260,000 Words, Full of Self-Praise, From Trump on the VirusHistorians in the News
tags: media, presidential history, Donald Trump, coronavirus, COVID-19
The New York Times analyzed every word Mr. Trump spoke at his White House briefings and other presidential remarks on the virus — more than 260,000 words — from March 9, when the outbreak began leading to widespread disruptions in daily life, through mid-April. The transcripts show striking patterns and repetitions in the messages he has conveyed, revealing a display of presidential hubris and self-pity unlike anything historians say they have seen before.
Viewed simply as a pattern of Mr. Trump’s speech, the self-aggrandizement is singular for an American leader. But his approach is even more extraordinary because he is taking credit and demanding affirmation while he asks people to look beyond themselves and bear considerable hardship to help slow the spread of the virus.
“He doesn’t speak the language of transcendence, what we have in common,” said Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M University. Instead, Dr. Mercieca said, he falls back on a vocabulary he developed over decades promoting himself and his business.
“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,’” she said. “It’s not the right time or place to do that.”
At 260,000 words and counting, enough to fill a 700-page book, Mr. Trump has been writing his own history of the virus, one that is favorable to him, settles scores and is often at odds with the facts. There were at least 130 examples of falsehoods or exaggerations. He ignored his long public record of making breezy claims about the virus when he said on March 17, “I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” He falsely described the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 virus, saying on April 6, “It was like they didn’t even know it was here.”
There is no precedent for the platform that Mr. Trump commandeered for himself through much of March and April: a nationally televised appearance that can go on for up to two and a half hours, seven days a week, often without interruption. Critics of the president have questioned why the cable networks continue to air the briefings, saying that decision is, in effect, handing over to the president control of the day’s agenda.
“It was thought that presidents were extraordinarily powerful at the height of the Cold War when they could ask the three networks for 20 minutes of TV time,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. “But as far as a president’s being able to exert influence, I think this is much greater than that.”