Politics is a shrewd and devious game, and both incumbent US President Donald Trump and Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden are playing it to the full and utilising the time factor to their advantage in the run-up to November’s US presidential elections. As skeletons in the closet emerge daily, damaging stories are flashed across media outlets at opportune moments deemed to make the strongest impact. The stories are not only well-timed, but are also spaced out to be most potent.
I am no admirer of Trump, and we have been inundated with sinister leaks that focus on how unfit he is for his job. Trump’s responses and actions are capable of aggravating many people on their own, but his opponents are still after him nonetheless, and the latest chain of events has exacerbated the dislike of many Americans for him and may lead to their voting differently in November.
Mary Trump, Trump’s niece, timed the publication of her book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man perfectly. The title refers to Donald Trump, of course, and the book appeared early enough in the election campaign to trigger a tarnishing course that has been continuing up to now. His niece should know about Trump, shouldn’t she, many Americans are saying.
Mary Trump then provided the media with an audio recording of Trump’s sister recorded secretly between 2018 and 2019 that only surfaced this August. In it, Maryanne Trump says that her brother cannot be trusted, that he is cruel and that he has no principles. Maryanne Trump hit the nail on the head, reinforcing many people’s suspicions of Trump’s ills.
Early in September the US magazine The Atlantic then reported on how Trump had called US war dead “suckers and losers” during a visit to France. The incident took place way back in 2018 only to be disclosed today, yet it is another add-on to a well-timed chain of exposures. The consequences have been huge, and Trump could lose the votes of many veterans and their family members as well as current US service personnel if what he said is confirmed, with it being seen as breaching the trust of many of his loyal voters.
Later in September, US journalist Bob Woodward’s book Rage was published in what has been another damning account of Trump. The book is complemented by audio recordings of Trump speaking to Woodward in which he plays down the threat of the Covid-19 even when he knew how dangerous and worse-than-the-flu coronavirus actually was.
In other words, on the tapes Trump was once again seen to be misleading the American public. However, the recordings were made in February, and Woodward should also be reproached for not having gone public with this information sooner, even if this would have gone against the strategic build-up of cases against Trump before the election. The timing would not have been as profitable.
Trump’s response to questions about the coronavirus was that “certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation. That’s what I’ve done.” Even if there may be some truth in this, the strategy has backfired twice: almost seven million people have tested positive in the US for Covid-19, and 193,000 have died. The leak of Trump’s remarks makes this if anything even more calamitous.
Even Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s attorney from 2006 to 2018 before he was imprisoned for various violations before being released from prison in May 2020, has compiled his thoughts on Trump in his book Disloyal. The outlandish synonyms by which he describes Trump are too many to include here, but “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man” are just a sample. Cohen also cites Trump’s racist views of US Blacks and Latinos, saying of the latter that “like the Blacks, they’re too stupid to vote for Trump. They’re not my people.”
The timing of these discrediting exposés has been crucial. First, they are an opportunity like no other to make a profit. In Mary Trump’s case, she sold an astronomical 950,000 copies of her book on the first day of publication. The chances are that Woodward’s and Cohen’s books will do quite well, too. Second, they are indeed part of a successful ploy to get Trump. If these events had not been well-timed, perhaps the three books would have come out together or even earlier, but that would have defeated the consequential order of things.
Trump has not been timing things as well as his opponents, or at least he has not been successful in coming up with stories that could tarnish Biden in a similar fashion. But he is also scheduling announcements that are careful to gain as much profit as possible.
In May, Trump created Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to facilitate and accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines. In August, Trump said that it was possible for the US to have a vaccine before the election, which would boost his campaign efforts tremendously. On 14 September, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, announced that it should have key data from a late-stage trial of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of October and distributed before year’s end. The date, the end of October, was not a haphazardly chosen one: on the contrary, it was carefully thought out.
However, Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, has already put a dent in such efforts, wondering whether it would be safe to receive a vaccine developed under the Trump administration. She also questioned public-health experts, saying that they would be “muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because he’s looking at an election… and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader on the issue, when he was not.”
For once, I’m in agreement with the Washington Post when it calls Harris’s attitude erroneous. “To question their safety [of the vaccines], without a shred of evidence, puts lives at risk,” the newspaper said, especially when such questioning is to Harris’s own advantage.
There are another six weeks to go before the US presidential elections, and I am sure a few other damning exposures will come out before then. Let’s watch and ponder.
*The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly