His attitude is coinciding with tangible public fatigue after weeks of stay-at-home orders and restrictions on where people can travel, eat and socialize. And it suits him, with his reelection campaign in cold storage for weeks, to leave the impression that the country has already prevailed.
Trump on Monday suggested that the disease was already a faded threat in comments that defied science and logic.
“If you don’t test, you don’t have any cases,” he said.
“If we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any. But we do,” Trump said, in remarks that recalled his initial denial that the coronavirus would be a threat to the United States early in the year — until it was too late.
The virus hasn’t gone away
The President’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who serves as a senior campaign adviser, said that his team would not force people to wear masks at the rally and accused critics of hypocrisy following the large scale protests across the nation during the aftermath of the death of George Floyd — which some health experts also fear could have spread infections.
“Everybody has a choice. Nobody is being forced to sign to come up to this rally. This is a record-setting response that we have gotten to this and I think it speaks to the fact people are ready to get back to life,” she said on Fox News.
“Oklahoma has done very well, I just spoke to the governor, he’s very excited about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.
“Oklahoma has had a very low number,” he said. “They’ve done really fantastic work.”
‘There is a lot we need to do’
As they seek to justify Saturday’s rally, Trump and his top aides are offering an overly rosy picture of the state of the pandemic in Oklahoma.
“In a very real sense, they flattened the curve,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters.
Pence left an impression that the worst of the Covid-19 storm has passed by saying that there were “less than 400” deaths from the virus nationwide on Sunday, even though fatality statistics typically lag, and there is concern about growing infections in states that have aggressively opened their economies, including Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Arizona.
Pence’s claim that Oklahoma has flattened the curve is not supported by data collected by CNN and based on Johns Hopkins University analytics that show a steadily rising infection rate in the state over the last two weeks.
“If we don’t want to end up with hundreds of thousands of Americans dead and if we don’t want to end up with a wrecked economy, there is a lot we need to do,” Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday, calling for rigorous testing and tracing, social distancing and the wearing of face masks — a step that Trump refuses to model.
“It just feels like we’ve kind of lost our will to do it. And I think that’s unacceptable,” Jha said, warning that Trump’s fear of US virus numbers looking bad was draining the political will to fight the pandemic.
‘Life is no longer a picnic’
The news is not all discouraging. Deaths from the coronavirus are currently falling, including in hard hit areas such as New York, New Jersey and the metropolitan areas around Washington, DC. There are reasons to hope that with the wearing of masks, social distancing and by avoiding large crowds, the country could find a middle way to exist and open the economy while living with the virus.
William Haseltine, the chairman and president of ACCESS Health International, said Monday that Americans need to recall a period of time before advanced medical treatments, when life was far more precarious but when the country still built its great cities, railroads and fought World War II.
“Society functions but it functions differently. It functions with a sharp awareness that we live in a privileged moment that any time can end. And that’s a fundamental change in the way people have to look at life. Life is no longer a picnic,” Haseltine said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“I urge everybody to think about the risks they’re putting themselves, their family and everyone they love (in) when they behave what I would call irresponsibly by not following the recommendations of wearing masks and social distancing. It’s a new reality that we have to accommodate. We adapt, we survive, but we have to accommodate,” he added.
That is exactly the kind of advice to the American people that a president would be expected to give, rather than denying the reality of a crisis that is threatening to kill tens of thousands more of his fellow citizens.