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As death toll climbs, Trump says coronavirus 'affects virtually nobody'

As the US death toll tops 200,000, Trump continues to do what he's done for six months: downplay the seriousness of the crisis.
Image: President Trump Holds A News Conference At The White House
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Sept. 10, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

It wasn't long ago when Donald Trump argued that if the coronavirus pandemic claimed fewer than 200,000 American lives, it would be proof that the White House did "a very good job." It was an unfortunate standard: the domestic death toll crossed the 200,000-fatalities threshold over the weekend.

By and large, the president and his team ignored the tragic milestone, except to tell reporters that Team Trump has done "a really good job," "a phenomenal job," "an incredible job," and "a great job" -- reality notwithstanding.

It was against this backdrop that the president held another campaign rally in Ohio last night, where he shared some fresh thoughts on COVID-19 and the threat to the public.

"We now know the disease. We didn't know it, now we know it. It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that's what it really affects. That's it. You know in some states thousands of people, nobody young below the age of 18, like, nobody, they have a strong immune system. Who knows? You take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system, but it affects virtually nobody. It's an amazing thing."

In context, it wasn't altogether clear whether the "affects virtually nobody" phrase was intended to apply specifically to the young or to a broader population. Either way, pretty much everything the president said was outrageously wrong. As a Washington Post report explained:

Much remains unknown about the virus's effect on young people, but public health agencies have made clear that individuals under 18 are at greater risk of falling ill and spreading covid-19 than originally thought. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number and rate of coronavirus cases among children under 18 had increased "steadily" from March to July. The agency emphasized that while covid-19 remains more serious and prevalent among adults, a lack of widespread testing prevents public health experts from understanding the true incidence of infection for American children. A CDC study found that young people of color, much like their older counterparts, have been disproportionately hospitalized from covid-19 compared to their White peers.

Adding insult to injury -- in this case, almost literally -- Trump knows these claims aren't true. We can say this with some certainty because the president spoke on tape to Bob Woodward, telling the journalist earlier this year that the virus affects "plenty of young people."

The president added, "Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older."

And while these details obviously matter, last night also offered an ill-timed reminder about the Republican's eagerness to downplay the seriousness of the crisis.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward in March. "I still like playing it down." Six months later, he's still playing it down, even as the death toll climbs above 200,000.

At a town-hall event last week, a voter asked him, "If you believe it's the president's responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities?" The president replied, "Yeah, well, I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action."

It was head-spinning at the time, since we've all heard the tape of Trump stating clearly that he deliberately chose to downplay it. A week later, as the president un-up-plays the crisis, his incoherence is getting worse.