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A Good First Step Away From the Cliffs of Insanity

Betting on Trump with the word "disciplined" is long odds. But if Trump is focused on winning, like he always says he is, then he might be able to summon some kind of inner strength to do it.

President Trump revived his White House coronavirus briefings, after stopping them at the end of April, when he tweeted they were “not worth the time & effort.” The new briefings are svelte compared to the previous ones, minus the cast of the previous crowded podium. Now it’s just Trump, and instead of a two-hour marathon, it was 30-minutes, neat.

The president referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus” multiple times, drawing typical cringes and eyerolls from the press. But his message was correct, even factual.

“Today, I want to provide an update on our response to the China virus, and what my administration is doing to get the outbreak in the Sunbelt under control. Seems largely in Sunbelt but could be spreading,” Trump said to open the briefing amid polls showing Americans sharply disapproving of how he’s handled the crisis.

Pandemic probably will ‘get worse before it gets better’: A solo Trump holds 1st coronavirus briefing in months, ABC News, July 21, 2020

He’ll be challenged on his claim that the U.S. is doing better than most countries (previously Trump has falsely claimed our mortality rate is the lowest in the world). But America is a big place, equal to almost all of the European Union, where mortality rates range from Belgium at 85.55 to Germany at 10.94.

“If you watch American television, you’d think that the United States was the only country involved with and suffering from the China virus. Well, the world is suffering very badly. But the fact is that many countries are suffering very, very, very badly, and they’ve been suffering from this virus for a long time. We’ve done much better than most and with the fatality rate at a lower rate than most,” Trump continued.

Let’s put it in perspective: if New York was a country, it would by far have the worst mortality rate in the world, followed by New Jersey. If those states were removed from the rest of the U.S. (New York and New Jersey have the highest case counts), Trump’s claim would be a whole lot closer to true. In fact, 11 states have a lower mortality rate than Germany, with a population of around 20 million, a quarter of Germany.

Looking at another European country, Switzerland has a mortality rate of 23.15, which is about what Florida has. And Florida is one of the sun belt states Trump referred to as having a spike. The truth is that the states with the worst case counts and mortality rates are quickly coming down the other side of the curve, while states that effectively held the case count low are experiencing spikes, for various reasons (travel, business openings, people outdoors, and large protests among them).

In his briefing, Trump spoke about the importance of wearing a mask, something he’s avoided for months.

“We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask. Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effect, and we need everything we can get,” Trump said, following months of resistance.

And I read a word I rarely read in The New York Times about this briefing: “disciplined.” Trump stuck to his message, kept it short (27 minutes), and didn’t indulge himself by engaging in petty wars with reporters.

Politically, this is a step back from the cliffs of insanity for the president. Focusing on the future, the good news, a possible vaccine, and commonsense countermeasures like wearing a mask is the message America wants/needs to hear. Those who have been severely put off by Trump’s mishandling of leadership during coronavirus crisis need to hear more of this trimmed-down, focused version if there is to be any hope of repairing the damage done to the president’s re-election chances.

Betting on Trump with the word “disciplined” is long odds. But if Trump is focused on winning, like he always says he is, then he might be able to summon some kind of inner strength to do it. I’ll hold my thoughts on that for a while.

Either way, this was a good first step, and something the nation needed to hear from the president in this hyper-political chaos we’ve been living through.

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