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Trump’s Reelection Playbook: Racist Tropes & Downplaying COVID Pandemic by Slowing Down Testing

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As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 nears 120,000 and mass protests against police brutality and racism continue, President Trump faces condemnation for his remarks at his poorly attended campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he repeated racist terms like “kung flu” and lashed out at protesters. “You just see this tremendous impulse to divide,” says Emily Bazelon, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. “This is what has worked for Trump in the past. He is not going to change now.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 nears 120,000, President Trump is facing condemnation for remarks made during his poorly attended campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He again referred to COVID-19 with the racist terms “Chinese virus,” “kung flu.” This is Trump speaking about the issue of testing.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They call me. They say, “The job you’re doing” — here’s the bad part. When you test a — when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, “Slow the testing down, please.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Slow the testing down, please.” Prior to the rally, six Trump campaign staffers working on the Tulsa event tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump also used his speech to attack nationwide protests against police abuse and racism, where demonstrators have toppled statues and other symbols of the Confederacy.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The unhinged, left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control. We’re not conforming. That’s why we’re here, actually.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also tried to dismiss calls to defund police departments by making up a story about a, quote, “tough hombre,” he said, breaking into the home of a woman who was home alone.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s 1:00 in the morning, and a very tough — you know, I’ve used the word on occasion, ”hombre” — a very tough hombre is breaking into the window of a young woman whose husband is away as a traveling salesman or whatever he may do. And you call 911, and they say, “I’m sorry, this number is no longer working.”

AMY GOODMAN: Trump is in Arizona now, where tomorrow he will hold a rally at a megachurch in Phoenix, Arizona. That was just a few of the things he said. Emily Bazelon, I wanted to get your comments, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, your new book, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. He went back to his old tropes, talking about coronavirus as a “kung flu” and the “Chinese virus.” He was there in Tulsa. It’s the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. He didn’t make mention of it or Juneteenth. Talk about what he did and didn’t talk about, and the significance of the racism that just infused this speech, where he said he would be speaking twice, outside to an overflow capacity of something like 40,000 people — virtually no one was outside — and inside, about a third of the arena, according to the fire chief in Tulsa, was full, about 6,200 people. It held 19,000.

EMILY BAZELON: I mean, you see President Trump going back to his characteristic script, and it’s a divisive script in which the people who he is caricaturing are people of color and in which coronavirus is kind of dismissed or mocked. Trump said after the speech, or the White House did, that he was just joking when he talked about slowing down the number of tests. But that allows him to have it both ways. He both gets to stir up his base with this idea that coronavirus is fake or not worth taking seriously, and then back away from that statement. And you see, when he is using these racist terms, this attempt always to blame foreign adversaries, to turn coronavirus into the kind of enemy that he can recognize, associated with China, as opposed to just an illness that the country needs to contend with on its own terms. So, I think you just see this tremendous impulse to divide. This is what has worked for Trump in the past. He is not going to change now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the racist allusion he made, not talking about any story in particular, but talking about an ”hombre,” which goes back to when he first announced for president, talking about Mexicans as rapists, and he says this hombre goes to a house where a woman is alone and, you know, breaks into her house. The ongoing litany of racism, and then this all happening in the context of the protests. And this is an issue that you have dealt with extensively, actually, and your book has now just come out in paperback, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. If you can talk about the significance of these protests when it comes to issues like mass incarceration?

EMILY BAZELON: So, I think there are two things happening here. One is that Trump is tapping into these law-and-order themes that Republican candidates, in particular, have been sounding since the 1960s. You talk about kind of out-of-control protesters, cities that sound like they’re in trouble, and you paint a picture of crime going unaddressed, the idea that you call 911 and no one’s there. These aren’t real images, but they conjure up this notion that the country is in danger and that people’s securities are being threatened. And that has typically helped Republicans in the past, and helped President Trump. So, it doesn’t matter that crime is way down and that, actually, the country is very concerned right now with racial justice in the criminal justice system. President Trump is sort of harking back to this old era in which people, especially white people, were afraid.

And in terms of the connection to the protests, you know, what we’re seeing is this just outpouring of concern about the way Black people and Latino people are treated by the police. The criminal justice system is just riddled with racial disparity. When I was reporting my book, I was really struck by how much research there is. At every phase of the development of a case, from a stop on the street to an arrest to a prosecution and a plea bargain, you see racial disparity. It is not explained by the kinds of charges, by the conduct of the people involved. It is an extra penalty that Black people and Latino people bear. And I think we’re seeing this real dawning of awareness about that, an interest in doing something about it, and the president just not a match for this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Emily Bazelon, I want to thank you for being with us, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, where she has profiled Attorney General William Barr, also teaches at Yale Law School and is author of the book Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. She’s also co-host of the Slate podcast Political Gabfest.

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