President Donald Trump has long been someone who sees the world not as it is, but as he would like it to be. That alternate universe he occupies has never been more stark – or more dangerous – than in Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Over and over again, in public appearances aimed at informing and calming the public, Trump’s tone and message regarding the virus has been wildly at odds with facts as explained by medical experts around the country.
His “performance” at a Sunday afternoon press briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was the latest example of how Trump appears to be floating in his own world of happy talk and confidence.
* Within the first minute of his remarks, Trump said four different times that he was “very happy” that the Federal Reserve had cut interest rates to zero. “I think that people in the market should be very thrilled,” Trump added. (As of this writing, the stock market was crashing, with the Dow down more than 2,000 points.)
* Trump insisted that his claim last Friday that Google had agreed to build a nationwide system that provided people facts and testing information about the coronavirus was right all along. That’s directly contradictory to known facts. Google was piloting this sort of idea in the Bay Area but had no plans to go national with it when Trump initially announced it. In the wake of that announcement, the company has now agreed to building a national site. (Trump called the factual account that he had overstepped the facts last week “fake news.”)
* Trump berated the press for accurately reporting the fact that Google hadn’t planned to build a national website until after he said publicly they had. “And I’m sure you’ll apologize,” Trump said to the media. “But it’ll be great if we could really give the news correctly. It would be so, so wonderful.”
* “I would like to say that people shouldn’t go out and buy – we’re going to all be great,” Trump said. “We’re going to be so good.” He said this as the number of coronavirus cases has gone over 3,000 in the United States with 65 reported deaths.
* Then there was this line: “Relax, we’re doing great. It all will pass.”
* Trump, skipping over the obvious hardships to come as the virus infects more people and potentially strains hospital capacity, focused instead on how people are going to buy so much stuff when this is all over. “When this passes, when this goes through, you’re going to see numbers,” he said.
* He insisted that “we have tremendous control of” the coronavirus, although it’s quite clear – from elected officials and public health experts – that we in fact do not.
* Before he left the press conference to “go and make come calls,” Trump offered this final thought on the Fed’s move: “And I can tell you, that I’m very happy. I didn’t expect this. And I like being surprised.”
It was, from beginning to end, deeply out-of-touch. And incredibly at odds not just with what the moment required, but with the sober, fact-based presentation that Vice President Mike Pence offered up in Trump’s wake.
“The gap in communications ability, and in grasp of the demands of the moment, between Pence and Trump is just enormous,” tweeted New York Times political reporter Alex Burns.
While Trump creating his own set of facts – in which he is always the best, always the winner, always the hero of the story – isn’t new, the stakes here are radically different. Now is not a time for happy talk. Now is a time for buckling down, for staying home, for understanding that this virus isn’t something we have ever experienced as a society before.
When the President of the United States gets up in front of the American people and talks the way Trump talked on Sunday, it sends the wrong signal to people. And that wrong signal encourages behavior that is detrimental to slowing the spread of the virus, which we know is vital if we want to protect ourselves.
Trump may be winning in his alternate universe. But what he is doing in the real world is dangerous and deeply irresponsible.