• In the coronavirus updates President Trump frequently shares on the campaign trail, he often talks up the administration’s response to the pandemic — including the ban on incoming flights from China and Europe.
  • Those flight bans potentially saved millions of lives, Trump repeatedly insists during his rundowns of how the administration has responded to the coronavirus.
  • However, there’s an inherent contradiction in how Trump talks about the virus: The only way those flights could have saved countless lives is if the virus is a much bigger deal — and much scarier — than Trump acknowledges in public.

During the now-infamous scene in the new Borat movie featuring former New York City mayor and Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani — you know, the scene where Giuliani is “tucking his shirt in” — he’s shown at one point participating in what he thinks is a real interview with a young, blonde female reporter. During the course of that very brief and very fake interview, Giuliani at one point repeats the now oft-heard mantra from President Trump on the campaign trail — the bit about how the bans on incoming flights from China and Europe that Trump imposed early on in the pandemic saved countless lives. At least 1 million, Giuliani insists. Likewise, Trump himself regularly hits the same point during campaign appearances, as well as on Twitter – here’s Trump touting the ban on flights from China and the fact that “millions of lives” were saved because of the ban.

There’s an inherent contradiction though — a really big contraction, in fact — in how the president expects that statement to jive with the way he talks about COVID-19 in general whenever he gives a coronavirus update or talks up his administration’s response to the pandemic. That contradiction is the following: He has consistently underplayed the threat of the virus itself, saying, for example, at a rally in Ohio last month that COVID-19 affects “virtually nobody” just as the US was reaching the milestone of 200,000 deaths from the virus.

And therein is the contradiction. The only way Trump’s coronavirus-related flight bans imposed on China and Europe could have saved the number of lives that he insists they did is if the virus is a much bigger deal than he acknowledges publicly.

This is a contradiction that doesn’t seem to have really ever been acknowledged or fought about during the 2020 campaign. But as we enter the home stretch in the final days before Election Day 2020 next week, it’s something that at least someone should confront the president on, especially since this remains a centerpiece of his re-election argument — the fact that the administration’s pandemic response has been the best that they could do, and that the flight bans represented a moment of strength and admirable leadership from the president.

No matter what else anybody says, this is the COVID-19 election, and the contest next week will be decided largely against the backdrop of how the US has met this moment (or hasn’t). According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 8.6 million COVID-19 cases to-date, along with more than 225,000 deaths. Moreover, we appear to be heading into an extraordinarily tough winter relative to the virus — in fact, with the worst days of the pandemic yet apparently close at hand. The flight bans may have saved lives, but underplaying the threat of the virus that inspired those bans in the first place threatens to undo that work, and then some.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.