Trump’s “Joke” about Testing

The gaslighting will continue until morale improves.

President Trump Travels to Maine President Donald J. Trump walks from the Oval Office to the South Lawn of White House to board Marine One for Joint Base Andrews Md. Friday, June 5, 2020, to begin his trip to Bangor, Maine. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufiour)
President Donald J. Trump walks from the Oval Office to the South Lawn of White House to board Marine One for Joint Base Andrews Md. Friday, June 5, 2020, to begin his trip to Bangor, Maine. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufiour)

As noted in James Joyner’s post about yesterday’s event in Tulsa, Trump stated the following:

At his campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday night, Trump mocked the need for coronavirus tests and called widespread testing a “double-edged sword.”

“Here’s the bad part,” he said. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’ “

Here’s the video:

Of course, this is being played off as a “joke.” Here’s Peter Navarro this morning:

NAVARRO: “Come on now, Jake, you know it was tongue in cheek. That was tongue in cheek, please.”

TAPPER: “I don’t know that it was tongue in cheek at all. He has said similar things for months.”

NAVARRO: “We’ve got over 30 million people unemployed and we’ve seen over 100,000 people die because of the China, Wuhan virus. Let’s talk about some serious issues, Jake. I don’t want to go there.”

TAPPER: “I think that testing is a very serious issue. I’m not the one making jokes about it. You’re the one that said the president was being tongue in cheek.”

NAVARRO: “Come on, it was a light moment.”

Now, was Trump being mocking? Yes. Did some of the crowd laugh? Yes. Do I think he ordered less testing? No, but only because he doesn’t control testing (plus I never assume any of Trump’s performative dialogs are actually real recitations of actual conversations).

But, more importantly, his goal here is to downplay the pandemic as well as to misuse data to try and make his administration look better.

The mocking in the full clip, such as when he describes a child this sniffles who will be better in “fifteen minutes,” is clear. He is not making a joke, nor is he really making a point about policy, he is mockingly downplaying a pandemic in a way that has real consequences for public health.

And while he loves to take credit for the absolute number of tests, he does not understand (and/or hopes his audience does not understand) the difference between absolute number of tests and tests as a function of population. (Indeed, previous deployment of the term “per capita” by Trump suggest that he doesn’t know what it means).

So, yes leader in number of tests:

But, not in terms of per million population where we are not a world leader (when Belarus is outpacing you, you can’t be deemed a world leader). Indeed, we need to do better.

The narrative that the number of cases doesn’t really matter ignores the reality that each case, whether detected or not, means the potential for spread increases.

Further, if one thinks that the virus is not as dangerous as many think, then more tests to reveal that maybe the disease is both more widespread and yet with less effect than feared would be a good thing. It other words, if we test and find out far more people have the disease than we thought, we might find out that mortality is not as bad as we thought it was or that our fears about hospital resources were unfounded.

There should be no scenario wherein we wouldn’t want more testing. Indeed, if we really could determine who is infected and who isn’t all of these other guidelines and practices wouldn’t be necessary. The ignorance and irresponsibility here is truly something to behold.

One thing is certain: there is a narrative out there that we have more cases because we have more testing (as if that is supposed to be comforting). This has been Florida Governor DeSantis’ line.

The bottom line, of course, is that cases exist regardless of testing. Testing just confirms the existence of an infection. The more we know, the more we can make better policy. What gets lost in all of this is the potential for asymptomatic spread. This isn’t that hard to understand, but since Trump wants to downplay, obfuscate, and needlessly politicize the situation, we have some level of chaos on the public health scene.

Public policy matters and the lack of a unified message on how to address this challenge has consequences:

Source: “In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm.” WaPo.

Mocking the idea of testing, downplaying the importance of detection, and engaging in crowd construction in service of ego are all highly irresponsible actions, none of which can be ascribed to leadership or even bare minimum competence.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    The cardinal requirement for a joke is that it be funny.

    The number of things Trump has tried to pass off as a joke, indicate none of his “jokes” are funny. And the one time I can recall he got a good laugh, at the UN general Assembly, he didn’t think he was being funny.

    17
  2. Gustopher says:

    Now, was Trump being mocking? Yes. Did some of the crowd laugh? Yes. Do I think he ordered less testing? No, but only because he doesn’t control testing (plus I never assume any of Trump’s performative dialogs are actually real recitations of actual conversations).

    Oh, I’m willing to bet that he complained that all the cases were making him look bad, and to keep the numbers down. If he didn’t explicitly order fewer tests, that’s only because he didn’t have to be explicit. And it’s why he “jokes” about it now.

