Trump kills Americans to look good? No kidding!

I have argued that Trump would gladly kill enormous numbers of Americans to get re-elected. On the other hand, that’s not the sort of thing that a president admits publicly. It sounds kinda bad.

To his credit, Trump is willing to admit this quite publicly. His administration was so horrified by his recent comments that they rushed out a statement saying that he was just kidding, as they did after numerous other “gaffes”.

But Trump’s having none of that, he continues to insist that he’s dead serious:

A day after the White House said President Trump was joking about ordering a slowdown in coronavirus testing to avoid an embarrassing increase in the number of cases, Trump responded to a question about the incident by saying, “I don’t kid.”

Trump made the eye-opening claim at his rally in Tulsa Saturday night. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases!” he told the crowd. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’”

The president had expressed frustration over the rise in cases, attributing it to more widespread testing. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, far more than in any other country.

Now it’s possible that Trump’s one of those post-modern comedians that maintains the act for an unusually long period of time. Maybe at the end of his administration he’ll admit that it was all a joke—the comments on bleach, testing, Russian help in sabotaging Hillary’s campaign, and all the rest. He’s the Andy Kaufman of politicians, able to play it straight until we’re all squirming in our seats.

Or maybe he’s just completely nuts.

PS. Note to commenters. I’ve taken no position on whether Trump was kidding or not. So don’t leave comments suggesting I have. Nor do I have an opinion on whether Peter Navarro was joking when he said the China trade deal was called off, or later in the day when he retracted that claim.

I just think it’s kind of interesting that we now live in a country where the executive branch seems confused as to whether the president is kidding. At this rate, what’s Trump going to be like in 2024, when he’s 4 years older?

BTW: What’s worse? The staff claim that Trump likes to joke about a plague that’s killed 120,000 Americans? Or Trump’s call to slow the testing because it looks bad? Decisions, decisions . . .

PPS. Andy Kaufman would have also made an interesting president.

PPPS. One last NYT quote, in case I have to start boycotting the newspaper later this week:

It has always been ludicrous for the Trump campaign to denounce “Beijing Biden,” when Trump publicly lavishes more affection on Xi than on Melania. “President Xi is extremely capable,” is “strong, sharp and powerfully focused,” is “doing a very good job,” and is “a man who truly loves his country,” Trump has said on various occasions this year alone.

My own view as a China-watcher who lived for years in Beijing is that we should stand up to Xi where we need to — while also negotiating on trade and seeking ways to cooperate on climate change, pandemics and more. Trump does the opposite: He bungles trade and achieves nothing there, fails to cooperate on climate or health, damages America’s alliances and ignores Xi’s worst abuses, all while flattering Xi in apparent hopes of getting re-election help.



26 Responses to “Trump kills Americans to look good? No kidding!”

  1. Gravatar of Can Sar Can Sar
    23. June 2020 at 20:31

    Scott, between the H1B news, SSC being forced to shut down, and the general 2020 blues, it has been a difficult day but that Andy Kaufman bit made me laugh.

  2. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    23. June 2020 at 20:51

    I think Trump knows he’s way behind senile old Biden as of today and now he’s throwing hail Marys and just saying what the hell, I won this already now I’ll just go nuts and who knows maybe I’ll get reelected. And if not who cares, get on Fox with my own show and yell at Democrats forever

    This fits best the evidence and his personality

  3. Gravatar of Christian Lorentzen Christian Lorentzen
    23. June 2020 at 21:29

    Why aren’t you boycotting NYT already? I am, and have told them so through every channel I can find. Sure, they haven’t published the piece, but SSC is down, so it’s hard to argue no damage has been done yet. And surely we want to send the strongest message possible now, *before* they doxx Scott. After, it’s too little too late.

    Of course, cancelling your subscription is not free as I found out yesterday. It cost me over 30 minutes of my life.

  4. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. June 2020 at 22:06

    Here’s some good news for those of us who love living in a republic, non-banana:

    Biden has a large average lead in these several betting markets.

    Also, here’s a nice video by a young economist who examines the historical success of betting markets in predicting US election outcomes:

  5. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. June 2020 at 22:08

    And as a bonus, here’s with it’s state-by-state betting breakdown. It predicts Biden will win Florida and Arizona.

  6. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    23. June 2020 at 22:57

    @Michael S:

    Today yes Biden is way ahead, but still plenty of time on the clock. And he won’t be the most dynamic candidate/debater/closer. So don’t get complacent.

  7. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    23. June 2020 at 23:12

    “One last NYT quote, in case I have to start boycotting the newspaper . . . ”
    L.O.L.. It’s a good idea to stop paying to be indoctrinated?

