The most important metric in assessing the devastation COVID-19 has wreaked upon Americans is arguably the number of deaths, which currently stands at 304,000.
The last time President Trump acknowledged the number of deaths in his preferred venue for communicating to the public, Twitter, was back in March, when he used the number of annual flu fatalities to downplay the threat of the pandemic.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
The death rate cannot compare with another metric during this pandemic. The numbers Trump is seemingly tracking most closely as COVID-19 officially hit U.S. shores in late January is television ratings, which he has tweeted about as recently as the morning of Wednesday, December 16.
Can’t believe how badly @FoxNews is doing in the ratings. They played right into the hands of the Radical Left Democrats, & now are floating in limboland. Hiring fired @donnabraziIe, and far worse, allowing endless negative and unedited commercials. @FoxNews is dead. Really Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2020
After seeing the above tweet on Wednesday morning, I immediately flashed back to the residual anger of seeing the president tweet congratulations at Fox & Friends on the show’s ratings as the lockdowns were first beginning in March. On a hunch, I decided to search for just how many times Trump has tweeted about TV ratings since the pandemic reached America.
He has done so 44 times.
It was tedious to confirm this number, since combing through Trump’s 2020 tweets that contain the word “ratings” involved disregarding a great many self-congratulatory tweets about Trump’s favorability ratings, according to various polls. After determining that the number was indeed 44, though, I next decided to check how many times the president has tweeted about face masks, which the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees greatly reduces the risk of transmission.
The disparity between Trump’s emphasis on TV ratings and mask safety certainly gels with a recent New York Times report on CDC whistleblowers, which reveals an administration more concerned with the CDC not publicly contradicting the president than with getting out the proper information.
“Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won,” says former CDC chief of staff Kyle McGowan in the report.
Trump appears to see every aspect of American life, even the pandemic, solely through the prism of how it reflects on himself. The relative ratings of TV networks favorable to him, versus those that report on him more accurately, are therefore a more important messaging priority than mask safety, since tweeting about mask usage might only save lives, rather than save Trump’s image.
It’s fascinating to trace the events of the year solely through the prism of Trump’s tweets about TV ratings.
After some early praise for Fox News, the next phase of ratings tweets addressed the daily news briefings Trump began to conduct in March.
Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
At one point, some outlet must have described these ratings as “through the roof,” since Trump used this quote to describe them in several tweets.
The Wall Street Journal always “forgets” to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefings are “through the roof” (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across. WSJ is Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2020
Later, Trump nursed an obsession with former ally-turned-critic Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC ratings, while asking that the TV host be investigated for any involvement in the long-ago tragic death of an employee.
“Concast” should open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough. I know him and Crazy Mika well, used them beautifully in the last Election, dumped them nicely, and will state on the record that he is “nuts”. Besides, bad ratings! #OPENJOECOLDCASE
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2020
Trump was also apparently not impressed with the ratings of either Cuomo brother during the pandemic.
Yesterday was a bad day for the Cuomo Brothers. New York was lost to the looters, thugs, Radical Left, and all others forms of Lowlife & Scum. The Governor refuses to accept my offer of a dominating National Guard. NYC was ripped to pieces. Likewise, Fredo’s ratings are down 50%!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Thank you Frank. Fredo’s ratings are really bad, more than 50% down. A loser!!! https://t.co/DGaSYhqJVj
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2020
As the national conversation turned to racism, Trump moved away from pandemic talk to blame declining ratings for various sports on the athletes’ political messaging.
Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA. Basketball ratings are WAY down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2020
People want respect for our Anthem and our Flag. Ratings will only get worse! Didn’t we go through this once before? https://t.co/3FBZLQGY8R
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2020
Finally, in the weeks since the election, Trump has been tweeting about TV ratings only in the context of Fox News losing viewership to fringier outlets like Newsmax and OANN.
.@FoxNews daytime ratings have completely collapsed. Weekend daytime even WORSE. Very sad to watch this happen, but they forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2020
Meanwhile, the last time Trump tweeted about masks was back in October, just as COVID-19 cases and deaths began to surge, when he tweeted a clip of 60 Minutes reporter Leslie Stahl not wearing a mask during a visit to the White House.
Trump would do well to take his own advice and wear a mask in public more often. Considering how many lives could be saved between now and March if more Americans in general wore masks, perhaps he could find time to tweet about that, too.