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Trump promotes message questioning coronavirus death toll

Trump's campaign to deceive the public about a deadly ongoing pandemic is qualitatively different than the usual presidential nonsense.
A body is moved from a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue to a vehicle at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, in Brooklyn, New York on April 8, 2020.Bryan R. Smith / AFP - Getty Images

Those trying to keep up with Donald Trump's Twitter account over the weekend faced a daunting challenge. Yesterday morning, for example, between 4:49 a.m. (ET) and 7:04 a.m. (E.T.), the president either tweeted or retweeted 89 times.

But it wasn't just the volume that was the problem. It was the messages themselves.

Over the course of one weekend, the Republican promoted all kinds of bizarre content calling for the imprisonment of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), arguing that social-justice protests may be part of an organized "coup" attempt, offering support for an accused murderer in Wisconsin, and at one point, even suggesting that the COVID-19 death toll in the United States is not to be trusted.

"So get this straight — based on the recommendation of doctors Fauci and Birx the US shut down the entire economy based on 9,000 American deaths to the China coronavirus," said the summary of an article by the hard-line conservative website Gateway Pundit that was retweeted by the president, denigrating his own health advisers, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx.

As the New York Times' report on this added, the missive in question "was a distortion of data available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that 6 percent of coronavirus fatalities list only the virus on the death certificates. For other deaths, the patients had an average of 2.6 other conditions or causes of death. The statistics do not mean that they did not die because of the virus, but help explain who is most vulnerable to it."

The tweet was so wildly misleading that Twitter felt compelled to take it down to prevent the spread of misinformation. It was, however, good enough for the president.

And while it's of interest whenever Trump appears to be in the midst of a meltdown, his campaign to deceive the public about a deadly ongoing pandemic is qualitatively different than the usual presidential nonsense.

For one thing, many Americans may not fully appreciate the extent to which Trump still has no idea what he's talking about. For another, the president is still in a position of extraordinary power, and if he's genuinely under the impression that the fatality figures have been exaggerated, it will lead him to make -- or in this case, continue to make -- misguided decisions.

But just as important is the fact that the online content Trump felt compelled to promote probably had it backwards: the problem with the official death toll isn't that it's been inflated, but rather, that it may not fully reflect the full count.

Leading U.S. authorities have spent months warning about a possible under-count, not over-count.

So why is Trump raising the prospect of the opposite? Apparently because a right-wing website published a message that made the president feel better about his failures.