OP-ED: The King of Good News runs for president
By the time you read this, President Donald Trump’s attendance at the daily coronavirus taskforce briefings may be a thing of the past. Last Friday’s briefing ended abruptly after an uncharacteristically short 22 minutes. Trump surprised everyone by declining to engage in his customary extended skirmish with reporters.
On Saturday evening Trump tweeted blame at the “Lamestream Media” for asking nothing but “hostile questions.” He concluded that the briefings are “Not worth the time and effort!”
He may change his mind. For Trump the briefings are both an opportunity and a liability. The liability side caught up with him last Thursday when one of his free-form, off-the-cuff riffs misled him into speculation about the salutary effects of injecting disinfectant into COVID-19 patients.
Health experts and disinfectant manufacturers immediately issued stern admonitions: Do not try this at home! No wonder Trump didn’t want to answer questions on Friday.
If Trump declines to attend future briefings, they will be markedly changed. For one thing, they will be more efficient. At present, a significant portion of a typical two-hour briefing is repetition of things we’ve heard before.
For example, at every briefing Trump asserts that he was the first to cut off travel from China, even though this isn’t actually true. He always speculates on the number of lives that were saved by this action. He always mentions that the greatest economy in world history was blindsided by this invisible “scourge.” He will usually mention the 1918 pandemic. He reminds us that ventilators are complex machines. We are the King of Testing. And he always says many things that we already know, often pointing out, for example, that America wasn’t designed for its citizens not to be working.
In short, Trump’s absence will leave more room for real information from real experts who will no longer have to be concerned about running afoul of Trump’s essential pandemic message, which is that the news is always good.
In fact, here’s the characteristic of every coronavirus briefing that should concern us most: The briefings are always — I do not mean “usually,” I mean “always” and exclusively — filled with Good News:
The curve is always flattening. We are doing more testing than all other countries combined. Large portions of the country are entirely unaffected by the coronavirus. Businesses are starting to reopen. Taskforce members are working around the clock. Progress on a vaccine is incredible, more than anyone could have believed. The light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter every moment. Even 60,000 deaths is “good news,” given what might have happened if it hadn’t been for Trump.
Maybe I am a glass-is-half-empty type of person, but too much good news makes me nervous. It’s worth remembering that Trump has an immense interest in telling us precisely what we have an immense desire to hear. We want to believe him when he says that the resolution to this problem — a vaccine, hydroxychloroquine, warmer weather, ultraviolet light, disinfectant — is immediately at hand and that in no time the economy will rebound even better than before.
But it’s also worth remembering that on Jan. 22, Trump said that there was no need to worry about a pandemic: “We have it totally under control.” On Feb. 10 he said that “a lot of people” think the coronavirus will disappear in April. As late as Mar. 10 he said, “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
But on Mar. 17 Trump said that he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” To explain the discrepancy, Trump and his aides have said that he is a positive, upbeat person who didn’t want to spread anxiety among the citizenry. He would rather be a “cheerleader” than the bearer of bad news.
Which should make us wonder what’s happening now: As Trump runs for re-election, is he telling us the truth? Or is he merely hoping that his Good News — and our willingness to believe it — will hold out until Nov. 3?
— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.