The president mixed up his world wars, misstating the year of the Spanish Flu and doubling the estimated death toll from that pandemic while trying to factually compare it to COVID-19.
“Nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” Trump said during the briefing. “The closest thing was in 1917 they say, right? The Great Pandemic — and it certainly was a terrible thing where they lost anywhere from 50 to 100 million people. It probably ended the Second World War. All the soldiers were sick. It was a terrible situation.”
The Spanish Flu ravaged the world from 1918-19, killing up to 50 million people (but not up to 100 million). The first U.S. case was detected among military personnel in 1918, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The First World War lasted from 1914 until 1918, when the Spanish Flu started to run rampant among troops on naval ships and in the trenches of Western Europe. The Second World War started in 1939 and ended in 1945 — one year before Trump was born.
Trump has repeatedly used the incorrect date of 1917 when comparing the Spanish Flu pandemic to COVID-19 in recent months.
“This has never happened before,” Trump said in his sit-down interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios last week. “Nineteen-seventeen, but it was a totally different — it was a flu in that case, OK? But other than 1917, there’s never been anything like this.”
The United States leads the world with more than 5.1 million COVID-19 cases and 163,000 deaths to date, according to statistics compiled by the New York Times.
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The Spanish Flu remains the most deadly pandemic in recent history. More than twice as many people died of the Spanish Flu than were killed in the First World War in the 1910s.
Trump has frequently faced criticism for remarks at his coronavirus briefings during the pandemic. He stopped appearing at the briefings back in April, after he was widely mocked for floating the idea that using disinfectant inside the body might cure COVID-19. He resumed the daily briefings in late July.
The president has often used the briefings to push his own optimistic theories about the virus, even when they’re at odds with medical experts. Last month, for example, Trump defended a doctor who endorsed his belief in hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug with no proven effectiveness against COVID-19. The doctor previously blamed “demon semen” for a wide range of medical issues.
The 74-year-old Trump bragged last month that he had aced a cognitive test meant to identify symptoms of dementia back in 2018. He also challenged Biden, 77, to match him.
“Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, while attempting to show off his cognitive skills.
“If you get it in order, you get extra points,” Trump said. “They said nobody gets it in order. It’s actually not that easy, but for me, it was easy.”
— With files from The Associated Press