is the mother of three grown children, is not convinced that there is a crisis — and she is certainly not happy with the efforts by her governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, to require some people to wear masks or restrict where they can play and work.

“There’s only been three cases in Luce County and I know all three of them,” said Ms. Burton, whose family dog wears a Trump bandanna in place of a collar. “They have husbands and they sleep with these men every night, and none of them got it.”

From resistance to face masks and scorn for the science of the coronavirus to predicting the imminent arrival of a vaccine while downplaying the death count, President Trump and a sizable number of his supporters have aligned emphatically behind an alternate reality minimizing a tragedy that has killed an overwhelming number of Americans and gutted the economy.

This mix of denial and defiance runs contrary to the overwhelming evidence about the spread and toll of the virus, and it is at the center of Mr. Trump’s re-election effort as early voting begins in Minnesota, Virginia and other states. It is an outlook shared among his most loyal supporters and pushed by many of his allies in the political and news media establishment.

To some extent, this viewpoint reflects the resentments of Americans living in regions of the country, like upstate New York and the upper reaches of Michigan, that have been relatively untouched by the virus but have had to endure drastic business shutdown measures that have left many residents confined to their homes without jobs or income.

“The people who need to shelter in place should do so, but I do not feel that that should ruin the economy,” said Karla Mueller, a Republican and church custodian who lives in Fond du Lac, Wis. “I think it’s ruined a lot of people’s small businesses. I just don’t feel that that’s necessary.”

But it is also a direct result of the look-the-other-way message that the Trump administration has sent with increasing urgency, pollsters and strategists say, as the president faces a strong challenge to re-election from Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic opponent. Mr. Trump has called on Twitter for people to “LIBERATE” states that have imposed stay-at-home orders, threatened to withhold aid from Democratic governors and undercut medical professionals who have cautioned against the use of unproven medical treatments and premature school reopenings.

He has attacked communities that have resisted reopening schools and business, and suggested the death count was either exaggerated or mainly a problem in blue states.

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