Donald Trump seems to realize that the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has soared in recent weeks, but the president insists the data comes with an asterisk: the increase is misleading, he's argued, because it's the direct result of improved virus testing, not outbreaks.
Fact-checkers have repeatedly tried to explain why Trump's wrong, but he repeats the falsehood on a nearly daily basis. It's effectively brute-force lying: the president believes reality can simply be overpowered by nonsensical repetition.
It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked the Republican yesterday whether he'd be willing to acknowledge that testing alone can't fully explain the latest increases. His response was ridiculous, even by Trump standards.
"Well, you know that we have one of the lowest mortality rates anywhere. If you know, Biden and Obama stopped their testing; they just stopped it. You probably know that. I'm sure you don't want to report it. But they stopped testing. Right in the middle, they just went, 'No more testing,' and on a much lesser problem than the problem that we have... But, no, we are -- we test more than anybody, by far. And when you test, you create cases. So we've created cases."
The assertion that the United States has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world isn't true. What's more, the idea that the Obama administration simply stopped doing H1N1 testing "right in the middle" of the public-health emergency in 2009 is bizarre.
But what struck me as especially amazing is the idea that "we've created cases" by way of coronavirus testing.
As best as I can tell, the president first peddled this line during a Fox News interview last week, when Trump told Sean Hannity, "Test everybody, pull-up parking lots, everything else, what we've done is we've created a tremendous number of cases." He used very similar phrasing yesterday, adding that virus testing "creates cases."
I'm generally disinclined to get into a semantics debate with a president who routinely abuses the language, but the public really needs to understand the difference between identifying coronavirus cases and creating coronavirus cases.
The act of getting tested is not itself dangerous to the public. The process doesn't make positive test results. It's the sort of basic detail Trump really ought to understand by now.
And yet, he can't seem to help himself. A little after midnight, the president published a tweet about testing, writing, "This is why we have so many 'cases' for the media to constantly refer to!"
To be sure, Trump has repeatedly made it clear he has no idea how quotation marks work. But given everything we've seen from him in recent months, it's hardly unreasonable to wonder if the president put quotes around "cases" because he questions whether the number of positive test results are real.