To downplay the scale of the pandemic in the U.S., Trump inflates its scale everywhere else

The idea is simple: If it’s happening everywhere, how can anyone blame Trump for it happening here? He conflates breadth with depth, insisting that it’s just this big, massive, global thing to distract from how much worse it is in the United States.

Take his comments during a briefing on Monday.

“Countries in every continent are seeing increases in cases in recent days,” Trump said. “Cases have rapidly increased in Japan and Australia, unfortunately, and they’re now experiencing higher peaks than they did in March.”

“To the south of the border, of our border, cases have continued to surge in Mexico, Central America, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and throughout Latin America,” he added. “It’s really the hot spot.”

Later, he claimed that the surge in cases in Mexico and Central America proved the utility of the wall on the southern border. If Mexico’s a hot spot, after all, we certainly wouldn’t want cases spilling over into the United States.

The broader point is again to equate the recent increases in new cases in the United States with new cases in other countries. That point about Australia and Japan, for example, is particularly devious in how it does so, noting — accurately — that both countries have seen new highs in the number of new cases each day but ignoring — intentionally — that those peaks are way, way lower than the recent high seen in the United States.

In Australia, for example, the seven-day average of new cases hit 552 on Aug. 4, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In Japan, the high was reached on Sunday, with an average of 1,381 new cases.

The United States hit a new high of its own on July 22: 67,317.

Of course, the United States is much larger than Australia or Japan. If we adjust for population, though, the comparison doesn’t get much better. Australia’s peak was 22 cases per million residents and Japan’s was 11. The United States’ new high saw 204 new cases for every million residents late last month.

In fact, individual states in the United States have often seen more new cases per day than any individual state or territory in Australia, Mexico or Canada. That’s the main irony of Trump’s comments about the wall, of course: Mexico and Canada are probably more eager to keep out Americans than vice versa, given how much more widespread the virus is here.

Again, the difference in scale is remarkable. The surge in Australia, for example, was largely a function of an outbreak in Victoria. At its peak, the state was seeing 533 new cases a day. In Canada, the province with the highest number of new cases on any given day was Quebec, which hit more than 1,100 — topping the high in Mexico City, where the seven-day average of new cases at one point hit 888.

At one point last month, Florida saw a seven-day average of nearly 12,000 new cases.

Again, this doesn’t improve if we adjust for population. The peak in Victoria hit 80 cases per million residents and the peak in Quebec was 132. The highest number of new cases as a function of population in Mexico was in Baja California Sur, where at one point 162 new cases emerged for every million residents. In Florida, the high was more than three times that number — again, adjusted for population.

On both raw and adjusted daily case totals, the worst-hit states or provinces in Australia, Canada and Mexico were surpassed at some point by at least half of the states in the United States. Forty-seven states and D.C. reached higher per-population daily cases than did Australia’s Victoria, for example.

Again, this isn’t a particularly complicated line of argument from Trump. It’s misdirection, aimed at immersing the United States’ uniquely poor handling of the coronavirus into a murky puddle of inaccuracy. It’s an attempt to put his leadership on par with leaders in countries such as Japan that have been praised for their efforts to contain the virus.

And it very quickly collapses under close examination.

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