On Sunday, the U.S. toll for coronavirus-related deaths topped 41,000. This is an absolutely astounding number, albeit much lower than it could have been had we not implemented strict social distancing guidelines nationwide. More than 762,000 Americans have tested positive for the disease thus far and former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says reliable broad-based testing won't be available until September. Until we get a handle on widespread testing and come up with a tested vaccine, we are going to be living in some form of this isolated new normal, and the death toll will continue to climb. Of course, nobody wants this new reality, but these are matters of life and death.
With the toll climbing ever higher, you’d think this would be a time of reflection for the president of the United States. After all, in order to take office, the president takes this solemn oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." It is a heavy burden, to be sure. American lives are in their hands and this cannot be taken lightly. Some presidents apparently take this burden more seriously than others. For comparison’s sake, here is a photo of former President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Vietnam War as he grappled with the mounting death toll in Vietnam.
Shortly after that photo, Johnson would announce he was not seeking a second term.
Here is President Obama addressing the nation after the mass shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
And now Donald Trump is president, and 41,000 Americans have already died. On Sunday, Donald Trump held a “briefing.” Like he’s done in recent days, he played what is essentially a campaign commercial. A glossy, edited video showing whatever meek praise he has earned. In this case, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo complimented Trump on finally getting ventilators to the state with the most infections.
After the campaign video played for the press, Trump turned to take questions. Right off the bat, Weijia Jiang with CBS News asked him why he didn’t do more to warn Americans in February and why he continued holding rallies, golfing, etc. That set Trump off right away. He demanded to know who she was and where she was from before scolding her and in the absolutely creepiest possible tone, he cut her off to say: “Relax. Nice and easy.” Later in the exchange he ordered her to “keep your voice down” more than once. Ew. Nevertheless, Jiang kept her cool and proceeded with her questions. This is the duty of White House reporters, especially when 41,000 Americans are dead.
Trump was later asked about the new death toll mark and whether it was appropriate to be spending so much time patting himself on the back. Trump responded like the completely narcissistic bully he truly is by belittling the White House reporter who asked him about it during a Sunday press availability session. Here is the exchange:
Q Mr. President, 22—more than 22 million Americans are currently unemployed—
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q —as a result of this. Today we hit the grim milestone of more than 40,000 Americans now having died from the coronavirus. Can you explain then why you come out here and you are reading clips and showing clips of praise for you and for your administration? Is this really the time for self-congratulation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will tell you this: what I’m doing is I’m standing up for the men and women that have done such an incredible job—not for me; for the men and women—admirals, vice president, if I might. But all of the men and women, thousands—tens of thousands of them that built hospitals in New York and New Jersey and all over this country in record time. They’d throw up 1,000 beds in four days. I’m sticking up for those people. Those people have been incredible. I’m also sticking up for doctors and nurses and military doctors and nurses.
Q But the clips that you played and what you read earlier was praising you and your administration specifically—
THE PRESIDENT: All I played today was Governor Cuomo—
Q Why is now the moment to do that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: —saying very positive things about the job the federal government has done. And those people—
Q On the day where more than 40,000 Americans have now died.
THE PRESIDENT: And those—those people have been just absolutely excoriated by some of the fake news, like you. You’re CNN; you’re fake news.
And let me just tell you, they were excoriated by people like you that don’t know any better, because you don’t have the brains you were born with. You should be praising the people that have done a good job, not doing what you do. Even that question. So just so you understand, if we didn’t—
Q The question is: “Why now, sir?”
THE PRESIDENT: —do a job—
Q The question is “why now,” not “why are you doing it,” but why now?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll tell you why now. Are you ready?
THE PRESIDENT: Because these people are, right now, in hospitals. It’s dangerous. It’s going to a battlefield. And I want these people—I want you—
Q This wasn’t about hospital workers, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I want you and—
Q This wasn’t about the doctors.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s all about that.
Q This was about you and your administration.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not about me. No, nothing is about me.
Q That was what you read.
THE PRESIDENT: Look—look, you’re never going to treat me fairly—many of you. And I understand that. I don’t even know—I got here with the worst, most unfair press treatment, they say, in the history of the United States for a president. They did say Abraham Lincoln had very bad treatment too.
Q Sir, the Wall Street journal headline you just read has your name in it. It talks about “Trump remaking the playbook.”
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s a positive thing, because that’s an exercise in how to do it and what to do. And that’s good for the future. People can learn from that. But I want the men and women of this country that are in danger—the admirals and the generals that have done a job like they’ve never done before. They’re in war. We’re in war. You know, I call it the “invisible enemy.” That’s the war, and it’s a dangerous war.
We’re also at a level when you said “40,000 people”—and you’re right: almost 40,000 people. And—
Q More than.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, “more than.” Okay, good. Correct me.
Q We’re at 41,000.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Well, I’m really glad you corrected me, CNN.
But here’s the story. Let me just tell you something: if we didn’t do what we did, the 40,000 right now could be a million people. It could be a million people, not 40,000. It could be a million.
We’re tracking at much less than the lowest possible estimate. And that’s a great tribute to a number of people and a number of things. One of the things that it’s a tribute to is what’s taken place in this country with the American people, because they’ve gone inside. They’ve done it. They’ve done a job that nobody thought was possible.
And, in fact, when they did the models, as they call them, nobody thought it was possible. They did models not based on this kind of success.
I’ve seen New York streets, and I see it in the morning—I’ve watched, all my life, New York streets—and you can’t even see the pavement, there’s so many people. And you take a look this morning; you take a look—even on Friday morning, I looked at it, I saw it through a camera—there wasn’t a person on Fifth Avenue; there wasn’t a person on Madison Avenue. I’ve never seen anything like it. Because people have really listened to instructions, and they’ve listened to what we’ve had to say—and the professionals. They’ve listened.
And those people—people should really give them a lot of credit, including people like you, because you just don’t have the sense to understand what’s going on.
His glossy videos praise one person and one person alone: Donald Trump. Not the doctors, nurses, grocery employees, farmworkers, and all the others who are keeping us going, fighting this disease on the front lines.
It’s not really fair to call these press briefings as much as press bashings. He’s not really informing the public. On the contrary, he is often misinforming the public. Hungry for adulation from the MAGA types and in desperate need of a new villain to deflect from his own inept, incompetent handling of the pandemic, he’s increased his press bashing.
Of course it is important to note that the death toll didn’t need to be as high as it is now. Sure, it is tracking lower than early estimates, but that is attributable to the social distancing policies that are now in place. Policies that Trump resisted in the first case and is actively promoting the repeal of now. For comparison’s sake, South Korea, which announced its first confirmed coronavirus case on the exact same day as the United States, went into strict social distancing immediately. The public immediately began wearing masks and they implemented testing nationwide literally overnight, testing 10,000 citizens a day. Their death toll is at 236. The United States is over 41,000 and still climbing.
So, tip of the hat to these White House reporters as they grapple with someone incapable of telling the truth. Someone whose main attribute is using the office of the president to bully and belittle anyone who presents him with facts that counter whatever snake oil he’s trying to sell.