David A. Graham: Why Trump was deaf to all the warnings he received
The comments were astonishing at a time when the death toll continues to pass ever more dizzying milestones, and at the end of one of the deadliest months in American history. Yet when Trump was asked about Kushner’s remarks on Thursday, he endorsed them and argued that the White House’s only failure was in communicating its success.
“I don’t think anybody has done the job that we’ve done, other than at public relations, because the press just won’t talk about the facts,” he said. “You know, we’re the leader of the world. We’re really the leader. In this case, the leader of the world. And we’ve done better. If you look at our deaths, if you look at mortality rates, if you look at the things, we’re—in fact, I’m going to get a chart, because it’s maybe the most impressive thing—right?—how we’ve done.”
The U.S. is indeed the leader of the world—in total COVID-19 deaths, to choose one metric. It also leads other developed nations in the growth of its death rate. Trump is not responsible for all of those deaths, no matter how shaky the federal response has been, but his premature declarations of victory at a time when the situation is manifestly dire are jarring. They demonstrate a lack of empathy that has dogged Trump in past crises.
This empathy gap is not a problem merely of political fortunes, but of material results. For leaders to solve a problem, they have to convince people they understand it. Trump’s inability to understand the depth of human suffering in the pandemic has slowed his response at every turn and hobbled his ability to rally the resources needed to address the crisis.
Trump likes to say that one death is too many, but his seeming indifference to growing death tolls is reminiscent of the quip, sometimes attributed to Stalin, that one death is a tragedy and 1 million deaths is a statistic. For Trump, one death is a tragedy and 60,000 are a victory.
David A. Graham: Harvey exposes Trump’s empathy deficit
As Steve Benen has chronicled, Trump has curiously kept touting the low death toll, but keeps having to adjust up the number as the count rises.
“We did the right thing, because if we didn’t do it, you would have had a million people, a million and a half people, maybe 2 million people dead,” Trump said on April 20. “Now, we’re going toward 50, I’m hearing, or 60,000 people. One is too many. I always say it: One is too many. But we’re going toward 50 or 60,000 people.”
Four days later, the estimated death toll exceeded 50,000, though it is probably higher. On April 27, Trump said the toll was “probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.” A couple of days later, the U.S. crossed the 60,000 milestone. So on April 29, Trump readjusted.
“What we did is a great tribute to this country. But if we lost—so if we lose 65,000 people—it’s so crazy to say it. It’s just so horrible. But if we lose 65,000 people, and instead of that going the other route, we would have lost a million or a million and a half or 2 million. It’s possible. It’s possible that you lost more. But could you imagine? Look how horrible it is to lose 65 and then multiply that times many, many times. That would not be sustainable.”