Very soon, the United States will mark a somber milestone: 200,000 Americans will have died from the coronavirus.
How did President Donald Trump commemorate this remarkable loss of life? This way:
“We’re rounding the corner,” he told “Fox & Friends” of the coronavirus during an interview Monday morning. “With or without a vaccine. They hate when I say that but that’s the way it is. … We’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job, a phenomenal job. Other than public relations, but that’s because I have fake news. On public relations, I give myself a D. On the job itself, we take an A+.”
“A phenomenal job.”
This echoes how Trump has previously responded to questions about his handling of the virus in mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading rapidly in the United States, Trump rated himself a 10 out of 10 for his response to it. And in July when Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward asked what grade he would give himself, Trump said he gave himself an A, but that if his administration came up with therapeutics and a vaccine to deal with the coronavirus he would give himself an A+. (It’s also broadly consistent with how Trump has graded his entire presidency. “I would give myself an A+,” he told “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace in November 2018.)
How, you might ask yourself, could this President give himself top marks in handling the pandemic when he had admitted to downplaying the threat it posed to the public, driven skepticism about mask-wearing, pushed unproven (and even dangerous) remedies to deal with the virus and repeatedly underestimated the death toll?
Simple! Trump lives in a fantasy world of his own creation. He always has. In that world, he is the smartest, the savviest, the coolest, the best-looking and the winningest person in the world. Objective facts fall by the wayside in that world. And Trump has always – whether in the business world or the political one – surrounded himself with people who affirm that his world is the real one and the actual real one is some sort of conspiracy narrative driven by his “elite” enemies in the Democratic Party and the media.
All of which allows Trump to live in a sort-of bubble. Prior to being elected president, his wealth allowed him to exist in that bubble. Now the security of the White House does the same.
The problem for Trump is that in politics what grade you give yourself matters a whole lot less than the grade the people you need to vote for you give to your performance. And, on that front, Trump is failing.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday showed former Vice President Joe Biden with a massive 51% to 29% edge over Trump when it comes to who is more trusted to effectively deal with the coronavirus. (A CNN poll conducted in mid-August showed 52% of voters said they trusted Biden to handle the coronavirus while 42% chose Trump.) According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, just 4 in 10 Americans approve of how Trump is dealing with the virus.
The disconnect between how Trump sees his handling of the coronavirus and how the public sees it is vast. But again, objective facts play a role here.
The United States has, by far, the most coronavirus cases (6.8 million) and deaths (199,517) of any country in the world. Public health experts acknowledge the virus remains uncontained, with the country averaging more than 40,000 cases and 1,000 deaths a day. And with colder temperatures beginning to spread across the country, fears of cold and flu season compounding the coronavirus problem are very real. Talk of a vaccine is rampant but there is little expectation that herd immunity – around 60-70% of the public with Covid-19 antibodies – would happen for many months to come. (Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and someone who has spent a great deal of time studying infectious disease, said that “the end of the epidemic, best case, is probably 2022.”)
Put plainly: There is simply no evidence the country is “rounding the corner” on the virus as Trump suggested Monday. And while Trump is free to give himself whatever grade he wants in how he has dealt with the virus, his constituents disagree. Profoundly.