President Donald Trump just dramatically redefined success on the country’s response to the coronavirus.
Barely a month ago, Trump claimed the coronavirus would go away on its own. Then he said it paled in comparison to the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, which killed about 12,500 Americans. Now he’s saying that the estimates showing Covid-19 could kill 100,000 Americans — roughly equivalent to two Vietnam Wars or 38 September 11 attacks — actually reflect how effective he’s been.
During a news conference on Sunday, Trump said that a final US coronavirus death toll somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 people would indicate that his administration has “done a very good job.”
“You’re talking about 2.2 million deaths,” Trump said, referring to an Imperial College study that identified 2.2 million people as the high end of how many Americans could die if no measures were taken to slow the spread of coronavirus. “So if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000, it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 [thousand] and 200,000, we altogether have done a very good job.”
Trump will claim victory no matter how many Americans die:
Trump seemed to be trying to draw a contrast between the scenario where the government literally did nothing and the path America is now on. With his reelection on the line, he set the stage to eventually proclaim that even 200,000 Americans deaths from the coronavirus would be proof that he saved lives.
We’ll never know how many people could’ve been spared had Trump taken the coronavirus more seriously early on. And it’s true that this is a truly unprecedented situation that almost any administration may have struggled with. But we do know that almost everything Trump said and did about the outbreak from January until a couple of weeks ago — with the exception of restricting travel from China after the virus had already started spreading here in the United States — was a fiasco.
But then Trump moved out of the first two stages of understanding — “herd immunity” versus “flatten the curve” — and moved onto stage 3. This is where most everyone else ends up, and where most of the western leaders have been for a few weeks now. Stage 3 is “crush the curve” or “sharp and short.”
Sadly, several right-wing commentators are still oscillating back and forth between stages 1 and 2, which leaves what they say about the crisis irrelevant — because with very few exceptions neither stage 1 or stage 2 are being the strategy being pursued. Certainly not in the English-speaking West or in the Asian countries that are beating the virus.
UPDATE: Notice how the authorities in the West gradually morphed from “flatten the curve” to “crush the curve,” without clearly articulating the difference? That’s probably because to acknowledge that they changed course would to be admit they had it wrong previously. The governments are probably happy enough to leave some commentators behind, flailing at “flatten the curve” when they have moved on. Those commentators are digging into positions without realizing the circus has moved on, which might be interesting when they finally realize.
Relatively few commentators — such as us — have no skin in the political game and are happy to point out the massive difference between “flatten the curve” (and eventual herd immunity) versus “crush the curve” (whereby vast majority never catch it, and which gives time for biotech to solve the problem).