President Trump was irate on Thursday — not because unemployment claims topped 17 million, or because more than 16,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, or because we lack a national testing program, or because African Americans and Hispanics are dying in disproportionate numbers. What really fried him was the statement from the usually accommodating Wall Street Journal editorial board that his briefings are “less about the virus and more about the many feuds of Donald J. Trump.” (Did the Journal just notice this?)

This is what the twisted mind of a narcissist focuses upon — himself. His definition of “fake news” is those reports that offer insufficient praise. That’s also become his main obsession with reporters at the daily briefings, whose basic, factual questions he calls “nasty.”

In addition to the Journal’s criticism, Trump’s ire can be attributed to the disappearance of his polling “bump” as the magnitude of the pandemic and the utter ineptness of his response hit home. One does not need to watch his briefings daily to realize his serial promises never seem to pan out. The Post reports, “There, from the podium, generous quantities of medical supplies are distributed. The innovative forces of American science and industry are marshaling to defeat the enemy and make testing widely available. The economy gets the intensive care it needs for America to quickly recover. The ‘medical war,’ as Trump calls it, is being won.” But none of that is true, as the far more reliable sources of information (e.g., public health professionals, governors) remind us every day. The unemployment claims, the deaths and the hospitalization numbers are proof all is not well.

Trump’s sycophants naturally argue the bad news and horrible figures must be “inflated.” On Thursday, Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health batted this down. "There is absolutely no evidence that that’s the case at all,” Fauci told NBC. “I think it falls under the category of something that’s very unfortunate — these conspiracy theories that we hear about. Any time we have a crisis of any sort there is always this popping up of conspiracy theories.” In other words, the real-world numbers are correct; the fake news comes from Trump and his sycophants.

The coronavirus pandemic is too serious to let the president hold freewheeling press briefings in real time, says Post media critic Erik Wemple. (The Washington Post)

At some level, the administration understands how bad things are. The surge of unemployment claims in such a short period is unprecedented and frightening. (The Post reports: “Janet L. Yellen, one of the world’s top economists, said the U.S. unemployment rate has jumped to at least 12 or 13 percent already, the worst level of joblessness the nation has seen since the Great Depression.”) Naturally, the “solution” is to promise an unattainable goal: Reopen the economy by May.

That is as unrealistic and disconnected from reality as was Trump’s promise of full churches on Easter Sunday. In contrast to the Trump spinners, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), among the most effective truth-tellers in the country, said at his Thursday news briefing, “How do you get back to work as quickly as possible? It’s going to come down to testing. You’re going to have to know who had the virus, who resolved the virus, who never had it. And that’s going to be testing.” Ah, the national testing plan we still do not have.

With Trump’s approval numbers receding to pre-pandemic levels and Biden establishing a lead in early polling (5.9 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average), Trump is in unfamiliar territory. In the past, media saturation, out-and-out lying and right-wing media propaganda seemed to get him through the immediate news cycle. Now, his media blather is white noise in the background. In the foreground is a vivid and terrifying pandemic he did not prepare for and resists using his full authority to combat. It may have taken a pandemic to drive home the message to Trumpian Republicans: Facts matter.

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