After announcing his Supreme Court nominee in the Rose Garden last week, the President and seven attendees have since tested positive for COVID-19. Yesterday, you may have seen this hashtag trending:
The narratives emerging from this event are fascinating. The left is primarily emphasizing the President’s apparent incompetence and arrogance, focusing on the irony (if not cosmic justice) of an administration that has been downplaying the pandemic getting infected—at an event, no less, to announce who they’re going to push through the confirmation process to replace the late Justice Ginsburg.
The right, on the other hand, is focusing on the left’s apparent glee with the President’s diagnosis, underscoring the hypocrisy of condemning small gatherings while celebrating the massive congregations of thousands of people in protests across the nation.
Here’s a brief breakdown of this divergence:
Last week, President Trump held an event in the Rose garden announcing Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee to fill the vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The President and others who attended the event have since tested positive for COVID-19.
The Rose Garden Massacre
When I first saw this hashtag, it immediately struck me. Rose Garden Massacre is drenched in meaning, and tells a complex story without the need for much context.
There was a slaughter in the garden. But not in just any garden, a rose garden. Maintaining such a garden requires care and reverence; a massacre in a rose garden tells a story of chaotic violence in a place of beauty. Like a bull in a china shop. Or a Trump in the White House.
It’s a powerful, resonant symbol.
One reason this scene is so salient is that “massacre” is exactly the word the left would use to describe not only the President’s handling of the pandemic—with 200,000 dead on his watch—but also what he’s doing to the country, its institutions, and its reputation.
This word also connects to the broader narratives of “Trump the Dictator” or “Trump the Fascist.” Dictators cause massacres, and if you think Trump fits that description, judging this event to be a massacre is deeply intuitive.
More than a few people pointed out the spooky aspect this event.
To the left, Trump ignored Ginsburg’s dying wish to have her seat filled by the next president, instead taking advantage of the tragedy to push through a right-wing ideologue. Nominating Amy Coney Barrett to Ginsburg’s seat is akin to building a house on an Indian burial ground, so the President’s diagnosis at least looks like Karma.
This way of thinking is rooted in a folk-causality that we all experience. If you correctly count down to the exact moment a stoplight turns green, you really feel like you caused it. If one day you insult your mother and the next you fall ill, there’s a good chance you’ll ponder whether your poor health is punishment for your disrespectful behavior.
So violating the last dying wish of a near-mythological icon would obviously precipitate no less than a curse.
The Democratic Death Cult
The narrative on the right is not centered around the Rose Garden, but is instead emphasizing the left’s apparent glee in the potential demise of the President.
The idea of the “Democratic Death Cult” is nothing new to the right-wing narratives. Consider how the right frames the left’s support for late-term abortions, and how Governor Ralph Northam apparently advocated for post-birth abortions.
Moreover, consider how the right talks about the left celebrating the violence and destruction of American cities. The left glorifies the death of American cities and institutions, and so their response to the President is predictably macabre.
The narrative on the right is also emphasizing the left’s apparent hypocrisy about violating social distancing guidelines:
The story is that Democrats conveniently don’t care about the pandemic when thousands of protestors are crammed into the streets of American cities, but will criticize the Rose Garden event because it makes Trump look bad.
They are not really concerned about COVID or the health of the nation, but are just using the pandemic for political ends—as they’ve been doing all year.
A Story Falls Together
It’s important to remember that there’s a kind of gravity that pulls related assortments of facts into a coherent and easy-to-understand narrative. But beyond worldview-specific patterns and biases, some narrative structures are universal—i.e., there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end; there are heroes and villains; there’s causality and consequence, etc.
These structures have significant implications for how people interact with reality and how they consolidate new facts and information.
In a sense, we’re all myth-makers. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, there’s a great deal of utility in understanding it.
That’s all for now.
Notable Tweets and Amplifiers
David Lytle @davitydaveIt appears that a lot of people who attended Amy Coney Barrett’s SCOTUS announcement event at the Rose Garden are positive. Trump held a super spreader event at the White House.
Joe Weisenthal @TheStalwartFeels like there’s one set of COVID rules for the DC elite and another set for the rest of us. https://t.co/Z38vU7bmVj