Since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States has become a dominant political story, President Donald Trump has repeatedly used the bully pulpit to downplay the seriousness of the infection and attack the media and critics who are sounding the alarm.
As the crisis has unfolded, however, his rosy predictions have been defied by reality again and again. While Trump may have believed some of the falsehoods he spread when he said them, many were made in clear defiance of the obvious truth and what the president can reasonably be expected to have known. I've argued, therefore, that not only has Trump been lying, but he is engaging in an ongoing disinformation campaign about a national health crisis on his own watch.
Here are 13 of Trump's claims, from his first press conference about the virus, his recent visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and elsewhere that have been dramatically undercut by reality:
1. "Hopefully, we're not going to have to spend so much because we really think we've done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum. And again, we've had tremendous success — tremendous success — beyond what people would have thought."
Trump said this when the number of confirmed cases of infection in the United States was around sixty. It's now over 500, and many, many more cases are almost certain to be as of yet undetected. And as the increasingly pessimistic stock market trends have shown, the depth of the crisis keeps being revealed to be worse than expected, not better.
2. "We're rapidly developing a vaccine, and they can speak to you — the professionals can speak to you about that. The vaccine is coming along well."
Any potential vaccine will take at least a year to 18 months to become available, and that's assuming everything goes perfectly in the development. Despite Trump's suggestions to the contrary, there's no way to fast-track the vaccine production. Trump administration officials have contradicted him on this very point, yet the president struggled to learn the lesson.
3. "But we're very, very ready for this, for anything — whether it's going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not we're — you know, we're at that very low level, and we want to keep it that way."
The administration has not been ready for the outbreak, despite knowing about the threat of the virus for months. The United States has been well behind the appropriate pace of testing to understand the scope of the crisis and keep it under control.
4. "As [infected Americans] get better, we take them off the list, so that we're going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we've had very good luck."
At the time Trump said this, there were around 60 confirmed cases in the United States, but Trump repeatedly claimed there were only 15. The number has climbed almost ten-fold since then, and, as I've said, the official figure is believed to be a dramatic undercount.
5. Asked whether U.S. schools "should be preparing for a coronavirus spreading," Trump said he thinks so, but: "I don't think it's going to come to that, especially with the fact that we're going down, not up. We're going very substantially down, not up."
It has already come to "that" — meaning, schools taking serious action in response to the threat. Some schools and colleges have already had closures or canceled classes because of the virus. The number of cases is going up, not down.
6. "But we have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job."
Clearly, the situation has not been under control of the federal government. The scope of the outbreak is not yet even understood. Declaring he's done a "very good job" at this point is absurd.
7. Trump was asked: "At what point would you be considering loosen the travel restrictions regarding China?" He responded by saying: "When we're at a point where we don't have a problem. You know, we're not going to loosen the travel restrictions. That's what saved us."
The effectiveness of the travel restrictions is up for debate. Some say it was a necessary measure to buy time, while others have said it was a cosmetic fix after containment had already failed. But if it did buy us time, that time was squandered. And it definitely didn't "save us" from the crisis. At least 22 people are believed to have died in the United States from the infection.
8. "Well, we're testing everybody that we need to test. And we're finding very little problem. Very little problem."
There are many reports of people who needed tests but have been unable to get them. In fact, a lack of adequate testing is thus far the defining feature of the administration's failed response.
9. "And again, when you have 15 people [infected], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."
The number has not come down close to zero, and it wasn't 15 at the time. If this is Trump's measure for doing a "pretty good job," he hasn't done it.
10. Later at the CDC, Trump repeated: "Anybody that wants a test can get a test."
Even Trump's own officials have denied this claim.
11. "And the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect and the transcript."
The tests have not been perfect. When the CDC initially developed its own test, it frequently gave inconclusive results.
12. "People are really surprised I understand this stuff," Trump said. "Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this?' Maybe I have a natural ability."
Trump has made clear he has no understanding of public health. He has repeatedly expressed shock at the fact that tens of thousands of people die from the flu every year, apparently only having learned this in recent weeks. At a public meeting with the heads of pharmaceutical companies, Trump showed that he struggles to understand the basic facts about vaccines.
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
The virus was not under control. And the Dow Jones and other stock indicators had already dropped precipitously when Trump said this. Since then, it's only gotten worse