As several early open states see massive spikes in COVID-19 infections, likely to be followed by high death tolls in the coming weeks, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest is expanding on the Trump line. He’s telling crowds that masks are proven to be unhelpful and that Cooper’s stay-at-home orders are just government control. He’s also comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to a cultural revolution similar to the French Reign of Terror, the Bolshevik Revolution and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It’s hard to know whether he’s part of the disinformation campaign or just dumb as a box of rocks, but it’s clear that Forest is joining Trump in turning the election into a culture war campaign.

Forest is an appropriate standard bearer for the Republican Party today. He’s a fundamentalist Christian who is anti-science and conspiracy theory-oriented. He’s wrapping himself around Donald Trump, using bombastic language in an attempt to motivate his base. He’s largely given up on persuading the middle, believing that enough angry, under-educated white people can pull him across the line.

Forest can double down on the coronavirus denial because Roy Cooper’s approach to handling the virus is largely working. We closed early and are opening more slowly. While we’ve seen some spikes, the virus is more in check here than other, less cautious states. Places like Georgia, Florida, and Texas that opened early with few restrictions are seeing cases spike dramatically and hospitals and ICU’s get overwhelmed. Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas issued a mask mandate last week and says he wishes he had required bars to stay closed longer. Had Cooper followed the lead of Republican governors, Forest would likely be blaming him for opening up too early.

Still, what’s obvious is that Trump and the Republicans don’t have a message so they are relying on cultural division to drive their campaign. Trump believes that’s what got him elected in 2016 so he’s doubling down now. This morning he’s chastising NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. Forest is totally on that bandwagon, accusing Democrats of  wanting to “wreak havoc on America, they want to bring destruction to America, they want to bring destruction to the institutions of America that make America the greatest country in the world.”

In reality, masks really do help prevent the spread of the virus, though they work better with social distancing, testing and tracing, and other measures like avoiding crowded campaign rallies. Trump’s own former Homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert said that as many as 500,000 people could die by the end of the year if the current trends continue unabated. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former FDA Commissioner, says we are back to where we were when the virus first arrived. He predicted deaths will increase to more than 1,000 per day and instead of one epicenter like New York, we will have them in cities across the country, led by Florida and Texas.

“But we’re not going to really be able to crush this virus at this point because there’s just so much infection around,” said Gottlieb. “We really don’t seem to have the political will to do it.” Instead of fighting the virus, Dan Forest and Donald Trump want us to fight each other. Whether it’s a cynical and callous political disinformation campaign or just utter stupidity is up for debate, but it sure makes the choice in November stark.

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