“You know, it’s not just this country; it’s many countries,” Trump told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “We don’t talk about it in the news. They don’t talk about Mexico and Brazil and still parts of Europe — which actually got hit sooner than us, so it’s a little ahead of us in that sense. But you take a look, why don’t they talk about Mexico?”
He added in the Oval Office on Monday: “When you watch the news — the local news — and you see it, and it’s like all about the United States. They never like to talk about what’s going on in the world. But you look at Mexico, Brazil, many countries in Europe, many countries all over — Russia."
And he said in a tweet Tuesday morning, “You will never hear this on the Fake News concerning the China Virus, but by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well ...”
But these comparisons don’t at all show what Trump suggests, and that last one -- the idea that “most other countries" are worse off -- is stunningly false.
One of the main comparisons used to illustrate the grim nature of the continued outbreak in the United States is a comparison with Europe. Here’s how we compare with both the European Union and all of Europe on confirmed coronavirus cases per capita, using data from the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data:
Trump has cast this as mostly a symptom of our superior testing, which isn’t accurate. But let’s look at the metric he emphasized in the Wallace interview: deaths. The difference is indeed less stark when you look at per capita mortality. But even then, the United States is about five times as bad as Europe and 10 times worse off than the E.U.
Trump’s point about Europe’s outbreak having started sooner makes some sense. But if you align the trends to begin when a certain number of per capita deaths were reached in each place — rather than on the same date — we still peaked higher than Europe and are well above where it was at the same juncture in the outbreak.
Breaking this out by individual countries in Western Europe, along with Japan and South Korea, you can see that some peaked higher than the United States in per capita deaths, but our numbers continue to significantly outpace most of the world’s biggest economies.
The above chart, notably, doesn’t include the countries Trump cited: Brazil, Mexico and Russia. Trump is right that their situations are bad right now. Unlike some of the countries above, they didn’t have the initial surge in cases and deaths, but Brazil and Mexico have trended consistently upward, and Russia is having problems too — though its death rate isn’t close to being on a par with ours.
But that’s also picking three countries out of many — with two and possibly all three not being in the first world (depending upon how your definition applies to Russia). And indeed, to find countries currently experiencing more deaths than we are, you have to venture almost entirely outside the first world. Here are countries currently worse off on per capita deaths:
Saying we’re better off than other countries sounds nice; the fact that those countries include Chile, Peru, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, Armenia and Macedonia, along with Brazil and Mexico, sounds considerably less nice. And you’ll notice from this chart how many dimmed lines there are beneath us; those are all the countries currently experiencing fewer per capita deaths — the vast majority of the world.
There is, of course, a very good reason that the news in the United States focuses on U.S. cases: because that’s what’s of immediate concern to readers and viewers. Trump suggests this comes at the expense of having perspective on how this is playing out in other countries and that this would show we’re not unique.
But when it comes to almost all of the first world, we are.