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Trump's 'we have prevailed' is all about votes, not deaths (opinion)

CNN logo CNN 5/12/2020 Opinion by Frida Ghitis
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by tables holding testing supplies and machines, speaks during a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by tables holding testing supplies and machines, speaks during a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC.

The gaslighting show returned to the White House on Monday, with President Donald Trump and his retinue of sidekicks lying, misleading, and marketing the version of reality Trump wants Americans to believe. Ignore your own eyes, your upended lives, and the refrigerated trucks holding the dead bodies of coronavirus victims, he seemed to be saying, America is powering ahead now that their fearless leader has all but vanquished the invisible enemy.

"We have met the moment and we have prevailed," Trump proclaimed. It was quite a tale. He would go on to clarify the statement when presented with some facts, but the clarification would prove just as absurd.

The stark fact is that Americans are still dying in terrible numbers -- as many as 2,000 dying and 20,000 more diagnosed every single day -- with some projections that it could rise to as many as 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths each day by June 1. But Trump is pivoting sharply to the November election. It's all about winning reelection now, and that requires trying to convince Americans that the task is, to a large extent, complete.

While Trump claims that he has done a fantastic job and is moving to "transition to greatness" -- his new favorite slogan -- his accomplices in right-wing media have launched a campaign to discredit the statistics and boost conspiracy theories claiming the large death counts are a plot against the President.

Experience suggests that Trump will start openly tweeting his support for those claims -- Axios reports that he has already been complaining to his advisers -- as the November election starts getting closer and the numbers start to reflect epidemiologists' warnings that he is reopening the economy in an irresponsible manner that will lead to many more deaths than we would otherwise have.

Already one of the main forecasting sources used by the White House coronavirus task force has nearly doubled its estimate of deaths to more than 130,000 by August. That's tens of thousands of people who will lose their lives partly as the result of the premature, disorganized effort to goose the economy. Trump, probably rightly, believes a Great Depression-level unemployment rate could cost him the election.

So, he's pushing for a reopening now, with insufficient testing and without the CDC's guidelines on how to do it safely.

He wants to speak of the pandemic in the past tense, but reality gets in the way. When asked to explain his grotesque "we have prevailed" statement in the face of more than 80,000 coronavirus deaths, Trump claimed he was referring to testing, arguing against all evidence that he is doing a fantastic job on that front.

That is not true either, but that's only another obstacle to outshout.

The lies appeared even before the Monday briefing started. Banners deployed behind the lectern declared falsely "America leads the world in testing." That was the motto of the day, with Trump repeatedly making the claim, as if saying it often made it true.

The US may have conducted more tests than any country, but based on population it ranks nowhere near the top, according to the Worldometers tally at the time Trump was speaking. Indeed, it is below dozens of countries; worse than countries like Russia, Canada, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Belarus.

Trump, with input from Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Brett Giroir and others, tried every manipulation of the numbers to deceive the American public into thinking the testing is a triumph. Trump and Giroir absurdly compared US testing levels to South Korea, a country that jumped into action early on, when Trump was still claiming the coronavirus was like the flu and America would soon have "zero" cases. South Korea doesn't need to test millions of people today because it only has a handful of new cases each day, compared with tens of thousands in the US.

a person posing for the camera: Frida Ghitis © Provided by CNN Frida Ghitis

Trump also claimed that the US and Germany have the lowest number of deaths per population. That is false. The US death rate of 247 per million of its population is among the higher tolls recorded. Germany's rate, according to Worldometers, is 91 per million.

As he has done for months, Trump claimed that anyone who wants to get tested today can do it. That is patently false. Then he made the stunning statement that only people with symptoms should be tested, even though we know that the most insidious form of virus transmission is coming from people who are infected but asymptomatic.

Both he and Giroir insisted that the US is conducting enough tests. But the US has not "prevailed" on that front, or on just about any front having to do with this catastrophically mismanaged challenge. Months ago, the administration promised 27 million tests by the end of March. We're about one-third of the way there -- and it's mid-May. Experts say we need to conduct millions of tests per day in order to reopen the economy safely.

It is baffling why a country that can accomplish so many extraordinary feats has been incapable of producing enough swabs, reagents and testing kits. Trump has been dragging his feet in offering the states help with testing -- which he finally did on Monday -- but by now it is clear he will not wait until the testing is thorough and the number of cases makes it safe to reopen before urging Americans to return to work.

The White House has been trying to tap dance its way out of the damning fact that Trump is urging Americans to risk their lives despite insufficient testing, while requiring everyone in the White House to get checked regularly. The double standard only proves that Trump wants others to take risks he refuses to accept. It's all about the election. Even wearing a mask -- which he has now instructed people around him to do -- is something Trump refuses for himself, reportedly because he thinks it's not a good look for him. Besides, face masks protect others. Wearing one would not help him.

Everything Trump does now is about winning re-election. Nothing, not even stopping the pandemic, matters more to him.

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