Scientists have concluded that 130,000 lives could be saved in the United States in the coming months if a universal mask is worn. But Mr. Trump mocks face covers and denigrates medical experts, undermining their credibility with the public, including Dr.Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s chief epidemiologist who must now have a security detail after the defamation of the president and his allies. As opinions about the virus increasingly align with parties, many Americans are expressing distrust of a possible new vaccine, which could lead to widespread resistance to inoculation.
Keep up with Election 2020
Beyond the health crisis, Mr. Trump’s successor, whether next year or five years from now, could face a broader crisis of faith, challenged to restore his credibility with allies and opponents overseas while presiding over a country where the truth has been broken down into the tribes and much of the public have been conditioned to be wary of institutions of all kinds.
Mr. Trump has spent four years telling Americans not to trust anyone but himself, whether they are public health experts, scientists, journalists, judges, career civil servants, investigators, generals, intelligence agencies, election officials and even letter carriers. “Just remember,” he told a crowd one summer, “what you see and what you read is not what happens.
Confidence, once lost, is difficult to restore. “We know a lot about the delegitimization of democratic institutions over the past two centuries,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “But we don’t know anything about how you relegate institutions that have lost their main value and authority for so many people. This is the real question.
Dishonesty has been a defining characteristic of the Trump presidency. The volume of untruths, both petty and deep, has been cataloged and quantified time and time again, the subject of a bookshelf filled with books and endless writhing on the world of “post-truth.”
It was a president who accidentally accused a TV presenter of murder, who spread the claim that Osama Bin Laden was not actually dead and that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had Navy’s SEAL Team 6 killed, who literally took a one-map Sharpie to create their own false weather forecast and berated meteorologists for daring to correct it.