As the COVID-19 pandemic first began to escape China's borders, experts warned that it was likely to become a global crisis of the sort long feared and long planned for. Donald Trump and Republicans condemned those warnings as fearmongering, an attempt to damage Trump's image and presidency. As cases arrived in America, Donald Trump famously declared that there would be "fifteen people," tops, "fifteen within a couple of days is going to be going down to zero." The first confirmed U.S. death would be acknowledged three days later.
As deaths began to soar, bodies so overwhelming morgues that refrigerated trucks were called in and plans were made to temporarily bury victims in parks, a momentarily somber Trump presented charts and predictions and mused that if his administration kept deaths under 60,000, instead of the 2.2 million estimated if the government did absolutely nothing in response, it would be a praiseworthy thing. As Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans to "be prepared" for 100,000 deaths, in April, Trump repeatedly insisted the U.S. would come in "far below" that prediction, "going towards 50, I'm hearing, or 60,000 people."
As 60,000 deaths came and went, Trump revised the numbers up haphazardly, choosing 65,000, or 70,000, or 75,000, as his own new estimates; after deaths soared past all of those milestones in the span of a single week in May—the same week he began a loud push for state "reopenings"—he revised upward again, to 100,000 or so.
Which is, he reminded the public, still "at the very lower end of the plane if we did the shutdown," before revising it upward again to 110,000 or "higher." By the end of May, weeks later, he was still boasting of "100,000 plus that looks like will be the number."
Then 100,000 deaths passed without fanfare. It became 120,000, then 150,000, and Trump's eagerness to predict final numbers began to wane. He still clung to one number, though: the "2.2 million" U.S. deaths estimated to be the total if no state or federal action was taken whatsoever, leaving only eventual "herd immunity" to limit further spread.
The United States is now either on the cusp of 200,000 dead or has long passed it, depending on which count you go by. Trump, for his part, remains unbothered by the chains of reality as we know it, and continues to believe that the 60,000 deaths, the 70,000 deaths, the 100,000 deaths, and the 200,000 deaths all mark milestones only of his own brilliant decisiveness. His newest number offered is that it is at least not 240,000 deaths, as some of the models he previously belittled warned of, and is now suggesting more aggressively that if the number of deaths is lower than "maybe three million" people it still counts as "phenomenal job" on his part.
We are likely to blow past the 240,000 milestone somewhere in the vicinity of Election Day. If Trump loses—and acknowledges it—he will undoubtably then declare that all deaths past that mark are now the responsibility of his enemies. As well as the ones beforehand. And he Will. Not. Care.
Because the Republican Party is now a fascist cult centered around an array of purpose-driven propaganda outlets, from Fox News, Facebook feeds, and Trump and his lawmaker allies to minor talk figures and the usual professional hoaxers, Trump's view that the worldwide pandemic is an inflated half-fiction deployed mostly as personal insult to himself is widely shared by his ever-eager base. The New York Times pipes up with yet another of the interminable stories about folksy Midwestern gullibles repeating, sometimes verbatim, whatever conservative conspiracy theories they were most recently exposed to, pandemic be damned.
Trump, for his part, today still considers himself worthy of an "A+" for his "phenomenal job, not just a good job, a phenomenal job" on combatting the pandemic.
There remains no federal testing effort. It was abandoned.
There has never been a nationwide federal tracking effort.
There is no federal plan to reduce transmissions now, other than to presume that a vaccine will at some point be produced and be distributed.
Trump continues to mock and belittle those who wear masks and single out state leaders who have implemented pandemic closures.
It is now a near-certainty that the United States will top 300,000 pandemic deaths, likely that it will pass 400,000, and quite possible that the half-million mark will be passed. The virus is expected to return, as a second "wave," when cold winter weather forces most of the country indoors into heated, but poorly ventilated, spaces.
An “A+”, Trump says. A phenomenal job, reaching 200,000 deaths with tens of thousands of others sure to come, as the map turns darker shades of red.