For two consecutive nights, as President Trump was barnstorming swing states, his two eldest sons appeared on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program, where they dismissed the threat posed by the coronavirus.
“The one thing you don’t want to do to Americans is take away their free speech. It’s our First Amendment right for a reason,” he said, conflating Twitter’s efforts to stem disinformation with government censorship of speech.
“I’m telling you,” he added, “people aren’t happy about it. I think it’s probably become the number one issue in politics in the last couple of weeks.”
A claim that social media companies adding warnings to false claims by the president (which is really the recent spur for this frustration) is the number one issue in politics is unquestionably ridiculous. That the son of the president, someone who has been on the campaign trail stumping for his father, would say this with sincerity during a period when deaths from the coronavirus are on the rise is simply callous.
On Thursday, though, his brother Donald Trump Jr. tried to tell Ingraham that deaths weren’t on the rise.
“The reality is this,” he said. “I put it up on my Instagram a couple days ago, because I went through the CDC data, because I kept hearing about new cases, but I was like why aren’t they talking about deaths? Oh, oh: because the number is almost nothing.”
As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported, Trump Jr.'s claim that deaths were down to “almost nothing” was a function of his making a mistake that has been made repeatedly over the course of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks coronavirus deaths by confirming death certificates. Those certificates can come days or weeks after the deaths — deaths that are reported by counties and states in near real time. So the CDC numbers necessarily and demonstrably show fewer recent deaths but, over time, equivalent long-term totals.
It’s like arguing that there are very few coronavirus infections after scaling back testing for the virus. Which, of course, is what President Trump would like to do.
As his sons were misinforming Fox News viewers, Trump was misinforming attendees at his rallies.
“A safe vaccine is coming very quickly — you’re going to have it momentarily — that eradicates the virus,” he told a crowd in Arizona on Wednesday. “And we’re rounding the turn regardless.”
This assertion from Trump that the country is “rounding the turn” on the virus even without a vaccine is as untrue as his son’s claim that deaths are falling. Both cases and deaths are up, the former leading the latter by about two weeks. On Thursday, the country saw nearly 90,000 new cases and more than 1,000 new deaths. Given that the number of deaths each day has consistently been about 1.8 percent of new cases two weeks before, we can figure that the country will see more than 1,600 deaths in two weeks’ time.
The thing about the current surge in cases is that it’s centered in parts of the country that voted for Trump. For all of Trump’s insistence on delivering for and appealing to his base, it’s his geographic base that’s getting hammered by the virus right now. It’s red America that’s dying as the country turns the corner.
We generally look at new infections as the measure of the spread of the virus for obvious reasons. Since June, states that voted for Trump have been the center of new cases, with about 7 in 10 new cases emerging there. But it was only more recently that red counties began seeing the majority of cases (a function of the red state cases until then being centered in blue counties). Since Sept. 5, most new cases in the nation have been in red counties.
But it’s also the case that more deaths are occurring in places that voted for Trump. (In fact, the percentage of deaths occurring in red states has consistently been higher than the percentage of cases happening in those states.) Looking at the seven-day averages of new deaths — meaning the average daily number of deaths in each county over the prior week — red counties just passed blue counties as the main driver of new deaths.
That metric is misleading, though, because a handful of deaths in a red county can average to zero over a seven-day period. A death on Sunday and a death on Thursday, and your daily average for the week is 2/7 — which rounds to zero. If we look at the cumulative new deaths in counties and then generate a weekly average across blue and red counties, we see that red counties became the main driver of new deaths in late September. They now make up 63 percent of new deaths each day, on average.
It is still the case that, over the course of the pandemic, more deaths have occurred in blue counties, a function of the massive death toll in the New York City area in the spring. But the gap has consistently narrowed since June. More than 1 in 3 deaths that have occurred during the pandemic have occurred in counties that backed Trump in 2016.
This doesn’t mean that the deaths were all among Trump supporters, any more than the deaths in New York were necessarily among Democrats. But it’s a reminder that as Trump and his family try to wave the crisis away — speaking to audiences at rallies and on Fox that mostly consist of Trump supporters — places more inclined to support his presidency are paying the highest price.
Since Trump tested positive for the virus on Oct. 1, 12,630 people in counties that voted for him have died of the virus, an average of 435 a day. Over the course of Ingraham’s hour-long programs on Wednesday and Thursday, we can estimate that 25 people in red counties (1/24th of the daily total) died on each night.
The death toll just in places the Trumps care most about wasn’t “almost nothing,” even during the period that Trump Jr. was on television. Trump wants his supporters to take his word for the spread of the virus instead of simply looking around them.