His continuing inability to correctly reference the 1918 flu pandemic only tells us a few things best diagnosed by professionals because he “aced” the mistake yet again.
The 1918 flu pandemic wasn’t rampant in 1917 — although it is a better point of reference for Trump than the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, which used to be his go-to measure of the deadliness of a virus.
As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted his Presidency, Donald Trump has often complained about the terrible hand that history has dealt him. This “deadly scourge” that crept up on him and disrupted a golden age of prosperity for America is “something the world has not seen for a long, long time,” as Trump put it on Monday, in one of his by now familiar riffs. “You could probably go back to 1917, where it was a terrible period of time,” he added. “You all know what happened in 1917.” On Tuesday, he returned once again to the theme of his once-in-a-century bad luck. “Even if you go back into 1917,” Trump said at a White House event for small-business leaders, “that was the worst of all time, but it was also not as bad as here. It was very bad, it was very rough. It was a bad one, but it wasn’t quite like what we’re going through right now.”
Except, of course, that the very bad, very rough, worst-of-all-time influenza outbreak was not a pandemic in 1917. The flu that killed more than six hundred and fifty thousand Americans was detected in the U.S. in the spring of 1918 and had killed an estimated fifty million people worldwide by 1920. Trump’s mistake is one of those small, seemingly inconsequential errors that anyone, and especially our fact-challenged President, might make. But Trump, it turns out, has referred to a 1917 flu dozens of times since mid-March, almost always when complaining about his own misfortune in leading the country through such a historically rare event. “Nobody has trained for this, nobody has seen this, I would say, since 1917, which was the greatest of them all, the greatest of this type of battle. Probably the greatest of them all, right? 1917,” Trump said, on April 4th. This week’s comments were no slip of the tongue.
When I checked Factbase, a Web site that catalogues Trump’s public statements, I found that he had made at least twenty-seven references to a 1917 flu pandemic since March 11th, and that did not count the offhand reference he made late Thursday afternoon while once again talking with reporters. A search of the White House Web site found that Trump mentioned 1917 on twenty-three days since mid-March. In a handful of instances—six, by my count—Trump referred to both 1917 and 1918, suggesting that someone had perhaps tried to give him the correct date, but he could never quite get it to stick. The story of a 1917 flu pandemic may well go down as a Trump classic, a pointless and unnecessary screwup that is also very telling about the President.
Well, Lou Saban coached in Buffalo, where Frederick Douglass is doing such great work these days.
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) July 14, 2020
Soon will be hearing how all the missing grandparents went to a farm upstate where they can run.
— Nancy White (@Redbanker) July 14, 2020