    Trump’s jokes are always mean-spirited and at someone else’s expense. The butt of the joke this time is the people who believe it’s a joke.

    Whether anyone followed the implicit orders or not… that I have no idea of.

    9
  3. @Kathy: Indeed. Really, he rarely jokes and mostly just mocks.

    @Gustopher: I am sure he has complained about it out loud.

    3
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    I would bet my car it was not a joke. He said it, he demanded it, he threw temper tantrums about it, then lost interest, and hopefully the few remaining grown-ups in the shit show White House smothered it.

    11
  5. Scott F. says:

    It was overshadowed by what followed, but what Trump said just prior to his “joke” gets to the heart of Trump’s whole take on COVID-19.

    And despite the fact that we … I have done a phenomenal job with it, I shut down the United States to very heavily infected but all people from China in late January, which is months earlier than other people would have done it, if they would have done it at all. I saved hundreds of thousands of lives. We don’t ever get even a mention. Then I closed it down to Europe early, closed it down because I saw what was happening. And by the way, most people said, don’t do it, don’t do it. We saved hundreds of thousands of lives and all we do is get hit on like we’re terrible.

    That was said in absolute earnestness. You can tell because he is talking about himself.

    So, Trump heard the 1M to 2M deaths number that was projected should nothing have been done in response to the pandemic. And now he’s convinced he saved the day and he’s just not getting the credit for it.

    Let that sink in for a second.

    8
  6. CSK says:

    In addition to being a churl, a crook, a liar, a buffoon, an ignoramus, and a general incompetent Trump is a sadist, and sadists have no sense of humor. The only thing that makes them laugh is the suffering of other people.

    8
  7. gVOR08 says:

    Thank you for noting that Trump has little or no control over testing. Trump does this all the time, protesters in Tulsa will be dealt with more harshly than Minneapolis, he’ll send federal troops to Seattle. He doesn’t even have control over stuff he could control, like building a big, beautiful wall. The supposedly liberal MSM keep reporting that Trump said something threatening (his supporters hear strong). The real story is that, once again, he’s just posturing and blowing. The best way to deal with a blowhard like Trump is not pearl clutching over what he says he might do, but ridicule for what he does do. Reporting these threats as serious just normalizes him. The man’s a joke, report that he’s a joke.

    3
  8. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    “…I shut down the United States to very heavily infected but all people from China…”

    Read that. What the hell is he talking about? That doesn’t make sense.

    @gVOR08:
    Yes.

    6
  9. @Michael Reynolds:

    he threw temper tantrums about it, then lost interest,

    This is, of course, a highly believable scenario.

    3
  10. David M says:

    I don’t know the idea that Trump doesn’t have any control over the testing is completely correct. The tests were late, slow to ramp up and had different agencies alternately throwing up roadblocks. And never once did Trump or anyone in his administration act like the lack of tests was a national emergency, and literally nothing was more important.

    Trump didn’t have to actively tell people to slow down the tests, he just had to make it known it wasn’t a priority.

    7
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    What’s surprising at least to me is that upon examining NYT’s excellent Covid map I’m not seeing spikes following the major demonstrations. It’s been more than two weeks since the first demos in Minneapolis but their rate is falling. Ditto Chicago, the DC area, Philadelphia, NYC, even Durham County, NC, despite the rest of the state struggling.

    IANAD still less an epidemiologist, but it’s looking more and more like the main culprits are large, indoor gatherings where people breathe infected air over a more lengthy period of time. Which thankfully lets Tulsa off the hook as no one could really call that a ‘large’ gathering.

    11
  12. JohnMcC says:

    @David M: Would mention that Mr Trump had quite a bit of control over the CDC personnel who were aware that the testing kits had been contaminated but sent them across the country anyway. Just to mention one small example of the complete incompetence of Republican governance in the 21st century.

    In the other thread, I tossed out a mention of the OK earthquake that followed the President’s speech with a reference to ‘The Almighty’ giving an opinion of our Mr Trump.

    If that were actually true, would it be possible that He is determined to exact a perfect one-to-one justice for the Iraq invasion by the previous incredibly bad President? That Bush character that we have managed to forget and forgive?

    2
  13. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @David M: Trump’s role was to get his fat orange ass out and unscrew global supply chain so that the States could them implement their testing regimes. Instead he left States out to dry to complete with European and Asian nations who were competing for supplies as well. Only New York and California are strong enough to swim on their own in that current. Every other State is screwed.

    9
  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    This is yet another salvo from the “Don’t listen to what Trump says” crowd. Just a slightly different pitch from “look at what he does, not what he says”.

    I mean, yeah, it is performative and crowd-pleasing. I think it’s meant to portray how unselfish Trump is: Testing is bad for me personally, but we’re going to do it anyway. Which is in some sense truth, but it’s not like he can stop it.

