Trump showered praise upon himself more often than he did upon first responders and practiced self-congratulation more than he tried to convey empathy, unify the public, or acknowledge the coronavirus’s enormous death toll.
Over the past seven weeks, the American death toll from coronavirus has skyrocketed, from around 20 to more than 55,000. During that same timespan, President Trump has congratulated himself roughly 600 times for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to a new analysis from the New York Times.
The Times studied more than 260,000 words spoken by Trump between March 9 and April 17 and found that the president consistently praised himself and framed himself as a hero fighting a battle rather than the president who downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, lied and spouted rampant misinformation, and deflected responsibility on a near-daily basis.
According to the Times analysis, Trump showered praise upon himself more often than he did upon first responders and offered self-congratulatory remarks more than he tried to convey empathy, unify the public, or acknowledge the coronavirus’s enormous death toll.
Among the most hyperbolic of Trump’s boasts came when he called himself a “wartime president,” invoking comparisons to presidents like Abraham Lincoln—who led the U.S. during the Civil War—and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who brought the country out of the Great Depression and guided it through most of World War II.
“We have done a job, the likes of which nobody has ever done,” Trump said at his April 13 briefing.
This focus on self-promotion and taking credit is without parallel in history, according to Dr. John Murphy, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor who studies the rhetoric of American presidents and politicians.
“The level of self-congratulations that occurs every day at these press conferences is unprecedented,” Dr. Murphy told the Times.
Much as he’s done over his first three years in his office, Trump has shattered presidential norms with his response to the coronavirus. His attitude during his press briefings has been emblematic of his overall political style, which is driven by supreme self-confidence, disdain for experts, and an obsession with branding and media coverage.
“Trump’s primary goal is to spread good news and information and market the Trump brand: ‘Trump is great. The Trump brand is great. The Trump presidency is great,’” Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M University, told the Times. “It’s not the right time or place to do that.”
The reality, of course, is that the U.S. has had the worst outbreak in the world and is on the cusp of crossing the 1-million case mark. No other country has more than 230,000 confirmed cases. The severity of the crisis has brought the American economy to a virtual standstill, and roughly 26 million Americans have lost their jobs.
Trump has said that nobody could have seen this coming, but the truth is his administration ignored numerous warnings from its own public health and intelligence experts as well as Obama administration officials, wasted nearly two months where it could have prepared for the pandemic. The president has also bristled at critiques of the federal government’s slow and inconsistent response, which has led to a widespread shortages of testing and medical supplies, substantial supply chain issues, and a patchwork system of social distancing guidelines.
Instead of positioning himself as the nation’s leader, Trump, who promised “I alone can fix it” during his 2016 campaign, has repeatedly tried to pass the buck and blamed the government’s failures to respond to the pandemic on a rotating cast that includes former President Obama, the nation’s governors, the news media, China, and the World Health Organization.
He has also, simultaneously, taken credit for fixing the system. “We had a broken system,” he said April 14. “And now we have a great system.” While Trump says he’s fixed the system, his own administration has struggled to implement coronavirus financial relief programs for individuals, small businesses, hospitals, colleges, cities, and states.
Trump has largely repudiated these critiques in his daily press briefings, labeling them fake news and accusing the media of being “nasty” and hostile toward him. Trump again lashed out at the media on Friday, after they reported his Thursday comments where he speculated about whether injecting disinfectant into the body could treat coronavirus (it can’t and you should not ingest disinfectant).
Trump’s dangerous statements caused a spike in calls to state and city poison control departments, and forced the Environmental Protection Agency to release a statement warning people against ingesting disinfectant products.
In the aftermath of Trump’s disinfectant debacle, the White House is now considering limiting the briefings altogether. The president skipped the daily briefings on Saturday and Sunday, instead taking to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
He has also, of course, praised himself, calling himself a “hard worker” and saying he has “probably gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any President in history.”
The White House also canceled Monday’s briefing. Trump will instead meet with industry executives the same day the number of American cases is likely to surpass one million—one-third of the global total.