'They are dying, that's true, and it is what it is'

Trump increasingly sounds like a leader who's convinced himself that nothing more needs to be done about the pandemic in his own country.
Image: President Trump Meets With US Tech Workers And Signs Executive Order On Hiring American
President Donald Trump makes remarks as he meets with U.S. Tech Workers and signs an Executive Order on Hiring Americans, in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Aug. 3, 2020.Doug Mills / Pool via Getty Images
By Steve Benen

Axios' Jonathan Swan covered a fair amount of ground with Donald Trump in an interview that aired last night on HBO, but the focus on the president's response to the pandemic was especially striking.

President Donald Trump said in an interview that the coronavirus in the United States is under control and that the rising death toll "is what it is" as cases have surged in some states.

In context, Trump insisted that the crisis is "under control" in the United States. Swan, incredulous, asked how the president could make such a comment when so many Americans are dying of COVID-19 every day.

It was at this point that Trump appeared to roll his eyes and said, "They are dying, that's true. And it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it."

The "it is what it is" line is obviously a misguided line for a president to take when describing viral fatalities in his own country, but I was just as struck by Trump's assertion that the coronavirus is "under control as much as you can control it."

That sounds like a leader who's convinced himself that nothing more needs to be done.

Soon after, in the same interview, Trump referred to a series of chart printouts that he said offered proof that the United States is "lower in the world" with regard to COVID-19 fatalities. Swan reviewed the graphs before realizing what the president was trying to say.

"Oh, you're [looking at] death as a proportion of cases," the reporter explained. "I'm talking about death as a proportion of population. That's where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc."

Trump, apparently confused, told Swan, "You can't do that," prompting the reporter to ask the obvious next question: "Why can't I do that?" The president, trying to deal with the printouts in his hands, tried to argue that looking at deaths as a proportion of population is not what people should "go by."

He added that some countries might be hiding their actual death totals -- because for Trump, nefarious figures are always conspiring in the shadows to make him look bad.

Stepping back, the interview left little doubt that the president, apparently unaware of what's going on around him, is still struggling to understand just how severe the effects of the pandemic are in his country and what he should be prepared to do about it.

But I also found myself dwelling on those charts Trump was fumbling through during the interview. It's probably safe to assume that he didn't print them out himself, which means aides prepared the papers for him.

And therein lies the problem: Trump is obviously flailing, and instead of having a White House staff that helps steer him in responsible directions, aides appear to be feeding his worst instincts, providing him with bogus "proof" that makes him feel better about his catastrophic failures.