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Previous story President Trump undermines his pandemic response with more misinformation and self-obsession Next story
Published on July 29, 2020 1:45 PM

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President Donald Trump's return as the face of the Covid-19 response has deteriorated into a misinformation masterclass that explains why America is in such a mess.

In an extraordinary performance Tuesday, as the daily death toll again soared toward 1,000 and the number of Americans dead approached a tragic milestone of 150,000, Trump again foreswore the most basic requirements of national leadership in a crisis.
At a White House briefing that turned almost into a parody of his own mismanagement of the pandemic, he complained that the government's top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, had better approval ratings than he did.
He painted a misleading picture of a viral surge still raging across Southern and Western states that is showing new signs of spreading deeper into the heartland, saying large portions of the country were "corona-free."
And he launched a stunning new pitch for hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug beloved by conservative media but that has not been shown in rigorous clinical trials to be an effective treatment for Covid-19.
Given the trail of sickness and death that has unfolded in recent months, it was bizarre though not surprising that the President would return to the controversy over hydroxychloroquine. On Monday night, he retweeted videos describing hydroxychloroquine as a "cure" that meant Americans didn't need to wear masks.
He could have used his soapbox to drum home his government's guidelines for state openings (which he again contradicted on Monday) or to make a strong case for mask wearing, which he belatedly adopted last week and to plead with young Americans to observe social distancing.
His negligence in this regard confounded hopes of Trump loyalists that his return to the briefing room after weeks in denial over the coronavirus could win back voters who are despairing over his handling of the pandemic.
But more important than mere political calculations is the evidence that Trump's obsessions left no doubt that he lacks a coordinated national strategy or knowledge of the leadership, empathy and inspiration required of a president as the US struggles with one of the world's worst coronavirus responses.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump's repeated falsehoods could undermine a serious national conversation needed when a vaccine is finally available.
"People listen to what a president says. And if a president repeatedly says things to you that are not true and then comes a time when they say, 'I have something that I think can cure you, but it could really hurt you,' you're not going to listen to the guy who's been lying to you," Biden said.

Trump goes off the rails

For the first few, scripted moments, Trump's briefing went fine. He made an exaggerated case for his leadership in the crisis, but had encouraging news that everyone could get behind: a $765 million government loan to Kodak Pharmaceuticals under the Defense Production Act to boost production of generic drugs so the US becomes less reliant on therapies from supply chains in places like China.
Characteristically, Trump, despite apparently trying hard to be upbeat, read out pre-written remarks with a slight air of distraction, pausing now and again to add off-the-cuff commentary of his own.
Often the President's claims were dubious -- including one that unrest in Portland, Oregon, which he has branded the work of "fascist" left-wing groups, is causing a spike in infections. But they weren't all outlandish, and from a political point of view, posing as a champion of vaccine development and listing steps taken to battle the virus was a plausible strategy.
But it was when Trump invited questions that the trouble started, and offered what is undoubtably a more authentic glimpse into the President's views and soul than the remarks crafted by aides.
Trump, who is now speaking to Fauci again, after weeks fixated upon the media profile of one of the most respected US public health experts, insisted they had a "very good" relationship. But he still appears to be jealous.
"He's got this high approval rating. So why don't I have a high approval rating ... with respect to the virus? We should have it very high," the President griped.
"So it sort of is curious," Trump said, "a man works for us, with us, very closely, Dr. Fauci and Dr. (Deborah) Birx also, very highly thought of -- and yet, they're highly thought of, but nobody likes me?"
"It can only be my personality, that's all," he said.
Trump did not appear to be speaking tongue-in-cheek and, even if he was, it was strange that he would be joking about his popularity at a time when nearly 150,000 Americans are