Donald Trump wasn’t joking when he complained the other night that increased testing for the coronavirus was resulting in more reported cases.
Nor was he joking when he said that he told “his people” to “slow the testing down, please.”
The only question is whether he actually did it, or just thought about doing it.
Either way, however, the real outrage is that “his people” couldn’t necessarily slow things down if he asked them. That’s because in defiance of public-health experts, Trump has repeatedly refused to stand up anything like an actual national testing program.
He has consistently refused to launch a massive federal effort to develop supply-chain capacity to test more Americans, although that is desperately needed, and only the federal government is capable of doing what’s required.
His antipathy toward testing – towards anything that makes “his” numbers look worse – has been clear since the beginning of the pandemic. And he famously said in May, “In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad.”
Trump’s argument happens to be garbage, as a global health expert pointed out:
Proportionally, more than a dozen countries have tested more than us.
And our average test positive percentage is higher than almost all of them, meaning we are missing (i.e. not testing) many cases.
— Craig Spencer MD MPH (@Craig_A_Spencer) June 22, 2020
Indeed, when it comes to the virus – as with so many other things — Trump’s Washington is doing basically none of the things we need it to do.
In the absence of a national approach, states have been forced to take the lead, haphazardly and inconsistently, and with no ability to affect the major supply chain issues that continue to slow testing initiatives around the country, according to a survey from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry.
It is despite Trump, not because of him, that about 500,000 Americans a day are getting tested now. That’s a big improvement over two months ago, but still far short of the 5 to 20 million tests a day that some experts think is necessary to detect, track and isolate the infected and prevent repeated new outbreaks.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) offered up a sobering summary of the federal response earlier this month, in an interview with the Hill’s Steve Clemons:
You’ve got 115,000 Americans dead and 40 million people out of work, you know? How’s it going? The fact is is that our national testing program was a disgrace. I don’t care what the White House says, and if you look at every country on Earth that has got a handle on the virus, it’s because they had a national testing program in place early, aggressively. They did contact tracing and containment. And we have never gotten our act together on that at the federal level. And we are paying a terrible price for it. And we will never get those days back. We will never be able to put that suffering back together because we paid that price already and at the state level we’re now testing 50,000 people a day, and that’s great. We’re doing all the things necessary to win. But we didn’t have to be. We didn’t have to be hurt this badly and I’m sorry. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the administration will never convince me that they handled this properly.
That’s not to say that Trump is incapable of making the situation even worse. Conceivably, “his people” could pressure manufacturers to slow operations. And, notably, two Senate Democrats are complaining that the Department of Health and Human Services is still sitting on $8 billion of the $25 billion it was given to spend on testing and tracing.
As Politico reported, White House dissimulator Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s comment was made “in jest.” But that’s what Trump’s people say when he says something that’s true, or that he really feels — as CNN’s Daniel Dale so effectively pointed out.
Some other moments in the eternal Just Joking cycle:
– Trump invites China to probe Biden, Republicans say he was joking, Trump makes clear he was not joking
– Trump applauds Gianforte for assaulting journalist, Republicans say he was joking, Trump makes clear he was not joking pic.twitter.com/qeieqaaDdz
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 22, 2020
Joe St. George of Scripps Television asked Trump on Monday if he had really given the slow-down order, and Trump simply repeated his anti-testing argument.
VIDEO: Just asked President Trump if he actually ordered testing to be slowed down. He said in his Saturday speech he did. He didn't answer the direct question. pic.twitter.com/aDKGu6F2Ok
— Joe St. George (@JoeStGeorge) June 22, 2020
“If we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases,” Trump said. “If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves, if you wanna know the truth. We’ve done too good of a job.”
Nobody thinks Trump has done too good of a job, except him.
A note from Dan Froomkin:
I’ve written a lot about Trump’s response to the pandemic, and here is what has been clear all along: It’s an ongoing tragedy that he has no real plan to restore the country to health other than to peddle false hope, predict a quick end, adopt fake deadlines and shift the blame to others. The most urgent need is to test, test, and test even more, but Trump has never liked testing because the results “look bad”. The media has blown its coverage of the federal response by letting political reporters lead instead of health reporters. Political reporters pay way too much attention to whatever Trump says, such that whatever it is makes headlines. They let Trump set the agenda instead of letting knowledgeable people do it. Political reporters also give Trump way too much credit for trying, which he is not. They cover up for his incoherence, ignorance, cluelessness, gaslighting, and yes, just plain stupidity. They generally fail to properly exploit their rare access to him by confronting him with facts and piercing his bubble. They don’t hold him accountable for the suffering and deaths he is causing. They remain complacent in the face of a massive death toll, instead of relentlessly demanding more forceful action.
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