Seth Meyers says that we are in trouble because at a time of concern over a pandemic when we need sober leadership, we have a president who thinks that he can lie the problem away and we have people around him who are enabling his delusions.
While driving yesterday, I turned on the radio listened on the radio and found it was broadcasting a live press conference in which vice president Mike Pence was giving an update on the coronavirus. In between providing bits of information, he gushed over the leadership of Donald Trump in dealing with the coronavirus. I was not at all surprised to find that Trump had been there the whole time because Pence then handed it over to Trump who then boasted about how well he is dealing with the situation. It was sickening.
All Trump cares about is that he looks good and avoid blame for anything that goes wrong and he will lie to try and achieve that because he exists in a media bubble unconnected to reality. In doing so, he will ignore or even contradict statements made by health officials, leading to confusion and uncertainty even among health care professionals, let alone the general public.
It appears that he is melting down that this crisis is making him look bad.
Ever since the coronavirus exploded outside of China at the end of January, Donald Trump has treated the public health crisis as a media war that he could win with the right messaging. But with cases now documented in 34 states and markets plunging, Republicans close to Trump fear his rosy assessments are fundamentally detached from reality in ways that will make the epidemic worse. “He is trying to control the narrative and he can’t,” a former West Wing official told me.
The problem is that the crisis fits into his preexisting and deeply held worldview—that the media is always searching for a story to bring him down. Covid-19 is merely the latest instance, and he’s reacting in familiar ways. “So much FAKE NEWS!” Trump tweeted this morning. “He wants Justice to open investigations of the media for market manipulation,” a source close to the White House told me. Trump is also frustrated with his West Wing for not getting a handle on the news cycle.
Trump’s efforts to take control of the story himself have so far failed. A source said Trump was pleased with ratings for the Fox News town hall last Thursday, but he was furious with how he looked on television. “Trump said afterwards that the lighting was bad,” a source briefed on the conversation said. “He said, ‘We need Bill Shine back in here. Bill would never allow this.’”
Trump’s press conference on Friday at the CDC was a Trumpian classic, heavy on braggadocio and almost entirely lacking a sense of the seriousness of the crisis. “I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump told reporters, his face partly hidden under a red “Keep America Great” hat. “People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors say, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should’ve done that instead of running for president.” At another point Trump compared the situation to the Ukraine shakedown. “The [coronavirus] tests are all perfect. Like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect,” he said.
By now many of the president’s advisers are numb to this kind of performance. “There’s very little that fazes anyone now,” a former official said. But one person who spoke to the president over the weekend saw the press conference as an ominous sign. “He’s just now waking up to the fact that this is bad, and he doesn’t know how to respond.”
Yesterday the stock market fell by about 8% so you can be sure that the man-child president had a sleepless night wondering what lies he can tell today to try and bring it back up. Trump is inviting Wall Street executives to discuss the coronavirus problem, showing where his true concerns are, and he is considering a payroll tax cut. If the stock market keeps going down, who knows what cockamamie thing he will next propose.
Dan Froomkin suggests that what we should do is ignore everything that Trump says about the coronavirus.
At a time when accurate information could save lives and disinformation could kill, Donald Trump continues to tell self-aggrandizing lies and political journalists continue to put them in their headlines.
One or the other of those things has got to stop.
Sure, there are more news stories to be written about how Trump’s bad judgment, obsessive vanity and fury at being contradicted have led to a warped and flailing federal response. Sure, his rambling and increasingly bizarre statements need to be noted for the record.
But going forward, the most vital message reporters should convey about Trump — over and over again — is that he is out of touch with reality and failing to lead.
Trump isn’t struggling — he never struggles. He just reacts — impulsively and egotistically. He’s certainly not struggling for balance. And he’s not trying to reassure the public as much as he is trying to con them into believing he has things under control.
But Froomkin gives example after example to show why he is doubtful that the media will relegate Trump’s stupid and harmful ramblings about the virus to footnotes or ignore them altogether. They are too ingrained with the idea that what the president says matters even when it manifestly does not.