America is dying to reelect Trump

We should have seen it coming. This week, several media outlets reported that the Trump administration was pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to revise coronavirus fatalities downward. The White House wanted to exclude from the totals individuals who did not have confirmed lab results for COVID-19 but were presumed to be positive and those for whom the coronavirus may not have been the direct cause of death. The next step, we can assume, will be a tweet by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE declaring that the death count (tabulated by the CDC) is “fake news,” part of a conspiracy by Democrats and the Deep State to defeat him in November by keeping the economy on its knees.

The death toll conspiracy has been a talking point by team Trump for quite some time. “Fatality numbers are inflated,” Fox News analyst Brit Hume declared on April 1. Six days later, Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonComcast shareholders reject proposals for outside sexual harassment investigation at NBC Cable news audience numbers jump amid coronavirus, protests Tucker Carlson tees off on Trump, Kushner: 'People will not forgive weakness' MORE opined that “this epidemic is being credited for thousands of deaths that would have occurred if the virus never appeared here.” On April 15, when New York City officials complied with a CDC request to include probable COVID-19-related deaths in their count by adding 3,700 names, Trump fumed, “Rather than ‘It was a heart attack,’ they’re saying ‘It was a heart attack caused by this.’” Not surprisingly, then, a recent Ipsos-Axios poll found that 40 percent of Republicans believe the coronavirus death count is inflated.

The death toll conspiracy is part of a narrative designed to minimize Trump’s responsibility for the public health debacle that has shut down the U.S. economy by blaming the Democrats. On Feb. 28, Trump called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax ... their single talking point. ... Democrats will always say horrible things. Democrats want us to fail so badly.” Not for the first or last time, he added that his administration was “magnificently organized” and “totally prepared” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. A few days later, Donald Trump Jr. accused Democrats of trying “to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people, so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.” Vice President Pence defended Trump Jr.'s indefensible accusation as an “understandable” response to the “strong rhetoric” directed against the president. On May 14, Trump took a page from his son’s playbook. “Some people,” he said, want to keep the economy “closed for a long time ... and watch the United States go down the tubes. ... It’s a political thing.”

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Ignoring the fact that his encouragements to ease restrictions in red and blue states violated the administration’s own guidelines, our “it’s all about me” president blamed Democratic governors for refusing to open up the economy. He claimed, “They think they’re doing it because it’ll hurt me.” Using Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf as an example, he repeated that Democrats “are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until Nov. 3 if it were up to them.”

The vast majority of public health experts, in fact, believe that the number of COVID-19 fatalities is almost certainly higher than the official count.

According to a Yale School of Public Health study, 15,400 more Americans died between March 1 and April 4, 2020, than passed away during a comparable period in previous years, far more than the 8,128 fatalities attributed to COVID-19 by government agencies. The disparity, they suggest, is probably due to the woefully inadequate number of tests administered in the United States in February and March. People who die at home, they add, are much less likely to be counted as coronavirus fatalities.

In fact, no less an authority than Trump himself has attested to the accuracy of the CDC numbers. On April 7, he indicated, “I think they’re pretty accurate on the death count.” On April 23, he declared, “We’re very accurate in terms of numbers,” citing New York City, which he had criticized a week earlier, as an example. On May 6, Trump asserted, “Our numbers are essentially certified numbers. They’re individual hospitals. They’re putting out the numbers. I don’t imagine there’d be a big variation.”

That view is about to change.

Trump will insist he’s been saying all along that the number of fatalities has been inflated. And who can doubt that very few — and perhaps not any — Republicans will declare, in public, “There you go again, Mr. President.”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.