Trump Tries New Brand of B.S. at COVID-19 Briefing

Today is the day Donald Trump truly became president—if by “became president” you mean “offered well wishes to an imprisoned infamous alleged sex trafficking ringleader.”

Wishing Ghislaine Maxwell well was easily the most absurd highlight (lowlight?) of Trump’s first coronavirus briefing since April. The president kept things short, scripted, and “crisp,” as NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell put it wrapping things up after just a few somber lies and blatant contradictions.

The briefing was supposed to show that Trump has changed his attitude toward the pandemic, that his administration has things under control, and that he’s not the same blithering moron who said sunlight would make COVID-19 disappear. For Fox News simps and sympathetic media, it was exactly that. But for anyone with eyes, ears, and a functioning nervous system, Tuesday’s briefing was simply a fresh brand of the president’s bullshit.

Trump muted his rhetoric, almost fully backtracking on masks, saying that people should wear them “whether you like the mask or not.” He advocated for social distancing and even admitted the pandemic would “get worse before it gets better.” It was a notable shift in tone, even while mixed in with Trump’s usual xenophobia (referring to COVID-19 as the China virus several times), tired lines about testing numbers, and America’s “fantastic” response. He wanted you to ignore the last four months of context, including his sputtering inaction, virulent racism, and nearly 150,000 Americans who died while he did nothing. If you managed to do that, you might even think he sounded reasonable.

The display, of course, was entirely self-serving. Trump decided to bring back the briefings because of increasingly bad polling numbers—both his general favorability and head-to-head percentages against Joe Biden. He wasn’t concerned about addressing the American people to provide valuable information or changing his position on masks because it might help save lives. Trump’s sole concern, as always, was his polling, his power, and his decreasing chances of winning a second term. It’s not just that he can’t take blame or admit he’s wrong. Trump is utterly incapable of doing anything that doesn’t first serve himself.

It’s impossible to erase four full months of inflammatory, conspiratorial, ignorant, and hateful rhetoric. Trump created many of the problems he now faces, and if he’d delivered this kind of briefing in mid-March or early April, he’d probably be in better electoral shape than he is now. Even as thousands of Americans fell ill and died, Trump couldn’t pretend to take COVID-19 seriously until it threatened the thing he values most. Now that he’s trying to, it shouldn’t fool anyone.