Donald Trump has come up with a new excuse for the astonishing scale of his country’s coronavirus outbreak.
It’s not a good one.
“Don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing,” Mr Trump told workers at a medical supply plant in Pennsylvania yesterday.
“When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.
“They don’t want to write that. It’s just common sense.”
If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.
This is a stupid statement. It is not “controversial” or “bizarre” or “unconventional”, or any of the other words we traditionally use to sanitise the absurd things that come out of Mr Trump’s mouth with such depressing regularity.
It is just pure, weapons-grade stupid.
It’s like saying that if you don’t use pregnancy tests, you’ll never have a baby. Or that if police stop investigating murders, the amount of crime will drop.
If the United States tested fewer people, it would still have the same number of cases. The government would just have no idea where they were, and therefore no capacity to contain them. The virus would be allowed to spread undetected.
In the long run, of course, that would actually lead to more infections and more deaths.
It is exactly what happened in the US throughout the whole month of February. As government agencies bungled their response, and Mr Trump deluded himself into thinking the virus was no worse than the flu, there was a severe shortage of test kits.
America’s official numbers looked OK at that point. And then testing finally, belatedly started to ramp up. The “invisible enemy”, as Mr Trump likes to call it, became a heck of a lot more visible.
By mid-March, after weeks spent dismissing concerns about the virus as “hysteria” and insisting cases were going “substantially down, not up”, Mr Trump was claiming he had “always known” it was a pandemic. He could no longer ignore the facts.
Now the US has 1.4 million confirmed cases of the virus, more than five times as many as Spain in second place. Its death toll is 87,000, more than twice as bad as Britain’s.
That doesn’t prove testing is the problem. It proves the opposite – that the absence of testing leads to disaster.
Somehow, Mr Trump has failed to grasp this agonisingly obvious point, and has reached an entirely different conclusion.
“It could be the testing’s, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated,” he said yesterday.
The fundamental problem here, or one of them at least, is that Mr Trump seems more concerned with the number of reported cases, and how that number makes him look, than with the actual reality of how many Americans are infected with an illness that might kill them.
Cast your mind back to March, when he explained why he didn’t want the passengers from a cruise ship anchored off San Francisco to be brought ashore and quarantined. Mr Trump said he liked “the numbers being where they are”.
“I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” he said.
His logic was ridiculous. Any person with an appropriately ordered set of priorities knew it didn’t actually matter whether the infected people were on the ship or locked up on dry land – either way, they were infected.
Mr Trump was worried about the optics of the official tally going up when he should have been worrying about the patients’ welfare.
The same thing is happening now, just on a greater scale. Mr Trump is frustrated that the media keeps reporting how much larger America’s outbreak is than any other country’s. He expresses no frustration at the fact that America’s outbreak really is larger than any other country’s.
“Don’t those pesky reporters realise that if we didn’t bother to look for infections, we wouldn’t find any?” he apparently tells himself, thinking it’s a clever point.
Some trusted adviser needs to whisper in Mr Trump’s ear that the US has more cases than anywhere else not because it tests more people, but because more of its people are infected. And as President, that is what he is supposed to care about.
Mr Trump clearly wants to be re-elected. Well, the surest way for an incumbent politician to win – particularly when a crisis hits – is for them to do their job well.
It is bewildering how often leaders fail to realise that, as obvious as it seems to the rest of us. They waste their time trying to spin their way out of failure when focusing on succeeding in the first place would actually be easier.
Instead of marketing America’s horrific coronavirus toll as best he can, or gambling on longshot miracle cures, or shifting the blame to the states, or fighting with reporters every day, Mr Trump should be exclusively fixated on limiting the virus’s spread.
If he had taken the pandemic seriously from the start and managed it competently, as our own government has, he would probably be coasting to re-election.
But no. He’s still distracted by nonsense.
Last month it was the brain fart about injecting people with disinfectant or bathing them in “very powerful light”.
Before that it was hydroxychloroquine, hailed as “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and then quickly forgotten.
Now it’s the idea that testing is “overrated” because it makes the numbers look bad – which, of course, is exactly what they are.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is pressuring America’s state governors to reopen their economies, even though practically none of them are in a position to do so safely.
Guess what the first and most important prerequisite for easing restrictions is? You should be familiar with it by now. Our own government’s medical experts mention it at every single media conference.
Testing! Fast, widespread testing. That is what allows health officials to identify new outbreaks, conduct contact tracing and isolate anyone who has been exposed.
The quickest way for Mr Trump to accomplish his goal of reviving the economy is to preach the virtues of testing every time he’s in front of a camera, and to make his frequent boast that “anyone who wants a test can get a test” a reality instead of a blatant lie.
The US has made progress on that front. It passed 10 million tests this week, and is climbing up the global ranking of tests conducted per capita.
It still has a long way to go though. America wasted the early weeks of the pandemic, and has been playing catch-up ever since.
Mr Trump should be focused on getting the job done – not on making increasingly ridiculous excuses.