President Donald Trump’s speech on Thursday — and the events surrounding the Republican National Convention in general — at times came off as a celebration: a series of rhetorical monuments to a president who, based on what he and his supporters said, had triumphantly carried America through one of its best periods.
It’s an image that’s been hard to reconcile with Trump’s actual record. Under Trump, the economy is tanking. The country is in the throes of widespread unrest, as Black Lives Matter protests and related riots continue. The murder rate in large cities has spiked, and the opioid epidemic continues.
And more than 180,000 Americans have so far died from Covid-19.
The contradiction was perfectly captured by this photo posted on Twitter by USA Today reporter Matt Brown, in which protesters pointing out America’s massive Covid-19 death toll stood in front of the Republican convention’s fireworks show:
It’s a moment that encapsulates what amounted to a week of gaslighting on Covid-19 by Trump and the Republican convention — an attempt to make America think that a president who had so clearly failed had in fact won a victory for the US.
Experts, and the data, tell a very different story than what Trump tried to suggest.
For one, Trump’s performance on Covid-19 really has been a disaster. When the coronavirus first reached America, Trump was slow to react, instead suggesting that the virus would suddenly disappear “like a miracle.” Once states began locking down, Trump pushed them to reopen too early and too quickly — to “LIBERATE” themselves from economic calamity. His administration was slow to expand the US’s testing capacity, instead punting the issue to local, state, and private actors. As his administration suggested people wear masks in public, Trump said it was a personal choice, refused to wear a mask himself, and claimed people wear masks to spite him. Instead of offering calm, collected messaging during a crisis, Trump was erratic — at one point musing about people injecting bleach to treat Covid-19.
The result: America stands out as the one developed country, with the possible exception of Spain, that not only failed to prevent a massive coronavirus outbreak when it first arrived in the spring, but has continued to struggle deep into the summer. So while many other developed nations, from Germany to South Korea, see their lives inch back to normal, America continues to see high numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
It’s a uniquely bad position, as this chart of Covid-19 deaths in developed nations shows:
That failure on Covid-19 “begins in many ways, and you could argue it ends in many ways, with the Trump administration,” Ashish Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told me. “If George W. Bush had been president, if John McCain had been president, if Mitt Romney had been president, this would have looked very different.”
But in a reelection campaign, Trump wants to do everything he can to mask his failure. So we get a strangely celebratory convention when there isn’t much to celebrate in America.
For more on Trump’s failure on Covid-19, read Vox’s full explainer.
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