When Trump was asked about Covid at the first debate, his presidency hit a new low

The Trump campaign is caught in a death spiral and polling proves it

Max Burns
New York
Wednesday 30 September 2020 15:18
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Donald Trump and Joe Biden exchange remarks in a heated televised debate in Ohio on 29 September, 2020.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden exchange remarks in a heated televised debate in Ohio on 29 September, 2020.
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President Donald Trump and his Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden met in Cleveland last night for what quickly became the most disgraceful presidential debate in American history — if it can even fairly be called a “debate.”

Millions of Americans watching from locked-down homes in a nation shattered by the coronavirus saw a president comically out of touch with the horrible reality of Covid-19. They saw a president openly arguing with his own medical experts about the effectiveness of masks and the availability of a potential coronavirus vaccine. They saw a terrified reality show celebrity still unable to fully grasp that 204,000 Americans have died on his watch. 

In other words, the American people finally saw the same Donald Trump that the government medical experts have been arguing with since February. Trump’s cavalier waving away of the suffering caused by Covid-19 marked a new low for the office of the presidency.

“People want their places open,” Trump shouted on the same day his administration recorded a staggering 33,891 new coronavirus cases. While voters waited to hear Trump’s plan, the president only spread blame. 

He condemned China for what he called the “China plague.” He blamed Democrats for criticizing his leadership. He claimed he was powerless to stop holding large rallies like a June event in Tulsa that likely infected Republican businessman Herman Cain, who later died, and infected hundreds more. Nowhere in his laundry list of grievances did Trump showcase his much-teased master plan to fight Covid-19.

Instead, Trump expected the American people to praise him for the dubious claim that he personally brought back football to American television screens. “I’m the one that brought back football,” Trump told voters. “I brought back Big Ten football. I was happy to do it, by the way.” 

At least suffering families will have something to watch on the emergency room television as their loved ones die of a preventable second wave of coronavirus infections.

The Trump campaign is caught in a death spiral. A new survey by Pew Research Center shows a majority of Americans strongly disapprove of how the Trump administration is handling the coronavirus. Beyond just the pressing public health crisis Covid presents, 22 million Americans are unemployed and now depend on too-small unemployment payments to cover the gap in their finances. A Democratic plan to extend emergency survival payments to those Americans has gone ignored by both Trump and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for months. 

To hear the president last night, the American economy has never been better. But as Joe Biden made clear, America’s economic growth hasn’t done much for the working class.

“Millionaires and billionaires like [Trump] have done very well,” Biden said. “Billionaires have made another $300 billion because of his tax proposal and focusing only on the market” even as hourly wages are flat or declining for the vast majority of regular Americans. 

It’s understandable that Trump was eager to change the subject away from the coronavirus, but the real work of governing isn’t like reality television. We can’t change the channel to a more pleasing narrative. The coronavirus has consumed our nation and rendered large swaths of our national life off-limits for the foreseeable future. And while Trump may comfort himself with rosy predictions rejected even by his own medical experts, those delusions offer no freedom from the virus.

“How many people wake up and have an empty chair in their kitchen because of someone who died from Covid?” Biden asked. In that moment, free from Trump’s constant interruptions and uncontrollable temper, the American people saw something we haven’t seen for four years: a president. 

Biden’s moment of compassion is noteworthy because of how alien it feels. Where Trump struggled even to understand coronavirus’s staggering death count as a basic number, Biden recognized the truth. Those 204,000 lost souls are not merely a tragic number. They are individual people whose absence leaves an irreparable hole in the lives of their families and communities.

Nobody expected Donald Trump to come to last night’s debate with a genuine plan to fight Covid-19. The American people have long ago stopped expecting even the appearance of policy leadership from the Trump administration. But last night, Trump faced only the simplest of hurdles: offering a sliver of compassion or grief to those in circumstances far different than his own.

He failed.

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