Trump points to imagined 'manuals' to argue against virus tests

Trump's ongoing campaign against COVID-19 testing has reached a new level: he's begun pointing at "books" and "manuals" that don't exist.
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
By Steve Benen

At one point in Donald Trump's interview with Axios' Jonathan Swan, the president complained, "When I took over we didn't even have a test."

In context, the Republican was referring a test on COVID-19, and he was correct: in 2017, there was no test for a virus that emerged in 2019. If only the Obama administration had invented a time machine in order to help Trump govern more effectively, this wouldn't have been such a problem.

But it was part of the same exchange that viewers were treated to a routine that might've been funny were it not such a serious subject.

TRUMP: You know there are those that say, you can test too much. You do know that.

SWAN: Who says that?

TRUMP: Oh, just read the manuals read the books.

SWAN: Manuals? What manuals?

TRUMP: Read the books. Read the books.

SWAN: What books?

In reality, of course, there are no books or manuals that argue there's such a thing as excessive viral testing during a pandemic. The very idea is bonkers: widespread testing is part of any comprehensive solution.

(Let's also pause to note one of Trump's more annoying rhetorical tricks. He often says something like, "You know that" to journalists as an addendum to some foolish assertion. He apparently assumes that media professionals, reluctant to appear ignorant, will agree or concede the point, and therefore let the president get away with peddling nonsense. To his credit, Swan knew better.)

What makes this notable is not Trump's willingness to point to manuals and books that exist only in his imagination, but rather, his ongoing efforts to undermine public confidence in the importance of testing. Indeed, the president has made the transition from calling on officials to "slow down" the pace of testing to arguing that mysterious authors he can't identify believe "you can test too much."

In the meantime, Politico reported yesterday, "As President Donald Trump continues to downplay the need for increased Covid-19 testing across the country, White House officials were told on Monday they will now be subjected to random testing for the virus."

There's no word yet as to whether Trump has warned his own team about the hazards of excessive testing.