Instead, Trump’s most direct comments so far came in the number in a pair of tweets on Tuesday, which corresponds to a preventive refusal. “For all the political hacks out there, if I hadn’t done my job well, & early on, we would have lost 1 1/2 to 2 million people, as opposed to the 100,000 plus who looks like the number,” he wrote. “That’s 15 to 20 times more than we will lose.”
Throughout the crisis, Trump has alternately expelled or ignored the figures, boasting figures he considers politically advantageous, while doubting forecasts and statistics that undermine his message that the country is in the midst of a “transition to greatness.”
At the end of February, he dismissed the threat of the virus, noting that there were only 15 confirmed cases in the United States, promising that they would soon be “down to near zero.” In early March, he played in public leaving people on a cruise ship where an outbreak had occurred, partly because he did not want the US case to increase when passengers departed.
“I don’t have to double the numbers because of a ship,” he said.
And as he did in his Tuesday on Tuesday, he has tried to portray as a victory the fact that the nation is not about to hit a worst case of as many as 2 million dead. remedial measures were implemented.
But Trump so far has been almost silent about the bill exceeding 100,000, something his critics have not noted.
“You might think that a normal person equipped with normal amounts of decency and empathy would take a moment when 100,000 people who are citizens of the country where he is president have died,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to the president Barack Obama. “But it’s not something that has crossed Trump’s mind, as far as I can tell.”
Trump’s refusal to fight the milestone is symbolic of his broader struggle to deal with the overall global crisis. The president has created himself as the country’s cheerleader, without even assuming the traditional leadership role of consolidating manager.
Michael Wear, who made redundancies for the Obama administration, said that in some ways the numbers are beside the point; what the nation longs for is simply a president who recognizes the depth of the crisis.
“I’m not sure we need a Rose Garden ceremony around 100,000,” Wear said. “What we need is presidential leadership that realizes that ever more or two degrees are being removed from someone who has been directly affected by this pandemic through the loss of a loved one.”
Wear added that having a president offer general sympathy is especially important during this pandemic, when many of the smaller, community-based grief rituals are banned due to health restrictions.
“We’re in a time now when people don’t have the stores for their grief that they normally have, and it’s a time when you really need a president to step up because people can’t have memory, people can’t their loved ones when they die, Wear said.
Trump last week ordered flags that were flown to half staff through Memorial Day weekend to commemorate the Americans who have died from the coronavirus. But during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to provide further information on how the president planned to honor these Americans.
“One death is too many,” McEnany said. “These 100,000 individuals have a face.” But she also tried to cast the rising death as a victory, noting the same worst case that the president has pointed out.
“We never want to see an individual lose their lives, but that being said, being under significantly so high marks shows that the president did everything in his power and helped make that number as low as humanly possible,” she said.
Internally, there are no significant plans for any additional event to mark the 100,000 milestone, said a senior administrative official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid details about private conversations. Officials at the White House are hesitant to plan anything that may be perceived as Trump declaring “mission accomplished,” this official said.
But, added this person, there are preliminary discussions about a larger memorial day, perhaps with both gloomy and festive undertones, once the nation has gone through the worst crisis. An option being considered: a major event at a major hospital, which may include applause for first responders and healthcare professionals.
“President Trump’s prayers for comfort and strength are with all those who mourn the loss of a loved one or friend as a result of this outstanding plague, and his message to this great nation is still one of resilience, hope and optimism,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement to answer questions about Trump’s plans to celebrate 100,000 victims.
Trump pointed to another number in one tweet on Wednesday, and boasts the number of coronavirus tests conducted in the United States after widespread criticism for a weak response: “We can handle 15,000,000 tests today, by far the most in the world. Open safely! “
The President has focused much of his time in recent days on issues other than coronavirus. He spent the Memorial Day weekend on golf on Saturday and Sunday – the first time he has done so since the pandemic – and attacked rivals in deeply personal and sometimes sexist terms.
In tweets and retweets, Trump ridiculed the importance of former Georgia candidate Stacey Abrams, a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic president Joe Biden, and retweeted a message calling Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic presidential election, a “skank.”
He also promoted an unfounded conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough, an MSNBC host and former Republican congressman from Florida, may have had an affair with a married staff member from his congressional days and possibly killed her.
The Democratic National Committee was quick to criticize Trump’s handling of the pandemic. “As the country approaches the expensive milestone of 100,000 deaths, Trump spent his weekend golfing, tweeting wild conspiracy theories, trivializing the virus and promoting unproven treatments,” the committee wrote in an email blast Tuesday. “Instead of mourning the deaths, Trump commends himself and declares ‘100,000 plus’ deaths as a good job.”
Michael Gerson, who served as director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush and has been a frequent Trump critic as a longtime Washington Post-op-ed columnist, told Bush he choked on the Oval Office shortly after September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Afterwards, when Bush was worried about breaking down in public, Gerson recalls reassuring the president that “Americans needed to see the intensity of his own conviction and that was an important moment in responding to the crisis – these unrelated feelings.”
Yet with Trump, Gerson said, “I never see the emotional authenticity.”
“There is perhaps a fundamental problem here in the ability to feel and express empathy, and it is a serious problem after the loss of life and a kind of crisis that involves the loss of American life,” Gerson concluded.
Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor of religion who has taught and written for decades about American religion and the presidency, said Trump stands out compared to other presidents who suffered the dramatic loss of American life – Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day 1944, Bill Clinton after the bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995, Bush after 9/11 and Obama after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.
“Where is the expression of grief we all know?” Sa Balmer. “Nobody puts it into the nation. Other presidents have simply understood it as part of their job. “
Balmer cited Roosevelt’s famous radio address to America on D-Day when soldiers invaded Normandy, France, which took the form of a prayer.
“For it to work, you have to draw on an internal reservoir of, if not piety, at least empathy,” he said.
“I’m not trying to be political,” Balmer said, “but I just don’t see it in the current president.”
Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.