Even with blanket nationwide adoption of stringent mitigation efforts, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could face death in the coming weeks in a cascading nationwide ordeal, according to modeling explained by senior members of the President’s emergency task force Tuesday.
It is in the nature of the presidency, that the commander-in-chief sometimes has to deliver grave news to the nation.
George W. Bush had to narrate the horror of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Ronald Reagan movingly eulogized shuttle astronauts after a 1986 disaster. And John Kennedy kept his nerve to address the nation during a showdown with the Soviet Union over Cuba that threatened to erupt in nuclear war.
But no president for many decades has had to level with his country over such a sudden impending loss of American life in a medical emergency as Trump is now being forced to do — after apparently coming to terms about the extent of the crisis himself.
It was not the first time that administration experts modeled the staggering possible death toll. But the combination of the President’s unusually serious demeanor and the ominous curve charts of his top public health officials struck a note of alarm missing from Trump’s previous knockabout briefings.
The stark spectacle of a president, especially one who spent weeks dismissing the virus, warning of the imminent demise of so many Americans encapsulated the scale of the crisis.
"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks," the President said in the White House briefing room.
Trump’s briefing mostly lacked the elements of self-congratulation and false hope that have characterized his heavily criticized leadership in the crisis.
To begin with, during his marathon two-hour briefing, he mostly ceded the stage to his credible lieutenants Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who convinced him of the seriousness of the situation over the weekend.
There have been many false dawns when Trump has failed to match the gravity of a moment during his tenure. Past behavior suggests he may struggle to maintain his unifying tone at a moment of unique national peril.
And the harrowing potential scale of the looming tragedy already have some, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying lives might have been saved had Trump not spent weeks denying the severity of the approaching pandemic and adopted more aggressive actions to prepare.