  8. Gravatar of Barry Barry
    23. June 2020 at 23:36

    The polls are obviously not accurate. The political environment today is such that any opposing views are met with tremendous hostility. Who would want to answer questions honestly, and speak truth to hysteria, when it will lead to contentious and heated arguments.

    H-1B is really not that important. There are many full stack developers in this country who cannot find employment. Programming is also possible to learn relatively quickly, and can be taught on the job. Nursing is NOT a high IQ profession, yet we have millions of able bodied folks collecting unemployment because nursing is “hard work”. If we curtail welfare programs, you will also see more Americans picking strawberries and grapes. Laziness is not the same as “need”.

    The U.S. has conducted almost 30M tests, which is 2x more than second place Russia. I find that rather encouraging.

    Over the last 20-30 years most of us have seen a consistent erosion of liberty. So I am pleasantly surprised and, very grateful, that many Americans are finally saying NO. People are tired of the govt telling them what to do: wear a mask, sit 10 feet away, don’t shake hands, don’t say this – they are even regulating hedges now. Where does it end? The virus has a fatality rate of about 2% and like most diseases it mainly effects the elderly.

    The hysteria is simply not necessary.

  9. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    24. June 2020 at 00:06

    It’s reverse Goodhart’s law: if you change how much you measure something, you thereby change how much there is of what’s being measured. It’s how by measuring myself with a flexible tape measurer I got to be 6’4.

  10. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    24. June 2020 at 01:38

    Great to see Andy Kaufman, a really funny guy.

    There is a YouTube of him with Freddie Blassie, a Los Angeles area “wrestler” from the 1960s-era.

    The history of Kaufman’s “Tony Clifton” alter-ego act is stupendous.

    We need a Kaufmanesque sense of humor now, that’s for sure.

    Every election, I say, “Are the Presidential candidates getting weaker every four years?”

    Really? Biden v. Trump?

    I would vote for Andy Kaufman. Or Pat Paulsen.

  11. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    24. June 2020 at 04:20

    Well, one should read then this one:

    “A Yale University professor said the U.S. response to the coronavirus is “close to genocide.”

    Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology and law at the Ivy League institution, blamed the Trump administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the novel coronavirus pandemic in the United States, calling it “awfully close to genocide by default.”


  12. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    24. June 2020 at 06:58

    @Ben Cole:

    I am not 300 years old, but I have to think the worst ever pair of candidates offered in US history was in 2016, and this year it’s the second worst. One common denominator both years of course.

  13. Gravatar of bb bb
    24. June 2020 at 07:31

    It should noted that the writer of the article is a columnist, and actually one of the better ones. NYT makes money off their Opinion section, as all newspapers do, but the real value of the NYT is the news reporting, which is kept separate from the opinion section for good reason. There are fewer and fewer outlets that do actual news reporting. We should fight to preserve that function. Those are the people who uncover corruption. That is the free press that we actually need to protect the republic, and NYT remains one of the best at that. I don’t like most of their columnists and Op-Ed. Losing the NYT news reporting would be bad for democracy in my opinion. I think it’s more productive to criticize the Opinion section, rather than criticizing the entire NY Times.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. June 2020 at 08:26

    Can Sur, The 21st century has sucked, but this year it’s gotten much worse, as you say.

    Christian, I emailed the NYT and told them I’d boycott them if it went through.

    Barry, You said:

    “The U.S. has conducted almost 30M tests, which is 2x more than second place Russia. I find that rather encouraging.”

    Testing in the US has been a disaster. I suggest you become better informed on this issue before commenting.

    bb, Yes, but is the SSC story going to be news or opinion?

  15. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    24. June 2020 at 10:40

    Maybe Tiananmen Trump will get his wish and we’ll be talking about what he’s like in 2028!

  16. Gravatar of bb bb
    24. June 2020 at 11:25

    If SSC story is true, then NYT deserves criticism. That said, why didn’t SSC attempt to contact Cade’s editor? Seems rash to delete a life’s work without trying to call the NYT directly first?
    I was speaking more to other criticism of NYT on the blog and in the comments section, such as Cotton’s column or Defund the Police.
    We’ll see about the SSC case, but I’m hesitant to criticize an organization for something that hasn’t actually happened.

