Letters From an American

Trump’s Bullish Take on COVID-19

"It's going to be just fine"

Trump's Bullish Take on COVID-19

President Trump as he walks across the South Lawn toward the White House on March 5, 2017, returning from a weekend at Mar-a-Lago. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser-Pool/Getty Images)

June 23, 2020

Over all the other stories swirling around us these days looms the terrible toll the novel coronavirus pandemic is taking on America.

Today four doctors, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the pandemic. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the coronavirus has “brought this nation to its knees.” So far, the United States has had more than 2.3 million confirmed cases and more than 121,000 deaths. With about 4% of the world’s population, the United States has had about 25% of the world’s deaths from Covid-19.

States that reopened before they met the government’s criteria for safely doing so are now seeing spikes in infections. For the past two weeks, at least 18 states have seen increasing numbers of hospitalizations for coronavirus. Texas today hit an all-time high for new Covid-19 cases: 5,489. Governor Greg Abbott asked Texans to stay home if at all possible, and to wear a mask, maintain safe distances from other people, and sanitize hands. Florida has more than 100,000 cases, and scientists from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania who are modeling the spread of the disease say Florida has “all the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission.” Arizona, too, is running short of hospital beds.

Trump, who pushed states to reopen out of a desire to restart the faltering economy, has tried to explain away the rising numbers by attributing them to improved testing. At Saturday night’s rally in Tulsa, he said: “Here’s the bad part… when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.”

White House officials dismissed the statement as a joke, but Trump later stood by it. This morning, he tweeted: “Cases are going up in the US because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” The administration has declined to extend support for local Covid-19 testing sites around the country. Federal funding for the programs will end on June 30.

In fact, the rising numbers are not attributable simply to more tests. They are attributable to the continuing spread of the virus. While countries in Europe and Asia are on track to contain Covid-19, America has failed to control it so spectacularly that the European Union is considering barring Americans out of fear they will spread the infection to countries that have contained it. Despite talk of a “second wave,” our first wave never ended. The pandemic simply moved from early hot spots like New York City to other regions. To isolate and slow the disease, the US. needs increased testing and contact tracing, both of which are still insufficient.

Before Congress today, Fauci warned that “the virus is not going to disappear.” He was responding in part to Trump’s statement to Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity last week that the coronavirus is “fading away,” as the states reopen. “We are starting up and it’s going to be very, very strong,” the president said. “We’re very close to a vaccine and we’re very close to therapeutics, really good therapeutics. But even without that, I don’t like to talk about that because it’s fading away. It’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice and that’s going to happen.”

Trump is eager to move on from the pandemic to reopening the country, downplaying the seriousness of the virus and urging Americans to go back to normal life. That America is suffering so badly with this disease reflects poorly on him and his administration, which lost precious weeks in January and February downplaying the crisis, then got caught short of supplies, then refused to help hard-hit states, then dragged its feet on the testing and contact tracing that will allow us to reopen safely. His popularity dropped during the crisis, especially among the vulnerable elderly voters he needs to hold key states.

The president considers it unfair that people blame him for the nation’s poor response to the pandemic. This morning, he tweeted: “We did a great job on CoronaVirus, including the very early ban on China, Ventilator production, and Testing, which is by far the most, and best, in the World. We saved millions of US lives.! Yet the Fake News refuses to acknowledge this in a positive way. But they do give…. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is with us in all ways, a very high 72% Approval Rating. So, if he is in charge along with V.P. etc., and with us doing all of these really good things, why doesn’t the Lamestream Media treat us as they should? Answer: Because they are Fake News!”

Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican strategist and now a founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project disagreed. He said in an interview this weekend on MSNBC that Trump has “brought death, suffering, and economic collapse on truly an epic scale. And let’s be clear. This isn’t happening in every country around the world. This place. Our place. Our home. Our country. The United States. We are the epicenter. We are the place where you’re the most likely to die from this disease. We’re the ones with the most shattered economy. And we are because of the fool that sits in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.”

After the embarrassing rally in Tulsa on Saturday, Trump spoke tonight to an audience of about 3000 students in Phoenix, Arizona, a state where his support is wavering as coronavirus spreads and the economy suffers. The pandemic was a backdrop for the president’s speech.

Phoenix’s Democratic mayor pleaded with attendees to protect public health, but like Trump, most of the attendees ignored her and the new local ordinance requiring masks. They stood crowded together at the Dream City megachurch.

Trump made it clear that he is going to campaign for reelection on the idea that he and his supporters are fighting a cultural war for the soul of America. “We’re here today to declare that we will never cave to the left wing and the left-wing intolerance,” he said. He cheered on those “who stand up for America and refuse to kneel to the radical left.”

“They hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans,” he said. “Our country didn’t grow great with them. It grew great with you and your thought process and your ideology. The left-wing mob is trying to demolish our heritage, so they can replace it with a new oppressive regime that they alone control.”

Trump told the crowd that “someday” his work on coronavirus testing would “be recognized by history. Someday.” Referring to Covid-19 as “the plague” and the “China flu,” he told the crowd in Arizona, a state experiencing a deadly spike: “It’s going away.”


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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.