On virus death toll, Trump's boasts go completely off the rails

Trump boasted that the per-capital coronavirus fatality rate is "perhaps the most important number there is." He hasn't thought this one through.
Image: TOPSHOT-US-HEALTH-VIRUS
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
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By Steve Benen

At one point during yesterday's White House press conference, a reporter asked Donald Trump for his expectations on the U.S. death toll by the summer. For a moment, I thought the president might add yet another prediction to his unfortunate series.

Fortunately, he did not. "You know what?" Trump replied. "I don't want to think about it, even."

But the president has given U.S. fatalities at least some thought. In fact, at the same event, Trump boasted, "I think one of the things we're most proud of is -- this just came out -- deaths per 100,000 people, death -- so deaths per 100,000 people: Germany and the United States are at the lowest rung of that ladder.... Germany and the United States are the two best in deaths per 100,000 people, which, frankly, to me, that's perhaps the most important number there is."

This was not a slip of the tongue: Trump made the identical claim twice yesterday, suggesting it's become a key White House talking point.

It is, however, spectacularly wrong. A Washington Post analysis said this might be the single "wrongest thing Trump has said about coronavirus."

It's true that, while the United States has the most confirmed coronavirus cases and the most confirmed coronavirus deaths, it lags behind some Western European countries when it comes to per capita deaths. I wrote about this a week ago, noting that the raw number can be deceiving when it comes to the total impact on countries. But the United States is nowhere close to having one of the lowest per capita death rates. In fact, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, we rank ninth-highest out of more than 140 countries for which information is available.

As the Post's report added, putting the United States next to Germany "is ridiculous; Germany has about nine deaths per 100,000 people, as compared with about 24 per 100,000 people in the United States."

All things considered, this represents either the latest instance in which the president had no idea what he was talking about, or the latest instance in which Trump peddled demonstrable nonsense with the hopes that the public wouldn't know the difference.