Despite the sharp uptick in cases he acknowledged and a US death toll that now exceeds 142,000, Trump declared that “it’s all going to work out. And it is working out.”
He suggested children do not transmit the coronavirus, though early evidence suggests children can and do. He attributed the recent rise in cases in part to racial justice protests, though early evidence suggests the protests did not cause a spike, and in part to migration from Mexico, though there is no evidence for this either.
Trump also claimed that he has done more for Black Americans than anyone else with the “possible exception” of President Abraham Lincoln. That is transparently ridiculous.
Here is a look at some of Trump’s claims and the facts behind them.
Trump suggests Mexico to blame
In assigning blame for the uptick in coronavirus cases, Trump also suggested that Mexico was responsible, even though public health officials haven’t publicly made this same accusation.
“Likely also contributing were also sharing a 2,000-mile border with Mexico, as we know very well, and cases are surging in Mexico, unfortunately,” Trump said on Wednesday.
Referring to his proposed US-Mexico border wall, Trump added, “It was really meant for a different purpose, but it worked out very well for what we’re doing right now and the pandemic.”
Facts First: Trump didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claims, and the nation’s top public health officials aren’t blaming Mexico for the US pandemic. Also, cases are spiking in states that don’t share a border with Mexico — like Florida, Louisiana and Idaho — undercutting Trump’s implication that border-crossers are bringing the disease into the US en masse. It’s worth noting that the virus first flared in places such as Washington State, New York and New Jersey, thousands of miles away from the Mexican border.
After the briefing, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta said there isn’t medical evidence supporting Trump’s assertions. “I don’t think there’s any data specifically on Mexico,” Gupta said. “We actually looked up to see if there was any data on that, and I didn’t find any.”
To be sure, Mexico does not have widespread testing and faces credible accusations of under-reporting its death toll, perhaps by thousands. But even if the outbreak is worse than the Mexican government is letting on, it pales in comparison to the American outbreak. There are at least 3.9 million cases in the US — a tenfold increase over the roughly 356,000 cases in Mexico.
In terms of deaths per capita, Mexico is worse off than the United States. And it’s true that some of border regions have high infection rates per capita, but the hardest-hit part of Mexico is nowhere near the US. And one region that shares a long border with Texas is in decent shape.
There is also a logic problem with Trump’s comments. On one hand, he’s blaming Mexico for the US spike. But he’s also saying that the border barriers have successfully kept out the virus.
Trump’s comments fit a larger pattern of his racially insensitive statements about Mexicans and Latinos, dating back to the first weeks of his presidential campaign, when he said many Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and that “tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border.”
Kids transmitting the virus
During Wednesday’s briefing, Trump continued to advocate for schools opening in the fall. In support of this he claimed that “a lot of people” say children “don’t transmit” coronavirus.
“They don’t catch it easily, they don’t bring it home easily,” Trump added. “And if they do catch it, they get better fast.”
Facts First: While children infected with coronavirus are less likely to develop severe symptoms than adults, not all “get better fast,” like Trump claimed. Furthermore, several studies suggest that children can and do transmit the virus.
According to one recent study from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children between 10 and 19 years old may transmit coronavirus just as much as adults.
“Although the detection rate for contacts of preschool-aged children was lower, young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of Covid-19,” the study said.
Both the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also studying families and households to better understand the role children play in transmitting the virus. But as of June 30, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said, “We don’t know the impact that children have yet on the transmission cycle.”
As a result, even though children appear to be affected less commonly or severely than adults, returning to school still poses certain risks.
“Relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized, and fewer children than adults experience fever, cough, or shortness of breath,” the CDC said in an article for pediatric health care providers published in late May. However, the article also noted that “severe outcomes have been reported in children including COVID-19 associated deaths.”
Protests and the rise in cases
Trump said there were a “number” of causes for the recent spike in coronavirus cases. He cited some uncontroversial possible contributors, such as Americans returning to bars and increasing their travel.
The first cause he listed, though, was the racial justice protests that swept the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
“Cases started to rise among young Americans shortly after demonstrations…which presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation nationwide,” Trump said.
Facts First: There is no solid evidence that the protests against racial injustice were a significant contributor to the spike in cases — though experts caution that there is still a lot we don’t know about how the virus has spread. Several cities with large and repeated demonstrations, including New York City, Minneapolis and Chicago, did not see spikes in confirmed cases in the weeks following the protests.
Why not? Possibly in part because the protests took place outdoors, where the virus is transmitted less efficiently than in indoor spaces; possibly in part because a significant percentage of protesters wore masks; and possibly because some non-protesters may have reduced their in-person interaction as they tried to avoid the protests.
