Donald Trump had a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House South Lawn late yesterday, at which the president fielded a straightforward question: "Why haven't you said anything about the U.S. hitting 200,000 deaths from COVID?"
Trump paused briefly, before saying, "Uh, anybody else?"
It was, in other words, a question the Republican didn't see worthy of an answer. A different reporter nevertheless asked a similar question: "Mr. President, could you speak to the grim milestone today of 200,000 deaths to the virus? What do you want to say to the American people?" Trump decided to answer this one:
"Well, I think it's a shame. I think if we didn't do it properly and do it right, you'd have two and a half million deaths. If you take a look at alternatives, you could have two and a half million deaths or something thereabouts."
These were the president's first -- and only -- public comments about the United States reaching the tragic milestone.
He soon after left, went to Pittsburgh, and held a campaign rally with supporters who didn't seem especially interested in social distancing. At the large gathering, the president made no mention of the death toll, though he did mock mask-wearing -- a simple step the administration's public-health officials have said can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
So where does that leave us? On the one hand, Trump is downplaying the worst American mass-casualty event since World War II, suggesting 200,000 fatalities is evidence of his team responding to the crisis the "right" way.
And on the other hand, the president is simultaneously contradicting his own standards: six months ago, he told the public that if the overall death toll was below 200,000, it would be proof that the White House did "a very good job." Now that the death toll has crossed that threshold, Trump is asking Americans to believe his failure should be seen as a success.
All of this, of course, came just one day after the president made the case at a different rally that COVID-19 "affects virtually nobody."
Trump's right that "it's a shame" the pandemic has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Americans, but it's clearly not the only shame.