    What the president says, even the kind of jokes he says, matters. It’s why he wanted to be President in the first place. It’s more or less the most important power of the Presidency: People listen to what you say.

    Sheesh.

    1
  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Too lazy to Google-fu the article, but recently I read an analysis which said of all of the protective actions taken, wearing a mask looked to be the most effective at cutting the transmission rate down and protecting people overall. So if all the BLM protestors were wearing masks (as a lot of photos seem to indicate) and otherwise tried to distance overall, it’s not a surprise that we’re not seeing a surge from their gatherings. The acid test will of course be to see if any super spreaders were created from Trump’s little excursion into Tulsa and his band of cultists…considering how easy it is to wear a mask, I have absolutely no sympathy for the idiots who may have caught/spread coronavirus-19 because “coronavirus doesn’t exist”, or “I’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus”, or “I’m not gonna wear a mask because Trump doesn’t and if I catch it, well, I catch it.”

    3
  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The most interesting thing about the two graphs is that they chart “heavily impacted” countries, but neither China nor South Korea are on the graphs. How so? Certainly the degree to which both countries reacted to contain the virus–having been down that road before–played a significant role. I don’t follow what’s going on in China, but I do in Korea. A significant difference from here is that Korea has been doing as many as 10,000 tests a day. When the schools reopened a few weeks ago, every student had his or her temperature taken, got a covid test if feverish, and schools in Incheon that had students who tested positive coming entering were closed and sanitized again before they tried to open the following day. I think it all plays a role in how things turn out, but I’m only an ignint cracker, so I may not know.

    To draw the comparison another way, at the end of March the US had tested one out of every ~1000 of population, Korea had tested one out of every ~150. But you don’t want to do too many tests, it’ll make more people sick.

    (For the record, my county had tested one out off every 10000 in March, but is up to ~4% of the population tested now (provided that no one has had to be tested more than once. 😉 )

    2
  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    So if all the BLM protestors were wearing masks (as a lot of photos seem to indicate) and otherwise tried to distance overall, it’s not a surprise that we’re not seeing a surge from their gatherings.

    Another factor is the BLM protests were outside, there is anecdotal evidence that casual contact outdoors shows low transmission rates. Another example are the pool parties at Lake of the Ozarks on Memorial Day.

    3
  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I’m with you: fuck ’em. It’s like feeling sorry for a lifelong 3 pack-a-day smoker who gets emphysema. I mean, look, I don’t like seeing anyone suffer but there’s a big Pez dispenser of people I need to feel sorry for and they are about five refills away.

    2
  19. Mikey says:

    It’s hard to come up with a single graphic more starkly illustrative of America’s utter failure than the final one above.

    2
  20. An Interested Party says:

    Over 100,000 people in this country dead because of this pandemic and the President of the United States is supposedly making a joke related to it…how no one who supports this fraud isn’t ashamed shows how delusional his followers really are…

    5
  21. Hal_10000 says:

    Doesn’t control testing, no. BUT. We had a month’s delay before testing became available at all and two months in the kind of numbers we needed. A huge part of that is one the Fed’s doorstep. They refused the WHO’s test and went with a CDC test that didn’t work. People who were doing tests were told to stop. And the FDA dragged its heels approving private sector tests.

    That is … Trump the Great Deregulator couldn’t cut the red tape. Given that he’s had no problems cutting regulations on pollution and worker safety, one can only think that getting the testing going was something that didn’t matter to him or that he didn’t want to happen because it would contradict the narrative that the virus was contained.

    Either way, as I said in the other thread, people around Trump are constantly tested. One rule for him; one rule for us.

    14
  22. @David M:

    I don’t know the idea that Trump doesn’t have any control over the testing is completely correct. The tests were late, slow to ramp up and had different agencies alternately throwing up roadblocks. And never once did Trump or anyone in his administration act like the lack of tests was a national emergency, and literally nothing was more important.

    I agree that Trump bears some responsibility for the general state of testing, but he does not control/direct daily testing activity.

    1
  23. @Hal_10000: Like I said above: I am not absolving him of responsibility for a host of problems associated with testing. I am just calling BS on the notion he is in the WH directing national testing rates.

    1
  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Really, he rarely jokes and mostly just mocks.

    Is there an actual attested Trump joke or witticism — something said in public, and not attributed to him by others later? I’m not aware of any.

    2
  25. Richard Pohl says:

    Trump’s humor and sarcasm is 69 dimensional. It is so subtle and profound that it can only be detected by trained Trump supporters after it has been widely, and publicly criticized.

    1