President Donald Trump congratulated the Fed on cutting rates, waved around a sheet of printed-out tweets sent by Google, and then once again gave information that conflicts with what his public health officials are saying on the coronavirus pandemic at a press conference Sunday — telling the public it should “relax” because “it all will pass.”
Trump began with the news that the Federal Reserve plans to cut interest rates to zero, saying, “That’s a big step and I’m very happy they did it. And you will not hear anything about me, unless it’s about a month or two from now. So I congratulate the Federal Reserve.”
He quickly went on to highlight the “head of Google, who is a great gentleman” — by which he likely meant Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai — and used an interaction with him to attack one of his habitual foils: the press.
Trump and Google have faced questions in recent days after the president announced Friday that the tech company was developing a website that would help Americans understand whether they needed a coronavirus test — and, if they did, where they could get one.
Trump claimed “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They’ve made tremendous progress” — but as Recode’s Peter Kafka has explained, it is not clear whether Google has been working on such a website.
In a series of tweets Friday, Google explained that Verily, a company owned by Alphabet, its parent company, is in the“early stages” of developing “a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing.” Saturday, the company tweeted that it is working with “the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information.”
Trump retweeted this message, and used it to malign the “Fake and Corrupt News:”
The Fake and Corrupt News never called Google. They said this was not true. Even in times such as these, they are not truthful. Watch for their apology, it won’t happen. More importantly, thank you to Google! https://t.co/AuvpbXNouW
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2020
At his press conference, he held up what appeared to be a printout of the tweets. Waving it at the reporters in the room, said, “I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace. … I’m sure you’ll apologize,” something he claimed Google’s leader called on him to do.
Trump did not explain why an apology from Google was necessary if the company was working on the site — and he also did not roll out the site Sunday, as both he and Vice President Mike Pence promised would happen.
Instead, he moved on to read the names of grocery chain CEOs he spoke with Sunday, praising their leadership, and telling Americans to buy fewer supplies from their stores.
“Doug of Walmart said that they’re buying more than they buy at Christmas,” Trump said. “Relax, we’re doing great, it all will pass.”
This is the sort of rhetoric the president’s critics say is damaging the government’s credibility with the public. He again minimized concerns while also contradicting the advice of his experts.
While it is true that hoarding supplies serves no one, the Department of Homeland Security has recommended that Americans keep a two-week supply of food and water in pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing.
It also is not clear, according to Trump administration experts, that “We’re all going to be great — we’re going to be so good,” as Trump claimed later in his remarks Sunday.
Just hours before the press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on ABC’s This Week and said, “People need to understand that things will get worse before they get better.”
Fauci was clear that he made that statement not to alarm anyone but to help the public understand the gravity of the situation we are in. Trump, however, has repeatedly provided the public with information that could make things even graver.
For instance, on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Fauci explained why — even though the coronavirus is believed to be more severe in older people and those with underlying health conditions — young and relatively healthy people should still take steps to limit their exposure.
“The virus is not a mathematical formula,” Fauci said. “There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill. So, protect yourself.”
He added that young people can also carry the virus without being seriously affected, infecting those for whom the virus could mean serious health risks. But Trump failed to convey that message, instead making the risk among younger Americans seem slight.
“I think very important — the young people, people of good health, and [these] groups of people are just not strongly affected,” Trump said. “Elderly people that are not well or not well in certain respects are really a very dangerous group. We have to watch them, we have to protect them very much.”
These sorts of statements from the president have become par for the course in this pandemic, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. It is true that there are administration officials out there like Fauci who are providing sound, balanced information — but it is also true that they do not speak with the weight and authority of the office of the president of the United States.
So when Trump tells younger Americans they are “not strongly affected” without providing any context, or when he says “it’s a very contagious virus, it’s incredible, but it’s something we have tremendous control of,” which is not true, he is doing more than giving bad advice or indulging in a little self-aggrandizement: He is putting lives at risk.