In one early study of the impact of protests in large cities around the country, a group of economists found “no evidence that net COVID-19 case growth differentially rose following the onset of Black Lives Matter protests, and even modest evidence of a small longer-run case growth decline.” And in a Fox News interview shortly after the briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Deborah Birx did not mention the protests as a cause of the spike, saying that “this was an event that we think can be traced to Memorial Day and opening up as people [began] traveling again and being on vacation.”
It’s also a stretch to assign sole blame to the protests for triggering the relaxation of mitigation efforts. While it’s possible that some Americans saw the packed protests in May and June and decided it was therefore safe to return to normal activities themselves, Trump himself was calling
in May for states to “open up ASAP” and saying things like “our country has to get back.” Governors, including conservative Republicans not especially inclined to take cues from young activists, made decisions to relax official restrictions — and some of them did so weeks before the protests even happened.
Obama and Chicago
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins noted that in 2016 Trump said that it was President Barack Obama’s fault that homicides were up in Chicago. She questioned Trump, “Why was it the President’s fault then and not your fault now?”
Trump claimed that Obama “was invited in and he did a poor job. President Obama could’ve gone into Chicago. He couldn’t have solved the problem and he didn’t.”
Facts First: It is unclear what Trump is referring to exactly about Obama being “invited in” to mitigate violence in Chicago. Trump has advocated for sending the National Guard into Chicago before to help with its gun violence, something Obama did not do. Nor was federal law enforcement “invited in.” under the Obama administration. In fact, the Obama Justice Department had to sue the city of Chicago and enter a federally enforceable court agreement to address the police department’s pattern of excessive use of force against Chicagoans.
Since his early days in office, Trump has suggested sending the National Guard to curb gun violence in Chicago. Chicago’s history with the National Guard is tumultuous, most notably during the 1968 Chicago riots and later at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Obama did not send the National Guard to Chicago, but he did send another federal entity: the Justice Department. In 2015, the Obama Justice Department launched an investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s use of force practices and systems of accountability after the death of teenager Laquan McDonald, who was fatally shot 16 times by a police officer.
In January 2017, days before Trump took office, the DOJ released a scathing report that said, among other things, that officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, and offered a litany of recommendations to curb police violence. The DOJ entered an “agreement in principle” with Chicago to enter a consent decree, but shortly after the report was released, Trump’s Justice Department abandoned that effort.
Chicago wants a federal presence in the city
After Trump announced plans to send a “surge of federal law enforcement” to Chicago this week after the city experienced more gun violence, he claimed that Chicago will “want us to go in, full blast.”
“I think in their own way they want us to go in, full blast. There will be a time when they’re going to want us to go in full blast, but right now we are sending extra people to help. We are arresting a lot of people that have been very bad,” the President said.
Facts First: This is an overstatement and needs context. The mayor of Chicago, who has a testy relationship with Trump, has cautiously welcomed federal law enforcement into the city to help combat its gun violence, but noted that federal agents were not welcome to “terrorize our residents.”
After Trump announced this week that his administration would send law enforcement to Chicago to curb its gun violence problem, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s response to federal agents in Chicago evolved. Lightfoot sent a letter to Trump on Monday urging him not to send federal agents to the city, writing it would “spell disaster.”
But by Tuesday, Lightfoot cautiously embraced Trump’s federal law enforcement to help combat Chicago’s gun violence so long as the agents remain focused on gun violence.
“If those agents are here to actually work in partnership and support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that’s something different,” Lightfoot said at a news conference. “But the proof is going to be in the pudding. It’s too soon to say if this is a value add or not.”
Trump and Black Americans
Trump was asked at the briefing to respond to a comment from his Democratic election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, who said earlier Wednesday that Trump was the first racist to get elected president.
Biden’s comment was inaccurate. Regardless of one’s views on Trump, who has made a series of racist comments in office, we know that 12 presidents owned slaves, and that even some who didn’t, such as Woodrow Wilson, held clearly racist views.
But Trump’s response to Biden’s assertion was also wrong.
Citing policy measures like the Opportunity Zones tax-break program aimed at distressed communities and the criminal justice reform bill he signed, as well as the near-record-low Black unemployment rate prior to the pandemic, Trump said, “I’ve done things that nobody else — and I’ve said this and I say it openly and not a lot of people dispute it: I’ve done more for Black Americans than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. Nobody has even been close.”
Facts First: While we give Trump lots of latitude to express opinions, this one is simply ridiculous even if he is only comparing himself to previous presidents and excluding other Black heroes. It’s absurd to say Lincoln is a “possible” exception; emancipating the slaves was obviously more important for Black Americans than anything Trump has done. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, monumental bills whose impact dwarfed the impact of any legislation Trump has signed.
You can make an argument that numerous additional presidents did more for Black Americans than Trump, but we’ll stop there. It’s worth noting, though, that Black people themselves do not, on the whole, agree with Trump’s self-assessment. Trump has had a consistently abysmal approval rating with Black citizens — just 4% in one recent Quinnipiac University poll, for example, versus 93% disapproval.