Shock at low US confidence in Trump’s coronavirus narrative ignores decades of governments abusing Americans’ trust
Just over a third of Americans trust President Donald Trump’s information about the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new poll. But given decades of crises mishandled by the government, the only surprise is that it isn’t lower.
A CNN poll showing that just 36 percent of Americans trust Trump for reliable information about the coronavirus was held up triumphantly by the president’s critics on Tuesday as proof his credibility is circling the drain. But it’s more likely to be the fallout not just from Trump, but from the two preceding presidential administrations’ misrepresentation of crises, that has created epidemic levels of distrust among the people.
Trump’s own approval rating is hovering around 45 percent, according to the poll, conducted by CNN in conjunction with SSRS and released on Tuesday. While it’s been presented as a scathing mass rejection of Trump, the same pollsters are actually seeing an uptick in support for the president – the approval rating last month stood at 44 percent, and the previous month’s was 43. But Americans can’t be faulted for distrusting the Trump administration’s narratives, given prior presidents’ tendencies toward crying wolf in ways that have invariably left the American people worse off.
The last time Washington tried to mobilize the US with the threat of an invisible enemy was during George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ after the September 11 attacks. While it soon became apparent that the many deaths that occurred on that day had nothing to do with the subsequent US invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq, it was too late by the time Americans found out they had been lied to. Not only had the Afghan government willingly offered up Osama bin Laden, but Saddam Hussein was found to have had no ‘weapons of mass destruction’, and the entire narrative was the concoction of a secretive entity that had been set up to create a casus belli for war with Iraq despite the facts.
Bush’s approval ratings declined steadily following 9/11, as the nation was forced into one war after another on false pretenses. At his lowest point, just 25 percent of Americans trusted him. The ‘invisible enemy’ of terrorism – supposedly lurking around every corner and requiring Americans to practically disrobe at entrances to airports – had lost its luster, and Bush’s poor handling of real-life crises like Hurricane Katrina put the final nail in the coffin of his credibility.
While Barack Obama entered office on a high note with a promise of “hope and change,” his approval rating also plunged quickly – especially when he refused to stand in the way of the wildly unpopular 2008 ‘Wall Street bailout’ – sinking to 41 percent in 2011 as Americans grew restive after years of recession with no change in sight. By 2014, 70 percent of respondents to an MSNBC poll stated the country was headed in the wrong direction, with 80 percent singling out the political system as the primary culprit. Congress enjoyed an appallingly low 14 percent approval rating.
In light of such a history of distrust – the president who’d promised to not only shutter the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison but also end the seemingly eternal wars in the Middle East had not only failed to deliver on those promises, but actually launched several new wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan – it’s no surprise Americans are reluctant to embrace the Trump administration’s Covid-19 narrative. Another invisible enemy that requires them to sacrifice their livelihoods – a third of Americans couldn’t pay their rent last month, while even the paltry $1,200 stimulus checks supposedly heading to 130 million Americans have apparently not reached half their intended recipients yet – is reminding Americans of what happened last time they were told to put aside their real-life concerns and fall in line behind a narrative that turned out to be false. Like the fabled boy who cried wolf, it doesn’t matter if the emergency is real this time – the government has simply worn out its welcome by making demands on false pretenses.
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