  17. Gravatar of Anonymous Anonymous
    24. June 2020 at 11:36

    Barry, “There are many full stack developers in this country who cannot find employment.” People always say that and yet there are plenty of startups paying e.g. $130k for remote employees and having an impossible time hiring (though the last few months may have finally changed that). If you think that’s not enough (which is a fair point, but it’s hard for many pre-revenue companies to pay much more) Google/Facebook/Netflix will easily pay $250-$500k for good people. Maybe they would pay even more without H1B employees but this seems like a good starting point for otherwise unemployed developers.

  18. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    24. June 2020 at 11:37

    I would trust the surveys and betting markets if they had not failed so badly in 2016. The NYT, as far as I know, has given Hillary a 90:10 or even better chance right before the election and even during the election. So what does this mean for 2020? As long as Trump is not more behind, he is doing fine and still has a chance?

    Ah here is an example:

    Good morning on this, the 21st day before Election Day. Hillary Clinton’s chances reached 91 percent last night — their highest point yet in this election cycle. The latest rise comes from gains in Arizona and Georgia, as well as hints of further weakness in typically safe red states like Alaska and Utah.

    From the beginning, Donald J. Trump faced a challenging electoral map, and his campaign has not improved his chances. At this point, even a large polling miss would not be enough for Mr. Trump to win — it will take a sudden and striking change in the fundamentals of the presidential race. As a rule of thumb, we should expect Election Day polling averages to miss by as much as 3 to 4 points.

    So what was the “sudden and striking change in the fundamentals of the presidential race”???? When did that happen again?

    If you’re that far off, you should quit your paper and get another job.

  19. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    24. June 2020 at 12:10

    Testing in the US has been a disaster. I suggest you become better informed on this issue before commenting.


    Strangely enough, the recent OECD study gave the US 4 out of 4 points in testing. This probably helps to exaplin why the overall assessment of the response to the coronavirus in the US was rated as “good”, a middle rank amongst the other OECD countries.

    I don’t know how they came to this strange testing conclusion, but I assume that the OECD economists looked at some real data, especially of course in comparison to other OECD countries. I really wonder where they went wrong.

  20. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    24. June 2020 at 12:15

    @Christian List:

    Actually there was a big bombshell delivered like a week before the election, the Comey Surprise:

    538 is the gold standard for this stuff. They had Trump with a 30% chance to win which isn’t all that hard to do. Have a look.

    Another important factor, as of now Biden is well ahead of the gap Clinton had at the same point in 2016. There’s still time, and that could change, but if the election were held today Biden would win easily.

    If this were an NBA game, Trump is down 15 points with around 10 minutes left in the game. Since you’re German, it’s like Bayern Munich being down 3-1 at the 80 minute mark.

    It’s not looking good for Trump, which might explain his increasingly erratic behavior and tweets. He’s pulling out all the stops because why not? I’m not so sure he wants to do this again for 4 more years, he already got to rub it in everyone’s face. He seems like he’d be happier with a nightly show on Fox with no rules. He can still do rallies whenever he wants.

  21. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    24. June 2020 at 15:25


    Why would you think I’m taking anything lightly? Of course things can change before November, but Trump is in a very bad place politically and trending downward.

    I’m donating more money than ever before to a Presidential candidate, more than ever to Act Blue, and more than ever to groups like The Lincoln Project. The latter is a group of anti-Trump, former Republican political operatives.

    I also intended to make phone calls and/or knock on doors here in Jacksonville, because this is a a large swing county in the most important swing state.

  22. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    25. June 2020 at 00:54

    Trump is clearly going for a chaos victory at this point, which is basically totally evil as far as I can tell. As far as the virus goes, I sort of throw up my hands. I have low confidence in the data overall. People I know working in health service fields are getting constantly changing advice/guidance. Clearly we should do what we can to be careful, but remember for many people wearing a mask for eight hours a day really totally sucks. And for many of them the risk-delta my be close to zero. The righteous path is entirely non-obvious to me.

  23. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. June 2020 at 02:27


    Bayern being down 1:3 in the Bundesliga is oftentimes a 3:3. I like sports betting, so that would be a bet I often make with Bayern, because it’s not unlikely and the odds you get are usually really good. You get 1:15 odds at least, but Bayern makes a 3:3 way more often than that, so it’s really worth it. So let’s hope Trump is not Bayern Munich. He was in 2016 though.

    Why people watch normal NBA games is a little mystery to me. It’s basically about nothing and usually only the last quarter is interesting. I don’t like sports where the first three quarters don’t really matter.

    I agree that 538 is one of the best pages for analyzing statistical information. But it doesn’t mean they’re particularly good in all fields. For example, their football analyses are often really off. They were not as bad as the other pages in 2016, but they didn’t see Trump coming either.

