A staple of Star Trek storylines is alternative realities: someone slipping through a wormhole into a parallel universe where history took a radically different turn. Cable news viewers went through the wormhole at 2pm on Tuesday: two captains, two crews, two languages (one English, the other Klingon).
Those watching CNN and MSNBC could see a sombre president-elect, Joe Biden, opening his remarks by acknowledging the terrible Covid-19 death toll (more than 285,000 in the US), setting out an ambitious vision for his first hundred days in office (“Masking. Vaccinations. Opening schools”) and unveiling a healthcare team heavy on experience, science and diversity.
But those watching Fox News or other conservative networks found the lame-duck president, Donald Trump, making no mention of the dead (“In many respects we’re still doing incredibly, with our stock markets and everything else, which are hitting all new highs”), boasting about the speed of vaccine development and ranting egregious lies about a stolen election.
In what is now routinely described as a split-screen nation, the contrast was on the nose. It was also an unusual role reversal from the norm, with the outgoing president delivering happy talk and sunny uplands, while his successor offered a darker vision that warned of trouble ahead.
Biden said “For Black, Latino, and Native Americans – who are nearly three times as likely to die from it – Covid-19 is a mass casualty. For families and friends left behind, it’s a gaping hole in your heart that will never be fully healed.”
By contrast, despite a daily death toll that now rivals that of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Trump began by taking a victory lap, praising Vice-President Mike Pence for doing “an absolutely incredible” job at the head of the coronavirus taskforce. “Stand up, Mike. Great job!” Applause.
Read more of David Smith’s sketch from Washington here: Trump’s ‘Warp Speed’ vaccine summit zooms into alternative reality