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Trump bleaches the story of his coronavirus briefings

Donald Trump pn April 24.
Reuters/Johnathan Ernst
Reality TV is a tough scene.
  • Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

Washington DCPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

US president Donald Trump’s April 23 musings that ingesting disinfectants could fight infection appear to have sounded the death knell for his controversial coronavirus briefings, though he recently boasted that daily ratings were “through the roof.” They may also have fatally poisoned his chances of reelection in November.

Trump was responding to a report by William Bryan of the Department of Homeland Security about bleach and alcohol quickly killing the coronavirus on surfaces. Boldly going where no one should go, the president suggested these materials might disinfect humans, too. He speculated aloud before millions of American viewers, saying:

And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds—it sounds interesting to me.

The comments prompted an outcry from medical experts, health authorities, manufacturers of cleaning products, and the media, and inspired some people to try poison as a cure.

The following day, the White House tried to spin the issue, making Trump the victim of a vicious media conspiracy. His press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement claiming that his words were misconstrued and being used against him. She argued:

President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing. Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines.

The National Review saw the angle, characterizing Trump’s comments as mere “foolishness,” not “monstrousness.” Fox News, usually a stalwart ally of the president, was more reticent, reporting the president’s comments and the ensuing brouhaha in a story headlined, “Media erupt over Trump comments on disinfectant and sunlight to cure coronavirus: Here’s what he said.”

But the would-be physician-in-chief would not heal himself, or let anyone else help save the day. Trump undermined the efforts of his spin doctors by providing his own take just a bit later. He told reporters at an Oval Office ceremony—signing a $484 billion coronavirus relief package into law—that he was just being sarcastic the previous afternoon, testing them, to see what would happen. 

Based on the sincere and curious tone of his prior suggestion, this sarcasm claim was patently false. However, even granting Trump the benefit of the doubt, it’s mystifying. Why would the president, amid a devastating pandemic that has already killed more than 50,000 people in the US, play games with human life just to irk journalists?

That afternoon’s coronavirus briefing, a few hours after the president claimed he was basically kidding, was short and somber. Trump took no questions from reporters.

It soon became apparent that the daily affairs had become a thing of the past. On Saturday evening, around the time he’d normally be holding the conference, the president tweeted his reasoning for not appearing, essentially explaining that the briefings are an exercise in futility because of the hostile fake news industrial complex.

But the real reason for the end of these meetings is that the president has been deemed a danger to the people and his party.

A Boston Globe opinion piece yesterday called for his resignation. The Guardian noted that the “debacle” of his disinfectant comments could be his “tipping point.” And New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman reported that “nervous Republicans see Trump sinking, and taking [the] Senate with him.”  

The news is proving all too real.

Trump’s poll numbers are down, even in key states like Florida, which became his official home late last year. In the last five weeks, 26.45 million US workers have filed unemployment claims. Markets have tanked. Oil prices just crashed and went negative for the first time in recorded history, with the price per barrel of the benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude falling to negative $36.20, meaning investors were paying to get rid of the once precious stuff. And presidential bombast cannot make the painful miles-long lines at overwhelmed American food banks disappear.

Although it has often seemed like this president can overcome all obstacles, remaining ever popular with his base of outraged lockdown liberators and extracting absolute loyalty from Republican politicians, April 2020 has proven the poet T.S. Eliot right. It has indeed been the cruelest month—for Americans and Trump—as the nation he claimed to be making great again increasingly resembles a waste land.  

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