Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Monday, February 24

Feb 24: U.S. stocks plummet as coronavirus cases surged outside of China.  President Trump tweets, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA“ and “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”  The Trump administration asks Congress for $1.25 billion in emergency funding to boost the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak. *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

In 2017, Rush Limbaugh claimed to have a weekly audience of 27 million listeners. It’s probably somewhere closer to 35 million now. I am listening to his show today while waiting for my mother’s doctor’s appointment to end. The waiting room is cavernous, with wood carved chairs and dimly lit sconces on the walls, like a play is about to begin. Normally, I get up and turn off the television in doctors’ offices, but this one is mounted high in the corner of the room and I think the receptionist is not giving up the remote control. A fragile old white man sits next to me, checking his watch every few minutes.

I notice that Limbaugh’s show follows some of the most classic propaganda tropes. He repeats specific adjectives and phrases when referring to opposition groups. Democrats he describes as irrational and uninformed. Today, it’s “crazy Bernie,” referring to Bernie Sanders who is likely to be the next Democratic presidential candidate. Female democrats get to be “feminazis,” a term he coined. The press he labels “corrupt.” Black and brown people he designates as dangerous in some way. Remember the time he said that the NBA should be renamed the “Thug Basketball Association?”

The next step in Limbaugh’s broadcast is to make one critical argument that he will state at the beginning and end of each segment. Today, he talks about the virus, “Folks, this coronavirus thing—I want to try and put this in perspective for you. It looks like the coronavirus [is] being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump.” That part he says slowly. This is his main argument.
Now he builds the argument using evidence that is based on some key, pre-established beliefs of his audience. On the video broadcast of the radio broadcast (the kinder egg of right-wing media, if you will), you can see him sit up, almost bouncing, in his seat. He takes off his glasses and puts them on his desk, leaning towards his gold-plated microphone. “Now I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus.” He pauses again and points to someone off camera. “What?!? You think I’m wrong about this?? You think I’m missing it by saying it’s…” he sniffles and looks down. “Yeah! I’m dead right on this.” Now he’s rushing. he raises both arms up beside him like he’s trying to hold a pregnancy ball. It looks like he has lost some weight since his cancer diagnosis. “The coronavirus is the common cold folks! The drive-by media hype of this thing…” he draws out that last word, “thingggg”… “as a pandemic as the Andromeda strainnn as OH MY GOD if you get it your dead did you know that I think that the…” You can see and hear the scorn in his voice as his arms flap up and down. He stumbles looking for the right word, “the survival rate is ninety-eight percent?!?” Notice how he has based this observation on a premise that listeners already believe—in this case that the press is drive-by, criminal, and fully capable of lying.

A few seconds later, almost as an afterthought he says, “It probably is a Chicom (short for “Chinese communists,” I am guessing) laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized. All superpower nations weaponize bio weapons. They experiment with them. The Russians, for example, have weaponized fentanyl.” Now he is leaning on the pre-established premise is that countries develop biological weapons.

Next, he moves to making the claim that the virus is not so dangerous. He sticks with the example of fentanyl; while the world is terrified of something like fentanyl, he says, trace amounts of it won’t kill you. “Coronavirus is the same! It’s really being hyped as a deadly andromeda strain or Ebola pandemic that oh my god(!) is going to WIPE.. OUT… THE… NATION…” He is smiling now, his hands gesticulating wildly. “and the stock market it down by 900 points right now.” He assumes that his listeners will agree that trace elements of fentanyl will not kill you. Why should this coronavirus be any different?

He pauses and sighs, letting his exasperation sit in the silence. Now he declares the truth of it. He raises his left hand in a shoo-ing, dismissive gesture, like a scientist responding to a claim that the universe revolves around the earth. He repeats that only two percent of people with the virus die, and that this number is far less than the flu. He goes on to claim that the whole story is just media hype meant to generate audience interest. He mentions again the idea that the Chinese have weaponized the virus, somehow using as evidence the story about how the Russians used weaponized fentanyl to kill Chechan terrorists (and everyone else) during the Moscow theatre hostage crisis in 2002. He says that obviously, the “Chicoms” have done the same. And then, finally, he gets back to the point. “By virtue of the media, I think this is an effort to bring down Trump. And one of the ways is to scare investors.”

It’s all so nicely wrapped up in a bow. It is almost a relief when he says it. Ah yes! Of course. That fits. We can ignore the few nagging questions, like, if the Chinese have weaponized this virus and it is as bad as the fentanyl that the Russians used to kill 244 people at the Moscow theatre, then how is it possible that the virus is also no worse than the common cold? He speaks of the virus only killing two percent of the population, but he has not mentioned the rate of spread for this virus. We can ignore the evidence that the speed (the R value) at which this virus spreads doesn’t look like the flu at all, and that if everyone on the planet got this virus, two percent would still be 152 million people. Lastly, we can just accept the astonishing claim that the press of the entire world has gotten together in order to scare American investors.

The most frightening part of this is that thirty-five million people heard this story today. Rush Limbaugh, to whom Trump gave a Medal of Honor two weeks ago, has just told his listeners that this virus is a political ploy engineered by communists and the liberal press to tear down their president. What if we have to quarantine and his listeners refuse? Will they not become a serious threat to public health? It is deeply sad reflection of what we have become that even a disease cannot escape our political fracture. This is how disease becomes illness.

Read more

Trump Tweets that we have the virus under control and the stock market looks good to him

Rush Limbaugh, “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Feb 24, 2020.

Newt Gingrich says that Democratic Party has become a radical socialist party. Gingrich 360. Newt Gingrich on Fox and Friends | Fox News | February 24, 2020, 2020.

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Petrarca, Emilia. “Fashion in the Time of Coronavirus.” The Cut, February 24, 2020.
Wu, Zunyou, and Jennifer M. McGoogan. “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.” JAMA 323, no. 13 (February 24, 2020): 1239.
Kuhn, Anthony. “Secretive Church Sect At The Center Of South Korea’s Coronavirus Outbreak.”, February 24, 2020.
Wu, Zunyou, and Jennifer M. McGoogan. “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.” JAMA 323, no. 13 (February 24, 2020): 1239.
Akpan, Nsikan. “Coronavirus Spikes Outside China Show Travel Bans Aren’t Working.” Science, February 24, 2020.
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Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.