200,000 Dead Isn’t a Statistic. It’s a Tragedy.

by JOHN J. PITNEY, JR. for The Bulwark

Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ) visits a COVID Memorial Project installation of 20,000 American flags on the National Mall as the United States crosses the 200,000 lives lost in the COVID-19 pandemic September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. The flags are displayed on the grounds of the Washington Monument facing the White House. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)


I did feel sorry for the GOP staffers who do rapid response for Donald Trump. I did similar work at various times in the past, writing talking points for the House Republicans and the Republican National Committee. Back then, I responded to attacks by putting the best face on the events of the Reagan-Bush years. My successors have a challenge that I never had to worry about: In 2020, there is no best face.

The central fact of this election is that more than 200,000 Americans have died because of COVID-19. President Trump himself set that number as a benchmark for judging his response. On March 29, he said: “And so, if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000—that’s a horrible number—maybe even less, but to 100,000; so we have between 100- and 200,000—we all, together, have done a very good job.”

Well, we are now over 200,000 and the pandemic is still killing more than 5,000 Americans a week. By his own standard, Trump has done a very bad job.

No amount of spinning will make the bodies disappear. And yet, Trump and his minions have tried to dodge this basic fact.

A few weeks ago, Trump retweeted a claim that the Centers for Disease Control had “quietly” revised its numbers. According to the tweet, “only 6%” of the deaths were due to COVID and the rest involved other serious conditions. Twitter removed Trump’s retweet because its assertion was bogus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious diseases, said a preexisting condition “does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.”

As any communications person will tell you, messaging will fail without having at least roots in reality.

At a Michigan rally, Trump said: “You see how good we’re doing relative to other countries.”

Nope. This claim flunks both the eyeball test and the smell test. The United States has more COVID deaths per 100,000 than most other nations. Our death rate is twice as great as Canada’s, five times greater than Germany’s, and 18 times greater than Australia’s.

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Tom O'Halleran for Congress