The ‘Trump Death Clock’ Shows the Toll of Coronavirus Inaction. And It May Be Coming to a City Near You.
The Trump Death Clock tallies American COVID-19 deaths that could have been prevented had Trump implemented mitigation just one week earlier. Its maker explains why he did it.
In the early hours Friday, those braving tourist-free Times Square were treated to an arresting sight: a white billboard projecting the words ‘Trump Death Clock’ in big black letters; underneath, a counter in red reading ‘44,809.’ These are the deaths that, according to two of the world’s leading epidemiologists, could have been avoided had the Trump administration acted just one week prior to March 16, when nationwide mitigation measures were first introduced to the public.
“I looked at those numbers and thought, just as the National Debt Clock warns us of the costs of reckless borrowing, we need a National Death Clock—in this case, a Trump Death Clock—to estimate and calculate the costs of reckless pandemic leadership by the president and his team,” says filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, the creator of the clock.
According to Dr. Britta Jewell and Dr. Nicholas Jewell, “an estimated 90 percent of the cumulative deaths in the United States” from the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic could have been prevented had social-distancing guidelines been put in place on March 2, when the total U.S. death tally was 11, and “the effect would have been substantial had the policies been imposed even one week earlier, on March 9, resulting in approximately a 60 percent reduction in deaths.”
So Jarecki—with the financial backing of a coterie of pals—launched a website, www.trumpdeathclock.com, displaying the tally of preventable COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., and then had it projected onto a billboard in Times Square. While the total estimated American deaths from the novel coronavirus currently stands at 82,885 at time of writing, the Trump Death Clock now reads 49,731.
Like many Americans, Jarecki has watched in horror as President Trump and the rest of his administration have resorted to their usual blame-shifting tactics—deflect, attack dissenting opinions, point at other countries’ perceived failings, somehow blame Obama. So Jarecki, the Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker behind Why We Fight and The House I Live In, opted for something straightforward and non-partisan.
“The goal is to let numbers speak for themselves. They cut through the noise and circus of propaganda in the news cycles,” Jarecki tells The Daily Beast. “We wanted the Trump Death Clock to live outside of all that, and so it only focuses on the one-week period around which there is no debate. That failure by the president he wants to dissemble by pointing in a million directions and confusing matters, but you can’t bully the numbers. What the numbers do to him is they demand accountability. In a pandemic every second counts.”
In addition to his Twitter feed and daily press conferences, wherein he barks at female reporters for challenging his lies, obfuscates, and invents crises like “Obamagate,” Trump’s media mouthpieces—Fox News, OANN, conservative radio—have amplified his dangerous messaging, from calling it a “Democratic hoax” and downplaying the number of deaths to arguing that people should sacrifice their lives for the good of the economy.
“He’s counting on what Gore Vidal once said in my film Why We Fight that we live in ‘the United States of amnesia,’” explains Jarecki. “When you have so much media coming out all the time, the president knows that you can hide in the layers and layers of weeds that are out there. So story after story comes out and buries whatever the truth ever really was. Nobody will notice that you were hysterical about [Ebola] when it was your predecessor but now callous about this virus when you’re in power. He thrives on exploiting the amnesia of the American people, which we have because we are overprogrammed and overstimulated by the media.”
On the question of who is backing the project financially, Jarecki insists that “no Dem groups are behind it.” He says he doesn’t put himself “in one party or another in America.” It’s just Jarecki and his friends who pooled money together to set up the site and put up the Time Square billboard, which will be up until May 24 (unless current plans change).
They’re hoping, however, that the billboard catches on: “We want to see people copycat it in small towns and big cities across the country. And hopefully people will find out what we found out, which is that billboard space right now goes for a song, because nobody is outside. It will be much easier for people to make their communities aware.”
Jarecki and co. say they’ve heard from “a bunch of people” who would like their Times Square billboard to remain up through the election, though there are no plans for that yet.
“If people want to have it in their community, they can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help them bring it there—whether it’s projecting it on your house or placing it on local billboards. We want people across the country to understand this,” he offers, before addressing Trump directly: “These numbers are going to haunt you.”