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CNN  — 

President Donald Trump’s heart of late has been in stoking racial divides and protecting symbols of the Confederacy. Monday it was the Confederate flag, which even Republicans in Mississippi recently abandoned.

Trump’s new fiction – The President has recently made relatively few statements, comparatively, about the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 130,000 of his fellow Americans. But they all seem completely, dangerously wrong. And he’s getting help from government officials who know the facts and fail to correct him.

He said earlier in July that it will just disappear, repeating a hopeful assertion he’s made repeatedly since February. Hasn’t happened yet. (It was way back in April when he baselessly suggested sunlight and heat would help, along with possibly ingesting disinfectant.)

But his new claim is that most infections are really not that deadly or dangerous.

99% of coronavirus cases “are totally harmless,” he said in remarks on July Fourth. Absolutely false. As CNN reported this weekend, “While the World Health Organization has said the global fatality rate is likely less than 1%, the WHO also said about 20% of all people who are diagnosed with coronavirus are sick enough to need oxygen or hospital care.”

(Note: Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Trump’s face-mask-skeptic son Don Jr., has it. She’s asymptomatic.)

Read this Maeve Reston analysis of the choice that Trump’s fiction forces upon his fellow Republicans.

The problem here is that while most people don’t any longer expect facts to emerge from Trump’s mouth or appear on his Twitter feed, Americans do (or at least should be able to) expect government officials to correct him.

Failure to fight the fiction – FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn absolutely refused to do that – say the President was wrong – during appearances Sunday on TV.

Hahn didn’t defend Trump’s inaccuracy. But he also didn’t call it out. The problem here is that the President was wrong. And there are a lot of people who need to hear that. Even when CNN’s Dana Bash read the CDC data to Hahn, correct data he did not dispute, he would not budge.

“I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong,” said Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

And surely, if Hahn had said Trump was wrong, you can bet he’d soon be former FDA Commissioner Hahn. But when do we get to the point that it’s no longer good enough to tell the President quietly and respectfully that he’s wrong?

Repeating the fiction – On Monday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows defended Trump’s claim, insisting that “a lot of these cases are asymptomatic.”

And that’s certainly true. But a lot of them also aren’t asymptomatic.

“I don’t think it was the President’s intent to downplay that as much as saying let’s look at the risk and let’s look at this in an appropriate way based on facts and figures,” Meadows also said.

An important figure. Regardless of the percentage of infections, we’ve reached 130,000 dead Americans. And that number will grow despite the fact that doctors are getting much better at treating Covid-19.

Those doctors are running out of beds to treat people in hard-hit areas in Texas, Florida and elsewhere. But as US Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said, deaths lag infections by about two weeks.

The math is the math. A relatively small percentage of millions is a lot of people suffering and dead.

Believing the fiction. The larger and more frightening immediate problem is that during a time of undisputed national and worldwide calamity, the US President, who has access to the smartest people and best data on Earth, is either still stubbornly in denial about the spread of this thing or trying to make people think it’s not as bad as it is. Or both.

The fiction vs. the reality. The longer-term problem is even more toxic. Since Trump has fed an alternate reality with alternate facts and there are people who believe that his reality is reality, they’re going to be harder to pull back to the place where we all live our lives, where 130,000 Americans are dead and everyone should be wearing a face mask in public.

A government actively engaged in pushing false information might be worse than a government pushing no information at all.

Related: 7 myths are fueling new Covid-19 surges. Avoiding these will help save the economy and save lives

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