Throughout the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump has dished out dangerous “cures,” played down the severity of the pandemic, pushed to reopen the economy and bragged about the job he’s doing.
There has been a central theme running through his response: his seeming utter lack of empathy for the people who are suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
On April 26, The Washington Post analyzed the 13 hours Trump had spent talking in his daily coronavirus briefings, which were stopped after his own aides intervened to argue that the appearances were hurting his popularity.
Of the 13 hours that Trump spent talking, Trump spent two hours attacking people and 45 minutes praising himself.
He spent just four and a half minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims.
On Tuesday, Trump left Washington for the first time since March. He wasn’t going to meet with victims’ families, as many presidents do. Instead, he was going to visit a business that makes masks in Arizona.
“I’m going to pay my respect to a great company,” Trump said as he boarded Air Force One.
The American people, he added, “should think of themselves as warriors” ― in the battle to reopen the economy. Warriors, of course, often die.
“Despite Democrats and the media’s coordinated attempts to criticize this President for providing hope and optimism throughout this pandemic, President Trump has delivered a message of comfort, unity, and strength while taking bold actions to save lives, provide financial assistance, and set this great country on a responsible path to reopen,” responded White House spokesman Judd Deere. “The American people have shown tremendous spirit throughout this difficult time and are continuing to respond to the President[’s] message.”
Trump has acknowledged that he knows some people who have died from COVID-19, expressing amazement at the “speed and viciousness” of the “horrible” disease. And he’s said he’s talked to three or four families who have had someone die from the virus. But he generally has not lingered on talking about what people are going through.
And it’s not just that he’s not showing empathy publicly. In his desire to move along, he’s pushed remedies that are not only unproven but are often dangerous.
Trump’s focus right now is on getting businesses back open, no matter how much medical experts warn that doing so could lead to more deaths.
Trump has been cheering on the states that are reopening.
“There’s not too many states that I know of that are going up. Almost everybody is headed in the right direction,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall on Sunday. “We’re on the right side of it, but we want to keep it that way, but we also want to get back to work.”
Trump is wrong. More than 70,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, and in most states, cases are either increasing or staying the same.
Many of the states that are reopening are doing so without meeting benchmarks set by the White House. In some of these places, cases continue to rise and testing still lags.
But Trump’s focus is making sure the economy gets going again — especially ahead of the 2020 election.
In March, Trump reportedly considered doing nothing ― just letting the coronavirus sweep over the country and kill people, with those who survived then having immunity.
“Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump asked. Administration officials said he had “repeatedly” raised this scenario in conversations in the Oval Office.
Trump has often had trouble connecting in times of sorrow.
When four U.S. soldiers died in Niger in 2017, he said and did nothing for a week until pressed by the media. When he did finally call one of the soldier’s widows, he told her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”
In June 2017, Trump called the father of another soldier who died in Afghanistan, promising that he would give him $25,000 and set up an online fundraiser. Four months later, when The Washington Post followed up, the father said he had not received anything.
And in 2018, when meeting with survivors and families of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people, a photographer caught a photo of Trump’s notes, including one bullet point reminding him to say “I hear you” to the visitors.
While he does mention families who have suffered or lost loved ones during occasions like the State of the Union address, it is generally to make a point about his political agenda — such as cracking down on undocumented immigration.
During his Fox News town hall on Sunday, which took place at the Lincoln Memorial, Trump implied that he was the real victim in the coronavirus crisis.
“Look, I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen,” he said. “The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln — nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”
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