Monday, May 11, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about COVID-19 testing, which he doesn't think is important.

Trump appeared at a coronavirus task force "briefing" today with several of its actual working members, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and the head of the CDC, in self-isolation because they were exposed to sick people at the White House. 

The fact that two West Wing staffers have tested positive in the past few days actually speaks quite well of the "test and trace" strategy that is protecting the White House—or at least Trump himself, who has turned on a dime and is now insisting that people near him wear masks. (Trump still refuses to wear one himself, even in the presence of people at extreme risk from the disease.)

But virtually no other workplace in the United States has that kind of testing regimen in place, which is exactly the kind that would be needed to end social distancing and workplace restrictions. Trump has hugely exaggerated the availability of tests, even as he's said he doesn't think they really matter and that they're not really his job anyway. He's also recently seemed increasingly confused about how they work, confessing he didn't understand how a West Wing employee could test negative one day and positive the next. 

At today's event, Trump stood in front of a giant banner reading "America leads the world in testing."

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It does not, but more importantly, the testing system that the Trump administration has managed to create so far is not nearly enough to stop the spread of the disease. When a Chinese-American reporter asked Trump about why he insisted on comparing testing statistics with other countries, when American deaths were what mattered, Trump retorted, "Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay? When you ask them that question, you may get a very unusual answer.” He then abruptly ended the press conference when a second reporter allowed the first to finish her question.

Why should this matter to me?

  • Hanging banners saying that a problem has been solved is not the same thing as solving a problem.
  • The White House's pandemic response has to work in places that aren't literally the White House.
  • Dealing with a national public health crisis really is the nation's government's job.
  • This is not the kind of thing a president can afford to be this confused about.