President Donald Trump is not an empathetic person.
For all the talk earlier this week about how the President may have turned a corner, tonally, when it comes to coronavirus, he made clear – in the space of a single answer to a reporter’s question at the coronavirus task force press briefing on Friday – that he is, as ever, the same guy he has always been.
Here’s the exchange between Trump and NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander, in which Alexander had asked Trump whether he overstated the benefits of chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria (and which the FDA has not yet approved for treating the coronavirus):
Alexander: I’m sorry, but Dr. (Anthony) Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree –
Trump: Well, I think we only disagree a little bit.
Alexander: Is it possible –? Sorry.
Trump: I disagree. Uh. Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, we have to see. We’re gonna know. We’re gonna know.
Alexander: Is it possible – is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope and misrepresenting…
Trump: No, I don’t think so…
Alexander: … the preparedness right now?
Trump: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think that – I think it’s got a –
Alexander: … and the not-yet-approved drug?
Trump: Such a lovely question.
Look, it may work and it may not work and I agree with the doctor, what he said. It may work, it may not work.
I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling. I – you know, I’m a smart guy, I feel good about it and we’re going to see. You’re going to see soon enough.
And we have certainly some very big samples of people. If you look at the people, you have a lot of people that are in big trouble.
And this is not a drug that obviously – I think I can speak for a lot of – from a lot of experience because it’s been out there for over 20 years. So it’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not like a brand new drug that’s been just created that may have an unbelievable, monumental effect like kill you.
We’re going to know very soon and, I can tell you, the FDA is working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you want it, you could have a prescription. You get a prescription, and by the way – and it’s very effective. It works.
I have a feeling you may – and – and I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. I mean, there’s been some interesting things happen and some good – very good things.
Let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know the expression? What the hell do you have to lose, OK?
Alexander: So, what do you say Americans who are scared, I guess? Nearly 200 dead and 14,000 who are sick and millions as you witness who are scared right now, what do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?
Trump: I say that you are a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question. I think it’s a very bad signal that you are putting out to the American people. They’re looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Concast – I don’t call it Comcast I call it Concast. Let me just, who do you work, let me just say something.
That’s really bad reporting. And you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.
That is, even by Trump’s lowered standards, an incredibly poor and tone-deaf response to what, honestly, is a very easy question. Alexander isn’t trying to nail Trump on the questions that are still swirling over adequate testing for coronavirus. Or for Trump’s repeated comparisons between coronavirus and the flu. Or his insistence that an anti-malarial drug had been approved by the FDA for use against coronavirus when it hadn’t.
Instead, Alexander was asking what the President of the United States, the leader of the country, would tell people who are terrified about the virus, its impact on their jobs and how it is changing our way of life. It’s a VERY fair question – especially considering that residents of New York and California are all being told to stay in their homes as of Friday morning. People are scared. They want reassurance. They want to know that their government and their leaders are doing everything they can to solve this problem.
Which is why all Trump had to say was something like: I know this is an anxious time for millions of Americans. I just want you to know that we have the brightest minds working day and night to help solve the many challenges coronavirus poses to our way of life. This is a difficult time but we have weathered difficult times as a country before and come out on the other side the stronger and more united.
Or, if that’s too much, Trump could have simple said what Mike Pence did when the vice president circled back to the question: “I would say, do not be afraid, be vigilant.”
Short and sweet! Reassuring without being untrue. Leader-ly.
Trump decided to go in the exact opposite direction. He attacked Alexander as a “terrible reporter” who asked “a very nasty question.” (Neither of those things are true.) Then he went into a riff on how he calls Comcast “Concast” (get it?!?!) – NBC is owned by Comcast – and finished up saying he has “been right a lot” on, uh, something.
Trump has famously/infamously described his communications style as “modern day presidential.” He showed on Friday what that term actually means: Angry, boorish and the opposite of a leader.