Donald Trump Is Exploiting the Coronavirus Pandemic to Sell Campaign Swag

Classy.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Though President Donald Trump has been not big in the empathy department during the coronavirus pandemic—he more often talks about his own TV ratings than the tens of thousands Americans who have died during the crisis—the Trump campaign wants his supporters to know that Trump truly cares about them during this time of tragedy and hardship. As proof of Trump’s deeply felt concern, his campaign is offering to send his devotees a set of Trump-Pence pint glasses. All for just a contribution of $31.

Yes, the Trump campaign is exploiting the coronavirus to sell campaign swag to Trump supporters. And it is claiming this is a beneficent act on the part of Trump himself. 

This week, the Trump campaign sent out a bizarre email to its lists of supporters. “Friend,” it began, “We have some exciting news to tell you.” It noted that Trump “knows the past few weeks have been extremely difficult for Americans from all across the Nation.” Trump, the email said, appreciated those who have stood with him and “wanted to do something special” for them.

That “special” act Trump wished to perform for his supporter during this difficult stretch was to offer them “EXCLUSIVE ACCESS” to “Official Trump-Pence Pint Glasses.” Isn’t that special? Though you may be suffering due to the coronavirus, you now can buy Trump junk. But, the email pointed out, you have to send in $31 for the set of these glasses by midnight. (That was a crock—because the campaign zapped out this email two days in a row. There was no actual midnight deadline.)

This sounds like a bad joke. But it’s not. While tens of thousands of Americans are dying, Trump and his campaign decided he could console his supporters and show them he’s on their side by peddling them campaign tchotchkes. And this email—sent out with the subject heading “Cheers”—also requested contributions of $250 and more. What could be more Trumpian? I will recognize this is a difficult period for you and other Americans by offering you the opportunity to help me.  

The Trump campaign’s fundraising emails often have the whiff of grift. They frequently tell supporters they can join an exclusive group of donors—become part of the Trump Gold Card Member circle!—and be placed on a list of names that Trump will review personally, as long as they send in a donation immediately. (It can be as small of $35.) This is all bunk and goes above and beyond the usual political sales pitches. 

Now the coronavirus pandemic has been seized upon by the Trump campaign as a marketing opportunity. Especially, given that so many Americans are currently self-isolating in their homes. In other recent fundraising solicitations, the campaign has peddled “BRAND NEW Trump-Pence 2020 Playing Cards.” Two decks for “only” $30. And the email for this offer proclaimed this was another special deal, for Trump has “requested that we give you EARLY ACCESS to get these iconic cards before anyone else.” Moreover, the email stated, this is the perfect time to buy playing cards: “We know you’re at home right now, doing your part to Keep America Safe, and there is no better way to keep yourself entertained AND support your President than by purchasing our Official Trump-Pence 2020 Playing Cards.” Another campaign email offered an “Official Trump Puzzle” for $45. This note, too, declared that during a time of social isolation “there is no better way to pass the time with family AND show your support for President Trump than by purchasing a Trump Puzzle.”

Trump glasses, Trump cards, Trump puzzles. They’re part of a long tradition: Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, Trump University. If there’s a chance to sell something, Trump will give it a try. (Another recent email from the campaign promoted Trump-Pence welcome mats.) Blatant commercialism and self-promotion is no surprise for Trump. That is his brand. But this week he and his campaign showed that they can surpass the usual Trumpish crassness by using the horrific coronavirus nightmare to make a buck by selling pint glasses bearing the campaign’s logo. How long can it be before Trump and his campaign attempts to raise money by hawking MAGA face masks? 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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