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Image: Testing for COVID-19 at a drive-in testing site in San Diego, California
A San Diego County health nurse collects a sample from a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 testing site in San Diego, Calif., on June 25, 2020.Mike Blake / Reuters

As case totals climb, Trump flunks test on testing (and arithmetic)

Several months into this crisis, Trump is lost and increasingly impatient with the public's resistance to embracing his flawed understanding of reality.


At a strange White House event on school re-openings this week, Donald Trump, unprompted, peddled a familiar claim: "Because we’re doing more testing, we have more cases. If we did half the testing, we would have far fewer cases. But people don’t view it that way."

What the president still struggles to understand is that "people don’t view it that way" because such an assertion doesn't make any sense.

He nevertheless brought the same claim to Twitter again this morning.

"For the 1/100th time, the reason we show so many Cases, compared to other countries that haven’t done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better. We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, Cases would be half, etc. NOT REPORTED!"

I'm mindful of the fact that there's little value in trying to peek into Trump's psyche, but given his phrasing and the frequency with which he pushes this line, it seems the president isn't lying, so much as he's just confused.

He seems to recognize that the coronavirus cases in his own country are brutal and getting worse, but desperate to put a positive spin on a public-health disaster, Trump has apparently convinced himself that there's no need to blame himself for his administration's failures -- because he can just blame testing.

Indeed, as he tweeted, the president has told us this one-one hundredth times. (We're occasionally reminded why it's so easy to believe Mary Trump's assertion that the president paid someone to take his SAT exam for him.)

What's less clear is how best to explain this to Trump in a way he'd understand. Does he realize that a summer heat wave would still exist if we got rid of thermometers? Does the president know glaucoma wouldn't disappear if we ended eye exams?

Sam Stein framed this nicely this morning with a helpful analogy: "Look, for the 100th time, if we had 40,000,000 pregnant women but only administered 20,000,000 pregnancy tests then we would halve the number of births in our country. Everyone knows this and yet... NOT REPORTED!"

A Washington Post analysis added yesterday, "President Trump argues that the increase is a function of testing. It has been pointed out repeatedly that this isn’t the case, including by The Post nearly a month ago. As more data comes in, Trump’s repeated insistence on this point makes it more and more obviously wrong."

This is, alas, familiar ground. The more the president peddles the transparently false claim, the more he's fact-checked. What's worth pausing to emphasize, however, is the calendar.

It's July, for goodness' sake. When Trump was struggling with basic details in March, his defenders might have credibly made the case that he was just getting up to speed on a new and deadly pandemic. After all, the president has no background in science, health care, or public service, so it stands to reason that it might take him a little while to find his governing footing.

But several months into this crisis, Trump is both lost and increasingly impatient with the public's resistance to embracing his flawed understanding of reality.

With each passing tweet, the president is effectively telling the world, "I'm just not up for this."