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OPINION

Messy details about COVID-19 don’t faze those in Trumpland

In their eyes, Trump can do no wrong.

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa., Monday.
President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa., Monday.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Ninety-nine percent.

This was the number I heard repeatedly from those at President Trump’s campaign rally Monday in Allentown, Pa.

As in, 99 percent of people who get COVID-19 don’t die from it.

Never mind that the number is wrong and that the US mortality rate is estimated at 2.6 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Even if most people who test positive for the coronavirus survive, that ignores the fact that more than 227,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 in the past seven months. Nearly 9 million have contracted the virus, and many are suffering long-term health consequences.

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But those messy details didn’t faze the people who trudged to a truck factory on a cold, raw, rainy October morning to hear the president regale them for more than 80 minutes with stream-of-consciousness ranting.

In their eyes, Trump can do no wrong.

Were they troubled by his response to the pandemic? No, they said, he did the best he could.

One woman angrily told me, “He laid down what we should do. He put it all out there. People who don’t pay attention, you can’t do anything about it.”

When I asked whether he wasn’t paying attention in not wearing a mask, she yelled back, “How do you know he doesn’t wear a mask? Are you with him 24 hours a day?”

When I sheepishly responded that I’m not but I see pictures on TV, she waved her hand at me and said, “OK, the liberal media” and stormed off.

Besides, as several people told me, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said back in March that you shouldn’t wear a mask.

"But he says wear a mask now,” I reminded them.

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"Masks don’t protect you,” I was told by at least two women who were wearing masks.

“That mask is going to kill you,” said one woman, who believes Trump had been sent by God. “You’re breathing in your own carbon dioxide and germs and bacteria your body expels. If you have a very good immune system and you’re healthy, that mask is doing you harm.”

Plus, she said, “most of them that died were old people.” That included her elderly father.

The mantra of Trump’s biggest supporters is reminiscent of a rearguard action by an army under assault. When one fortification falls, they retreat to another.

“He didn’t cause it.”

“How could you blame him for coronavirus?”

"It came from China.”

“I don’t believe it’s as deadly as they say it is.”

“I don’t trust the numbers.”

When I again pointed out the huge death toll from COVID-19, an older woman said, “We’re all going to die.”

As has been the case since earlier this year, the president clearly doesn’t care that so many Americans have died from the coronavirus. He told the cheering crowd, “We’re rounding the turn” on the pandemic, even though the United States is, seemingly on a daily basis, hitting new highs for the number of coronavirus cases.

That so many of his supporters parrot his depraved indifference — even those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 — was shocking but hardly surprising.

Being a devoted Trump defender means making amends with that which is fundamentally indefensible. Four years ago, it was routine to hear many of the same excuses at Trump’s events. I’ll never forget the woman at a Trump rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who told me days after the “Access Hollywood" tape was made public that it was just “locker room talk” and that she had heard things just as bad about women from her husband and son.

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But she had a flicker of unease on her face when I asked if her son had ever bragged about grabbing a woman by the genitals.

Back then, some of those I spoke to were even willing to acknowledge that Trump was not perfect.

That contingent, it seems, has fallen by the wayside. Allegiance to Trump is the last bastion of his truest believers. He demands their complete loyalty and they happily comply. For them, every Trump valley is exalted; every mountain and hill of incompetence and lies is brought low; every crooked dealing made straight; and every rough place made smooth.

They are convinced that if Trump loses the election, socialism will be upon us. America will be no different from Venezuela. It is Trump who is manning the ramparts, serving as the last bulwark of truth and the American way of life. A Trump rally is for the president an opportunity for attention and veneration. But such affirmation is a two-way street: his supporters require the same validation and the same reassurance.

Losing that, it seems, would be a fate worse than death.

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Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.