The figures on Friday morning were spinning, showing 20.5 million jobs lost in April, the worst month since the government began tracking the data in 1939. But rather than addressing the people (or pain) behind these statistics, Trump's instinct was to immediately jumped to his own defense when the numbers were released midway through his phone interview with "Fox and Friends."
"It's totally expected," he said of 14.7% unemployment, the highest on record since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began its monthly series. "It's no surprise. … Not even the Democrats blame me for it."
Instead of offering reassuring words to Americans living in upheaval, the president praised his past successes – how the economy was the "best we have ever had" before the coronavirus became the "invisible enemy."
"We created the largest economy in world history," Trump said as Friday's unemployment figures wash over a nation gripped by anxiety and fear. "Best employment numbers, best stock markets, best jobs in every way, the best economy in world history. We blew China away. We blew everyone away. We were the envy of the world, and so they came in and they explained it, and they said & # 39; Sir, you must turn it off. We must close the country. & # 39; "
"These jobs will all be back, and they will be back very soon," Trump said during the Fox interview, again contradicting the forecasts of his own helpers. "People are ready to go. We have to open it."
During the same hour, White House financial adviser Kevin Hassett showed a completely different tone, telling CNN's Poppy Harlow, however, that it was "heartbreaking" to "see a report like this, because you know that every unemployed person is a person whose life is in turmoil. "
"You look at more than 30 million people who have really ended their lives because of the closure," Hassett said. One bright spot in "the worst job report ever," he said, was the fact that 18 million of those seeking unemployment expect to be trained.
He dispensed with warning, warning Americans that things are going to get worse, and says he expects to see the unemployment rate rise to 25% in next month's report.
"Hopefully, it will start to pull in the right direction," Hassett told Harlow. "I think we're going into a transition period this summer before we have some kind of … government of the economy, and I think we're not quite in the transition period yet."
& # 39; Two Yankee Stadiums of People & # 39;
During both the "Fox and Friends" appearance and an afternoon discussion with Republican lawmakers, the president gave another cold recap of deaths so far in the United States, along with varying estimates of how many deaths will occur in the coming months.
In statements wrapped in even congratulatory assessments of what the number of deaths might have looked like without the measures the administration took to contain the virus, Trump said the United States could have lost "2 million, 2.5 million." Instead, Trump said, "We will be at 100,000, 110" thousand deaths – which he sharply compared to "two Yankee stadiums of people."
"It's unacceptable," he said of the deaths on "Fox and Friends," "but I created as president – we had the strongest economy in world history."
Gambling on reopening
While other recent presidents have taken the time to reflect on the pain of mourning families in the midst of tragedy, it seems that the force that drives Trump more than anyone else now is his desire to reshape the administration's misconceptions about the virus as he looks ahead towards a very rocky reelection campaign.
He has tried – and so far is not clear – to change the narrative around the pandemic, and has tried to lure Americans back to work by talking about the pandemic as if it has passed (although cases continue to spike in Midwestern and southern states, which in addition to rural areas that are just beginning to look the worst.
After consulting medical experts, the president has also essentially urged governors to roll the dice with reopening, even though they are nowhere near the White House's proposed guideline for a 14-day decline in new coronavirus cases .
So far, Trump has not convinced the American people that the nation should only push through the pain – accepting the inevitable consequence of more death – as a price they have to pay for a financial revival.
"Are some people being hit badly? Yes," Trump said Tuesday. "But we must get our country open, and we must open it soon."
Choices can depend on empathy
Trump's chances of reelection depend on his ability to either persuade more people that his approach is the right one, or at least convince them that he understands what the American people are going through, both in grief and financial anguish, and that he has the way to lead them out of it.
After the new economic figures were released on Friday morning, Biden gave a blistering criticism that the pandemic had added to the fact that the Trump economy favored the rich and powerful. But he also tried to offer comfort to those most affected by this crisis.
"I know we will get through this," he said Friday morning. "We get through it together. I know it because I know the American spirit and the American character. We see it on screen every day."
As Trump charges ahead to try to get past the pandemic, the former vice president is waiting in the wings – or in his basement, as Trump likes to say it – and conducting virtual conversations every day with Americans affected by the virus or its financial toll.
At a virtual gathering with California Prime Minister Gavin Newsom and Democratic strategist David Plouffe, Biden again reflected on the situation many Americans face while blaming Trump's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"God knows how many family members have been upheld, their dreams ruined … lying down at night staring at the roof and wondering, my God, how am I going to get through this," Biden said. " What kind of future do we want? … And here's the tragedy, it didn't have to be that way. "