The President’s assertion without evidence about the virus was his latest attempt to minimize the threat of the coronavirus as it ravages the United States with cases rising across the country, and as an increasing number of top Republican officials from the nation’s governors to members of Congress pleaded with Americans to redouble their efforts to curb the spread of the virus, warning of the dangerous consequences if current trends continue.
Looking to distract the nation from the frightening spike in Covid-19 cases and America’s grim death toll as it surpassed 129,000 people, Trump has plunged deeper into a racially charged strategy meant to bolster his support among White Americans who feel threatened by the cultural change sweeping America after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the communists, saved American values, upheld American principles and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the earth,” Trump said Saturday evening at the White House. “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing.”
Misleading on the virus
It was in that same speech that he made his latest puzzling claim about the virus, as he described the administration’s flawed and lagging response to the pandemic as a great American success story and falsely suggested, once again, that the rise in cases in the US is due to increased testing.
“Now we have tested, almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases — 99% of which are totally harmless — results that no other country can show because no other country has testing that we have,” Trump said. “Not in terms of the numbers, or in terms of the quality.”
With front-line medical workers in the audience, Trump also touted the nation’s moves to manufacture more of the personal protective equipment and ventilators that were so desperately needed at the beginning of the outbreak. He said the US will “likely have a therapeutic and or vaccine solution, long before the end of the year.”
He again blamed the spread of the virus on China: “China’s secrecy, deceptions and cover-up allowed it to spread all over the world, 189 countries. And China must be held fully accountable,” Trump said. China has repeatedly denied these claims.
Trump’s refusal to confront the magnitude of the health crisis that America is facing has few parallels among other presidents in recent history. Historian Douglas Brinkley noted on CNN Saturday evening that President Woodrow Wilson attempted to minimize the Spanish Flu pandemic because America was engaged in fighting a war.
But that effort by Wilson was “nothing like what Donald Trump is doing here, which is trying to turn July 4th into his own private lionization of himself,” Brinkley said, pointing to Trump’s recent visits to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Arizona, “not caring about social distancing, not wearing a mask.”
“Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt in the middle of World War II not invoking the spirit of World War II?” Brinkley said on CNN’s “Newsroom,” describing Roosevelt’s effort to bring Americans together in a time of a national crisis. “At the very least Donald Trump should be giving a speech on this Fourth saying we have new heroes, the medical workers in America, the nurses and the doctors and technicians that we now can be proud of and some day there will be hospitals and memorials named after them.”
Sabotaging his own public health experts
Trump has held out on masks even as a long list of GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as his own surgeon general and public health officials, have pleaded with the public to wear face coverings.
In an abrupt reversal Thursday, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made face coverings mandatory for most residents across the Lone Star State. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Trump ally, wore a mask at a number of events last week, including with Vice President Mike Pence, who has walked a careful line himself — wearing one at numerous recent public appearances while saying the decision should be up to local officials and individuals.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, toured his state last week urging Georgians to wear masks. And even Trump’s boosters like Steve Doocy, a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” said this week that if the President wore a mask it would set “a good example” and he’d be a “good role model.”
Doocy noted that his friends in New Jersey and New York wear masks all the time and keep telling him that if the President wore a mask “it would make him look as if he’s taking it seriously and is listening to the CDC.”
But Trump did not heed that advice at either event this weekend, allowing his Fourth of July spectacular to play out like any other year. But in Washington, DC, at least, many of the usual spectators who would turn out for the display of military might and fireworks did not this year. The crowds were sparse, a sign that many Americans are now paying more attention to the guidance of medical experts than to the example of their President.
CNN’s Maggie Fox and Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.