Donald Trump still doesn’t know how to talk about his administration’s covid-19 response, as evidenced by a town hall Tuesday night. The President and the People, an ABC hour-long event hosted by George Stephanopoulos, gave Trump the opportunity to offer a group of Pennsylvania voters answers to their concerns in a way that could have differed from his hostile responses to the media and other adversaries. Instead, Trump parroted the same talking points he has spewed since the pandemic began: It’s China’s fault, the virus will magically disappear one day, and even with nearly 200,000 Americans dead, he wouldn’t do anything different.
The event kicked off with a question by a diabetic man named Paul Tubiana, who voted for Trump in 2016. He was pleased with Trump’s pandemic response until May, when he claims Trump took his “foot off the gas pedal.”
“I’ve had to dodge people who don’t care about social distancing and wearing face masks,” Tubiana said. “Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?”
“Well, we really didn’t, Paul,” Trump said. “We’ve worked very hard on the pandemic. We’ve worked very hard. It came off from China, they should have never let it happen. And if you look at what we’ve done with ventilators and now, frankly, with vaccines—we’re very close to having a vaccine.”
Trump continued: “If you want to know the truth, the previous administration would have taken perhaps years to have a vaccine because of the FDA and all the approvals. and we’re within weeks of getting it. It could be three weeks, four weeks...”
But many health experts, including the chief of covid-19 vaccine initiative Operation Warp Speed, have expressed doubt about Trump’s fortuitous timeline.
Trump also prattled on about excess mortality rates, boasting America’s numbers in this regard. When Stephanopoulos showed Trump a chart explaining that in terms of covid-19 deaths per one million people, the United States does not bode well compared to other highly developed nations. Trump challenged this portrayal.
“The excess mortality rate is among the best in the whole world,” Trump said. “Excess mortality rate is compared to Europe, compared to other places, it’s about 25 percent better. In one case it’s over 60 percent better. And we also have a very big country.” But these stats are misleading, a sloppy attempt to make the United States’ paltry covid-19 death toll appear less grisly.
Later, a young woman named Ajani Powell asked Trump, “If you believe it’s the president’s responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities.
“I didn’t downplay it,” Trump said, “I actually, in many ways, up-played it, in terms of action.”
“Did you not admit to [downplaying it] yourself?” she asked, likely referring to news Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that knew how deadly the covid-19 virus was, but didn’t want to “panic” the public.
Trump continued, patting himself on the back for instituting a travel ban on China, which he said saved countless lives. But considering the fact that most early cases of covid-19 in hardest-hit New York City came from Europe, not China, this is a tepid victory.
The night was rife of other shameful moments: When a Black pastor critiqued Trump’s lack of acknowledgment of racism in America, Trump said, “I hope there’s not a race problem.” When responding to a woman’s concerns about police brutality, Trump said that sometimes police simply “choke.” He insisted that friends in South Korea called him and sang his praises, just as he insisted that he did achieve his 2016 campaign goal of restoring law and order to America, just not in cities run by Democrats.
Still, it was Trump’s floundering on covid-19 that was most galling.
At one point, Trump noted that the Democrats vowed to institute a national mask mandate, but said that, “they never did it.” Of course, they haven’t: They’re not in the White House yet.
And yet, Trump continued, noting that “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks” and that “a lot of people don’t think the masks are good.”
When asked who those people are, Trump said that those people are waiters, offering an anecdotal example of wait staff touching their masks and then plates, adding that “that can’t be good.” Of course, a megalomaniac germaphobe like Trump would focus on such an isolated detail and produce an entire policy agenda validating it, but his legitimizing of people who “don’t think masks are good” is precisely the problem the Trump supporter at the top of the program was concerned about. By Trump validating those who don’t want to wear masks—a proven impediment to the spread of covid-19—the president once again threw Tubiana and others like him under the bus.
Trump even insisted that covid-19 is “going away,” mirroring comments he made in the early days of the pandemic assuring that the virus will simply “disappear” one day.
“It’s probably going to go away a lot faster because of the vaccine,” Trump said. “It would go away without the vaccine, George.”
“It’ll go away without the vaccine?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Sure, over a period of time,” Trumps said.
“And many deaths,” Stephanopoulos countered.
“And you’ll develop, like, a herd mentality,” Trump said, confusing herd mentality with herd immunity. “It’s gonna be herd developed... I really believe we’re rounding the corner.”
What Americans will find around that corner, however, doesn’t seem promising.