    The Comey letter is not a good explanation for the election results, just an excuse, but it proves that Comey and the media first of all had a really guilty conscience, and secondly they thought the election was already over. It’s always a huge problem when officials and the media think they can be election fixers instead of just doing their job as neutrally as possible. They simply should have been neutral from the beginning and at all times. Then one doesn’t have a guilty conscience either.

    And to the claims of you and others that Trump is erratic and extreme, that’s true, but I don’t see any difference to his 2016 campaign, he was exactly the same in 2016, and he won anyway or maybe even because of it.

    I guess again, like 2016, that he’s gonna lose. I’m saying this for months, way before corona. But unlike 2016 I’m more careful this time. I don’t make bets, and I don’t believe it until it happened.

  24. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    25. June 2020 at 10:58


    They saw “Trump coming” with a 30% chance to win. Which hits 3 out of 10 times. They nailed it, Trump’s win was an upset, and they had his chances far higher than anyone else. Their analysis isn’t just X will win or X will lose, it’s all probabilities. I don’t care if they aren’t good “in all fields”, they are the best at electoral probabilities.

    And sure it isn’t over til it’s over. But Trump is way behind now, way behind where he was in 2016. The country didn’t know what they would get with him in 2016. They know now, good and hard.

    Trump probably was a 50/50 shot until Covid. His luck finally ran out. As far as the Comey letter, if you read the article, it’s not an excuse, it’s a real factor that shifted votes. It’s not the only reason she lost of course, but it was a very decisive factor.

    As I said, time still on the clock but he’s got a big uphill battle.

    CNBC just posted this, he’s farther behind than anyone at this stage in the cycle vs the last 4 Rep or Dem candidates:

    So unless the economy comes roaring back in the next 5 months, Trump is probably through thank god. And yes you are correct to be more careful in your agreement with me. It ain’t over.

  25. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. June 2020 at 13:03


    I read the 538 article, the title is misleading. Even Nate Silver writes that he’s a believer in the “Little Comey” case. The Comey letter was at best the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

    But if that is the case, and it seems to be true, then the odds were not 30-70 at all, which is a very big difference actually, but very close together, almost 50-50, so that every little last straw could swing the election.

    Silver just doesn’t like to admit that, which is understandable, because then he loses quite some reputation.

    There were some analysts who saw a 50-50, or even Trump in front, but not many, the field has simply failed in the 2016 election; most of them did not see it coming, including Nate Silver. There was a bias against Trump, even though it was very close to 50:50.

    Anyhow, I think this time they have learned from their mistakes and they will be more likely to be right. But as you say correctly, one must be careful. Trump could be a comeback-kid and always good for a surprise.

  26. Gravatar of Jay Jay
    28. June 2020 at 11:36

    I find it interesting how human nature makes so many of us reactively change the fatness of the right and left tails of a distribution, in which high ex-ante confidence was placed, right AFTER a several sigma event has occurred.

    Recency bias.

    In 2010 and 2011, the market was terrified of another financial crisis. But historically, financial crises don’t tend to happen in rapid succession. Was the Eurozone going to fall apart in 2011? Only if the leaders had truly lost their collective minds. They JUST SAW what a financial crisis meant for the world. Would they let it happen again?

    And more recently Trump won in 2016 in an upset victory. It wasn’t an impossible upset; it was a 10% or 30% probability event, if you used NYT or 538. Those are the odds of winning your money back on a scratch-off lottery ticket. Instead of recognizing that 10% (or 30%) outcomes happen 10% (or 30%) of the time, and to calibrate this information appropriately, instead you now have a large chunk of Republicans believing that no poll on Trump can possibly be useful. The Fox message boards view this as almost axiomatic.

    I would suspect that betting markets are over-estimating the probability of another upset win by Trump. Simply because it happened last time.

    But the differences in the election setup this time are profound. When disapproval stands at 57%, that means there are way fewer independent swing votes up for grabs..

    For Trump to win, absent Biden shooting himself in the foot (which is QUITE possible), Trump either needs to win back swing voters who current disapprove, which does not seem likely given the more extreme and volatile tack he has taken, or he has to suppress the vote by legitimate means (such as trying to reduce enthusiasm for Biden, with commercials, debates, etc.) or by illegitimate means (such as pressuring the restriction of mail-in balloting, etc.)

    By what magnitude should the inputs to a logit/probit regression change, based on the emergence of a single “surprise outcome” that wasn’t even statistically meaningful?

    When approval is 40-41%, and disapproval is 56-57%, I’m going to trust the long-standing but lightly modified logit/probit model, instead of assuming that the model simply can’t figure out how to deal with someone like Trump.

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