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Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (9/04 Update)

News and Analysis
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (9/04 Update)

If Donald Trump’s administration had done even an average job of leading the country through the coronavirus pandemic, about 145,000 lives could have been saved, according to the New York Times. That’s 79 percent of the United States’ actual death toll, which is currently at more than 186,000 lives lost to COVID-19. It’s sobering to consider those numbers in light of Trump’s and his administration’s poor response to the pandemic.

Six months into the pandemic, Trump’s failures are so catastrophic that they are impossible to ignore. Yet that’s exactly what he and his Republican cronies tried to do last week at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Our special RNC edition of this blog series covered Trump’s lies and calculated deceptions at the RNC; his behavior in the days since has not improved.

  • On August 31, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released weeks of confidential White House reports about the spread of the pandemic that were issued from late June through early August. These reports demonstrate that Trump and senior administration officials knew about the severe outbreaks that spread throughout the Midwest and the South even as they publicly dismissed concerns – and continue to do so – about the threat of this public health crisis.
  • Trump continues to ignore and attack health experts, and his latest target is the Food and Drug Administration. Since he first claimed that the “deep state” at the FDA is impeding progress for a COVID-19 vaccine to damage his reelection prospects, he has continued to undermine the agency’s integrity.
    • Last Saturday, August 29, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced “a major breakthrough on the China Virus” after Trump learned about a promising, but early, FDA finding – the same finding that Trump called “a historic breakthrough” at the RNC.
    • Perhaps in response to Trump’s pressure, FDA chief Stephen Hahn indicated his willingness to approve a vaccine before human trials are complete, raising concerns that such a vaccine could be ineffective or even harmful.
    • In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began telling state health officials to be ready to distribute a vaccine as early as November 1 – heightening concerns that Trump is pressuring the nation’s top scientists to approve a vaccine before the election, even if it is not ready.
  • Scientists at the National Institutes of Health, anonymous sources at the FDA, and other outside experts have pushed back against Trump’s manipulative political tactics. Former Obama FDA chief Margaret Hamburg told Stat News that political interference at the agency “has been an issue in past administrations Republican and Democratic … But never at this level, and never accompanied with the kind of public derision and undermining of both the employees who work at the agency and, frankly, the very mission of the agency.”
  • The Washington Post reported on August 31 that the White House coronavirus task force’s new advisor and Trump confidant, Scott Atlas, has advocated a “herd immunity” strategy to deal with the public health crisis. This strategy calls for letting the pandemic run rampant throughout the country until a majority of the population builds resistance to the virus, while only protecting a small segment of vulnerable populations. According to emergency physician and CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, the herd immunity approach is so dangerous that it would likely result in at least two million Americans dying in the process.
  • On August 29, Trump retweeted two QAnon supporters, both of whom promoted the conspiracy theory that the CDC has exaggerated the COVID-19 death toll on its website. On August 31, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst later repeated these false claims during a campaign event, saying she was “skeptical” of the statistics. (Twitter later removed one of the tweets Trump retweeted for disseminating misinformation.)
  • Federally funded relief packages of fresh produce will include a letter signed by Trump and printed on White House stationery that touts the administration’s response to the coronavirus.
  • Trump continues to lie about the current state of the economy as a reelection strategy, incorrectly conflating the stock market with the “great American [economic] comeback” as an example of his purported success. This claim, which was repeated frequently at the RNC, ignores the real, and grim, state of the economy: More than 10 percent of workers are jobless and almost 30 million people are receiving some form of unemployment assistance. Economists are now warning that another recession, equal to or worse than the Great Recession, is looming, but Trump still refuses to work with Congress to come to an agreement on the next stage of coronavirus relief.

Thinking back to the number of lives that could have been saved if Trump had been able to do even a passable job of managing the pandemic, the administration’s failure to establish any kind of coordinated plan to address the public health crisis – other than to deny its effects – is inexcusable.

Due to Trump’s fatal mismanagement, although the U.S. accounts for only four percent of the world’s population, it has 22 percent of worldwide confirmed COVID-19 cases. It’s no wonder a majority of Americans are embarrassed by the government’s response to the pandemic.