Amidst crisis, Trump has a Mission Accomplished moment (again)

It's not just that Donald Trump, unembarrassed by hubris, has declared Mission Accomplished. The trouble is, he keeps declaring Mission Accomplished.
Image: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on reopening businesses amid coronavirus at the Oval Office on May 6, 2020.
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on reopening businesses amid coronavirus at the Oval Office on May 6, 2020.Doug Mills / Pool via Getty Images file

Donald Trump held a rather unsettling press conference at the White House yesterday, which included a presidential boast he probably should have avoided.

"We have met the moment, and we have prevailed," Trump told reporters during a White House briefing. The president later added that he was referring to testing, not the virus itself.

Even if we accept the clarification at face value, and assume he was referring specifically to coronavirus testing and not the broader crisis, the boast is impossible to take seriously.

Indeed, Trump's rhetoric about testing is so detached from reality, it suggests the president is struggling to keep up with current events. He stood in front of a banner that declared, in all capital letters, that the United States currently "leads the world in testing," which isn't true. Trump said any American who wants a test can now get one, which is ridiculous.

The president keeps trying to compare U.S. testing to South Korea's testing in ways that make clear Trump is deeply confused about basic details. He added yesterday that all Americans returning to the workplace will be able to get daily tests "very soon," which is a bizarre fantasy. At one point, the president's rhetoric on testing was contradicted by his own testing coordinator, Adm. Brett Giroir.

But let's not brush past the "we have prevailed" chest-thumping too quickly.

George W. Bush never actually said, "Mission Accomplished," despite his association with the ignominious phrase. It was the text on a banner above Bush's head in 2003 when the then-president declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq, and his presidency was haunted by the phrase as conditions in the Middle East deteriorated.

The significance lingered: the Republican's two-word banner came to represent premature celebration amidst disastrous circumstances. As regular readers know, it quickly became a warning to future presidents who might be tempted by hubris.

Trump has repeatedly failed to heed that warning, especially in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As we discussed a couple of months ago, the president claimed on Feb. 2, in reference to the virus, "We're going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes." A few weeks later, he added, "[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."

In early March, Trump went so far as to brag, "This came unexpectedly a number of months ago. I heard about it in China. It came out of China, and I heard about it. And made a good move: We closed it down; we stopped it."

If these aren't "Mission Accomplished" moments, they're certainly rhetorical cousins of the phrase. In fact, with Bush never having uttered the words, Trump's COVID-19 declarations are arguably quite a bit worse.

And yet, the current president can't seem to help himself.