The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What kind of person calls 100,000-plus dead a ‘very good job’?

Over the past four months, President Trump has regularly sought to downplay the coronavirus threat with a mix of facts and false statements. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The synchronicity was impressive.

A few minutes before noon last Tuesday, the head of the Trump International Hotel in Washington tweeted a video proclaiming that “we’re going to have a huuuuuuge celebration in a few weeks.” He was apparently referring to the hotel’s plan, announced days before the District closed its restaurants, for a “spectacular Easter brunch buffet in our grand lobby.”

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Three minutes later, the White House began a Fox News “virtual town hall,” in which President Trump announced his desire to return Americans to work — “by Easter.” He envisioned “packed churches all over our country.”

And a packed brunch at the Trump International!

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This would have been a godsend for the Trump Organization. As The Post had reported the previous evening, Trump’s business had shuttered six of its top seven top clubs and hotels. But reopening workplaces as the virus raged would have been catastrophic for the country, potentially killing more than 2 million. Mercifully, Trump’s public health advisers prevailed.

It wasn’t the first time Trump’s actions have left some question about whether he’s doing what’s best for the country or what’s best for him. At a time when Trump seems detached from the suffering, several presidential pandemic actions benefit his business, his campaign or his personal standing.

On Sunday, Trump’s public health advisers said that even with strict countermeasures, deaths from the coronavirus in the United States could be between 100,000 and 200,000 — worse than even the worst-case scenarios just a month ago, and a spectacular failure of leadership for a president who claimed “we have it totally under control.” By comparison, about 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks and about 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

But Trump reasoned that, because 2.2 million Americans could die without any attempt at controlling the virus, “if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — it’s a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000, so, we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job.”

How does a human being use the phrase “a very good job” in contemplation of the deaths of 100,000 to 200,000 souls?

Trump seemed more moved by the number of people watching him. He tweeted Sunday that “the ‘ratings’ of my News Conferences etc. are so high, ‘Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers’ according to the @nytimes.”

And it’s not just the briefings where Trump has used the pandemic to promote himself. A taxpayer-funded mass mailing from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was labeled, in bold, capital letters, “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES FOR AMERICA.” Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign injects oblique references to the crisis in its fundraising messages. “Our Nation is facing uncharted territory,” says one encouraging donors to become a “Gold Card Member.”

Political considerations seem to color humanitarian decisions. Wearing a “Keep America Great” cap during a CDC tour earlier this month, Trump said he wanted those stranded on the Grand Princess cruise ship to “stay on” the ship because “our numbers are going to go up” if stricken passengers were counted in U.S. case totals.

And Trump has seemed less preoccupied with the human toll than with who might be blamed. He has repeatedly said the virus is “nobody’s fault” even as he blames China and the Obama administration. “The Democrats’ single talking point . . . is that it’s Donald Trump’s fault, right?” he said. “No, just things that happened.”

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Of more consequence: Trump gives the impression he’s playing politics with medical supplies. While Democrat-run states with major outbreaks have been desperate for supplies, Florida, a must-win state for Trump with a Republican governor, got everything it asked for. Though New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pleads for ventilators, Trump said: “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” Trump even suggested New York hospital workers were selling masks on the black market.

After Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, complained that medical supplies the state received from the national stockpile was “barely enough to cover one shift,” Trump dismissed her as a “woman governor” and “ ’Half’ Whitmer.” He said Whitmer and Washington state’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who had also complained, are insufficiently “appreciative,” adding: “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”

Democrats were sufficiently concerned that Trump would spend stimulus funds on his own business (he hadn’t ruled that out) to add a provision blocking him. But his business could still benefit from loans and tax breaks in the package, just as it benefits from Trump’s successful campaign to get the Federal Reserve to drop interest rates.

This week, Trump directed his administration to begin work “immediately” on restoring tax breaks for corporate meals and entertainment. That would do nothing to help with the current crisis. But it would be a long-term windfall for somebody who owns restaurants and hotels.

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