President Donald Trump’s town hall on Sunday was not his first with Fox News, but it was the first event of its kind at the Lincoln Memorial.
That’s why, in Trump’s long battle against the “fake news media,” one of his comments stood out.
Responding to a question of whether he should change his tone during the COVID-19 press briefings, he said, “I am greeted with a hostile press, the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there [pointing to the David Chester French statue]. They always said, Lincoln, nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”
“You see those press conferences,” he said. “They come at me with questions that are disgraceful, to be honest, disgraceful. Their manner and their presentation and their words. And I feel that if I was kind of them, I would be walked off the stage. I mean, they come at you with the most horrible, horrendous, biased questions. And you see it — 94, and 95% of the press is hostile.”
He then noted that on Sunday, a flotilla of boats in Florida paraded around a waterway and showed their support for him. “We have tremendous, tremendous support. And yet they media, they might as well be in the Democrat party. Why? I don’t know.”
Trump’s claim of poor treatment could have been referring merely to the media but, as a number of commentators noted, Lincoln was assassinated. Historian Michael Beschloss quickly tweeted out a photo of Lincoln’s burial — 155 years ago on Monday.
The event was called America Together: Returning To Work, co-anchored by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, and it primarily featured “virtual questions,” submitted from Americans across the country. Although Trump has complained about Fox News coverage — as he did last weekend — he’s granted many more interviews to the network than rivals.
During this town hall, Trump did make some news on the coronavirus, insisting, “We need the vaccine and I think we’re going to have it by the end of the year.” A number of medical experts believe that such a vaccine won’t be ready for another year to 18 months, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said that January is a possibility.
Some of the most interesting moments came when Trump talked of three people he knows who have died of coronavirus. He described the scene at Elmhurst Hospital in his native Queens. And he made clear that the virus was not like the flu, even as a number of his on-air supporters continue to harbor doubts about the actual death toll and whether the spate of social distancing and closures are an overreaction.
“It affects older people,” he said. “If you have any problem, heart, diabetes, this thing is vicious. And it can take you out, and it can take you out very strongly.”
Later, Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joined the event. The vice president also made a bit of news. After Baier asked him why he didn’t wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic, creating a bit of a sensation in coverage of the visit, Pence said that he should have.
Baier and MacCallum did ask some follow ups — such as on his claim that the U.S. closed off travel from China — but Trump frequently was able to recite a series of mistruths and uncorroborated remarks. For instance, Trump claimed that Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had said that the virus would “pass and not be a big deal.” The president has made similar comments before. In fact, Fauci on Feb. 29 said on Today that “right now, at this moment, there’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.”
The title of the town hall was America Together, but Trump several times took partisan swipes, even suggesting that Democrats and the left were wishing that treatments would not work because that would help him politically. “I think Democrats, the radical left, would rather have people, I’m not going to say die, not get better because they think I’m going to get credit if hydroxychloroquine works,” he said. In fact, the FDA has cautioned against using the drug to treat COVID-19 outside of a hospital or clinical trial.
Left unmentioned was Trump’s recent tweet calling protesters of Michigan stay-at-home orders “very good people.” Some of the protesters, however, were brandishing guns, and the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, complained that others had nooses, confederate flags and swastikas. Even the Republican president of the state senate called them “a bunch of jackasses.” That said, there was something a bit refreshing at hearing questions from the general public, after Trump’s nightly, often chaotic COVID-19 briefings appear to have been exhausted.
On Sunday, the neoclassical temple that has been the site of civil rights marches, inauguration celebrations, even a signature scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, now will have a new element to its history. As Trump said in sitting down for the town hall, “We never had a more beautiful set than this.”
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