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OPINION

Trump’s national plan is to sabotage the election, not to stop COVID-19

From the beginning, he’s accepted the virus as an election-year disruptor of the democracy he so despises.

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe file photo

At his Monday coronavirus press conference, President Trump was laser-focused on what has become the greatest crisis of his presidency:

Mail-in voting.

Attempting to deflect questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing interference in November’s election, Trump said, “I’ll tell you who was meddling in our elections. The Democrats are meddling, by wanting and insisting on sending mail-in ballots when there’s corruption all over the place.”

That’s a tart Trump cocktail of lies. As was the case in 2016, Putin is again putting his thumb on the scale in favor of his “useful idiot” in the White House. And there is no evidence that mail-in ballots cause “corruption all over the place.” Yet this is all part of Trump’s grand and destructive strategy, including crippling the United States Postal Service, to upend the presidential elections.

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Trump, you see, does have a plan in 2020.

Ignoring COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has been Trump’s scheme all along. It’s wrong to say he’s done nothing. If a house is in flames and no one moves to put it out, that is doing something — allowing it to burn to the ground.

And that’s where we are regarding the pandemic. It’s not just Trump’s incompetence that has allowed America, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, to amass 25 percent of its coronavirus cases. It’s also been his vindictive willfulness to let this fire consume lives and livelihoods mostly unchecked.

Trump isn’t only overlooking the virus because he believes focusing on it may hurt his reelection chances. From the beginning, he’s also accepted it as a malevolent gift, an election-year disruptor of the democracy he so despises. At every turn, Trump has used the coronavirus as a means to deter voting and scare voters because he knows every woeful day he stumbles through his presidency lessens his chances at a second term.

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As usual, Trump tipped his hand early — four years ago. As a Republican candidate, and then nominee, Trump called the electoral process rigged and, without a shred of evidence, made egregious claims of widespread voter fraud.

(Voter fraud, a frequent GOP battle cry, is virtually nonexistent, though on the rare occasion when someone is caught, it’s usually a Republican. Imagine that.)

Early in the pandemic, when many assumed any pandemic-related interruptions would last, maybe, a month, Trump was already looking toward November. When he should have been declaring a national mask mandate, ramping up testing, and flooding hospitals with personal protective equipment, he was falsely declaring that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”

That’s where his mind was in April, and it was just the beginning. With his sliding poll numbers and the economy unraveling, Trump floated the idea last month of delaying the election which, to be clear, he does not have the authority to do. Even Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, usually a reliable Trump henchman, seemingly put the brakes on such nonsense.

Of course, that’s hardly a deterrent to Trump. Though he has voted by absentee ballot for years, he continues to portray mail-in ballots as inherently fraudulent — except in swing-state Florida, from where he sends his ballot.

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Trump views Election Day as the Grinch sees Christmas: something he must stop from happening. With COVID-19 more rampant than ever, people are rightfully wary of voting in-person; Trump wants to keep it that way. Convinced that more voters will equal his ignominious defeat, he’ll keep railing against mail-in voting and attacking the Postal Service. He’s disrupting a system that has remained reliable through wars and catastrophes because sabotage and stealing an election may be Trump’s only path to victory.

Trump cares only about saving himself — not us, or democracy. So never think the president doesn’t have a defined plan for this nation. It just isn’t one designed to take on a pandemic which, by week’s end, will have probably claimed more than 170,000 American lives on his watch.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.