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A Divided People Heard What They Wanted to Hear Trump Say

Monday’s daily presser with President Trump on the Coronavirus illuminated some terrible truths. In a time when our nation really needs to be united against the threat of COVID-19, we remain hopelessly divided. People who heard the same press conference came away with completely different stories. They heard what they wanted to hear.

For example, the president stopped using the term “Chinese virus.” He, quite intentionally, said “the virus.” I could almost hear him straining not to say “Chinese.” He went out of his way to praise Asian-Americans. He answered a media question asking why he did that by forthrightly saying it’s not right for some Americans to blame ethnic Chinese or Asian-Americans for the virus.

Yet today CNN was still referring to Trump calling it a “Chinese virus.” To be fair, CNN ran a story about Trump’s call to protect Asian-Americans, but they put “protect” in scare-quotes, like the president really didn’t mean it. That’s what CNN heard. Brett Samuels at The Hill wrote a similar “we don’t buy it” take.

Standing on the platform without Dr. Anthony Fauci, patron saint of rational advice in a pandemic, Trump said “our country wasn’t built to shut down.” He said the shutdown will–eventually–end, and in less time than those saying it will be months. When asked, the president said he would listen to medical advice but he will make the decision.

What has changed here? The fact that Trump admitted the shutdown has been catastrophic to our economy and to small businesses is well-known. The fact that we need to move quickly through this is not in dispute. But Maggie Haberman of the New York Times heard it differently–or at least her editors did.

“Trump Considers Reopening Economy, Over Health Experts’ Objections”

On Monday, Mr. Trump said his administration would reassess whether to keep the economy shuttered after the initial 15-day period ends next Monday, saying it could extend another week and that certain parts of the country could reopen sooner than others, depending on the extent of infections.

Did the president specifically say that he was going to overrule his advisors and state governors? No, quite the opposite. So far, after an initial stumble dealing the the virus before it had entrenched itself on our shores, Trump has listened to his medical advisors. He put his most experienced and trusted government guy, his Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of the task force.

But Trump’s foes in the media (and they are foes) and those against him in our national divide, really believe that if Dr. Fauci, Dr. Brix, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, HHS Secretary Azar, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, and FDA Commissioner Dr. Hahn tell him millions of lives may be at great risk because of a poorly timed economic decision, Trump will overrule them and do it anyway.

They really think he would do it, even though the evidence shows he hasn’t (or we wouldn’t be shut down now).

The media would rather focus on why Dr. Fauci wasn’t on the podium. Fauci recently gave an interview to Jon Cohen of Science Magazine, in which he played it straight, as Fauci seems to be prone to doing. The interview painted a rather unflattering picture of how the president is being “managed” in his ad-libbed presser remarks. It also makes a very large point about there being too many people on the podium during the briefings. It appears Fauci got his wish.

At the start of the briefing, Trump mentioned that “social distancing” was the reason for fewer people, and that would be exactly Fauci’s point.

I, and million of others, heard a president who appeared very concerned for the American people, for our livelihoods, and for our health. I didn’t hear a wild maverick willing to undo all our measures to contain COVID-19 to save a few big corporations. I didn’t hear a raving racist trying to paper over his anti-Chinese talk. But people on the other side of the divide did hear all that.

I don’t think our nation is going to get through this very well if we can’t even agree on what the president said, because our personal biases, both for and against him, create such an unbridgeable chasm.

That, more than the virus itself, worries me greatly.


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