“Some health experts say the U.S. needs 5 million tests per day by June in order to safely reopen,” NBC’s Kristen Welker told Trump in an East Room Q&A Tuesday afternoon. “Can you get to that benchmark?”
“We have tested much more than anybody else times two,” Trump replied. “We’ve tested more than every country combined.” He went on to say, “We inherited a very broken test, a broken system and a broken test, and within a short period of time we were setting records. We have done more than the entire world combined.” And he said the United States would “very soon” surpass 5 million tests per day — a figure beyond his own administration’s rosy forecasts.
Let’s leave aside the credibility of Trump’s claim that the U.S. would “very soon” test more people each day than the country has managed to test in all of the past four months. And set aside, for the moment, Trump’s claim to have inherited a “broken” test for a virus that did not exist when he took office.
Focus on just one of his falsehoods: his statement that the country has done more tests “than the entire world combined.” Trump has said this over and over, and it has been corrected over and over, for it is demonstrably false.
According to an updated tally by Worldometers, the United States, after a painfully slow start, has done 5.8 million tests. But the rest of the world has combined done far beyond that number. Russia alone reports 3.1 million, Germany 2.1, Italy 1.8, Spain 1.3, the United Arab Emirates 1.1 million, and other countries have performed well more than 10 million additional tests. And the Worldometers testing tally doesn’t even include China.
Yet this disinformation, which in its repetition has become an obvious lie, is at the core of Trump’s coronavirus response. As he pushes to reopen commerce and schools, the country is relying on luck (a viral lull during the summer) and the ability to test people and track the spread. Though we are accustomed to Trump’s nonsense, we are now in a position where lives depend on the capability of a testing system Trump has repeatedly and consistently misrepresented.
Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler and his colleagues explore Trump’s tendency to double down on falsehoods in their forthcoming book, “Donald Trump and His Assault on the Truth.” “One hallmark of Trump’s dishonesty is that if he thinks a false or incorrect claim is a winner, he will repeat it constantly, no matter how often it has been proven wrong,” they write. Though “many politicians are embarrassed,” Trump “keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version.”
By coincidence, as Trump was repeating his nonsense about testing, Hillary Clinton was endorsing Joe Biden in a webcast. It was a rough production: The audio and video were out of sync, and Biden kept touching his face (in the middle of a pandemic!). But Clinton made the case that restoring transparency should be at the core of Biden’s challenge to Trump. “Trust is the glue that holds a democracy together and right now we are in an age of deliberate disinformation, and the reason for that is to destroy trust,” she said. “If you cant believe what your leaders say, if you’re told not to believe what the press says. . . . Then you can’t trust each other enough to solve the problems that we jointly face.”
That question may be litigated in November, but Trump’s disinformation will likely do battle with the virus before then. On Tuesday, Trump showed support for commentators Diamond and Silk after they were dropped by Fox News over their repeated nonsense about the virus: suggestions that the “deep state” is to blame, that the virus is “engineered” and that people should go “out in the environment,” not shelter in their homes. Most recently, the pair hosted a scientist — part of the fire-Anthony-Fauci crowd — who argues that the coronavirus can be cured not with vaccines but with vitamin supplements.
“I love Diamond & Silk, and so do millions of people,” Trump tweeted in their defense.
Now the country, fed a diet of such disinformation about the virus, is preparing to reopen workplaces based on the false assurance — 5 million tests a day! More than the rest of the world combined! — given by Trump’s repeated lies. What could possibly go wrong?
Sign up to receive my columns in your inbox as soon as they’re published.