In 2017, there were no recorded accidental deaths in U.S. commercial passenger jets. Almost immediately after that information reached the public, Donald Trump said he wanted Americans to give him credit for the developments.
It was an early reminder: if something positive happens during Trump’s presidency, he will claim responsibility for the good news, regardless of whether it makes sense.
It happened again yesterday, when the Republican published a tweet that read, “U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration.”
As Trump rhetoric goes, this was not a straight-up lie, though it was a bit bizarre. The data in question came by way of the American Cancer Society, which published a report yesterday showing an encouraging drop in cancer death rates between 2016 and 2017. It was a continuation of a trend that began nearly 30 years ago, thanks to advances in detection and treatment.
It’s also a trend Trump had nothing to do with. USA Today reported:
Gary Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, pushed back against Trump’s insinuation, stating that “The mortality trends reflected in our current report, including the largest drop in overall cancer mortality ever recorded from 2016 to 2017, reflect prevention, early detection, and treatment advances that occurred in prior years.”
He continued that “Since taking office, the president has signed multiple spending bills that have included increases in funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute – though the impact of those increases are not reflected in the data contained in this report.”
USA Today’s report added that Trump’s proposed White House budgets would have cut billions of dollars in funding to NIH, “a move that would have impacted the National Cancer Institute if Congress had approved it.”
Indeed, former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic 2020 contender, noted in a message to Trump via Twitter soon after, “I started the Cancer Moonshot so we could be the generation that finally cures cancer. You then tried to slash nearly $1 billion for cancer funding. We’re lucky that the cancer rate is down, but we’re luckier that Congress stopped you.”
As important as these details are, the broader point is that Trump really ought to think twice before tying his presidency to every development that happens while he’s in office. The New York Times reported a couple of months ago, for example, that Americans’ life expectancy has declined over the last three years.
No responsible observer would argue that Trump should be blamed for discouraging news like this, but therein lies the point: presidents shouldn’t instinctively assume a connection between current events and their tenures.