President Donald Trump lied again.
And his lies may have caused a lot of deaths. Trump has lied not once, twice, three times or four. He has lied or made misleading claims more than 20,000 times since he became president, according to a daily tally by the Washington Post.
This time, he lied about the worst pandemic the world has suffered in a century. In 18 interviews with journalist Bob Woodward for his book, Rage, the president admitted that he downplayed the terrible impact of the coronavirus to avert panic. But if the president had told people earlier about the dangers of covid-19 – and taken measures – many lives would have been saved. A Columbia University study concluded that 36,000 persons would not have died in the United States if social distancing orders in March had been issued just one week earlier. But Trump kept information to himself.
Let's take a look at two of his lies.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told the journalist Woodward during a Feb. 7 interview, referring to the coronavirus. “You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed ... It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” Nevertheless, three days later, on Feb. 10, Trump declared in public that it “looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” And just weeks later, on Feb. 26, he insisted that “the risk to the American people remains very low.”
It was all lies.
Trump also downplayed the risk to children. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out,” he told Woodward on March 19. “It's not just old, older. Young people too - plenty of young people.” Nevertheless, almost five months later, he told Fox in an interview that “children are almost … immune from this disease.” Today we know that more than half a million children in the United States got the virus, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That, Mr. President, is not immunity to a disease.
In a few word, Trump failed. He did not warn the country about the true dangers of the coronavirus, and even lied about the impact of the disease on children. It is not possible to hide the dead and the infected.
The question, then, is why would the most powerful man in the world lie about something so important?
“I wanted to always play it down,” he told Woodward in March. “I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic.” And now, after his lies were published, Trump insists he did the right thing. “I'm a cheerleader for this country,” he said, defending himself. “I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened, I don't want to create panic … And we've done very well.”
No, in reality we've done very badly.
The United States has reported more than 6.5 million people infected with the coronavirus, and about 200,000 dead. The United States has only 4 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of all the covid-19 cases on the planet. And the forecasts for the times until a vaccine is developed and distributed are truly terrifying.
Trump's lies about the coronavirus will be remembered as one of the most lethal in the modern history of the United States. They are only comparable to George W. Bush's lies before the Iraq invasion in 2003 (falsely claiming that it had weapons of mass destruction.) It's no wonder, then, that many people don't believe him either when he denies The Atlantic magazine report that he criticized U.S. soldiers killed in combat as “losers” and “suckers.”
Great leaders are never known for their great lies. Great leaders tell the truth in difficult moments, even if it hurts. I can't imagine Winston Churchill lying to the British about the threat of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis before World War II, just to avoid panic. In contrast, I can imagine Trump lying about, well, about everything.
How many lives could have been saved had Trump told the truth from the beginning about the coronavirus. We'll never know. But this leader, who at one point declared himself a “wartime president,” lied when the country most needed to hear the painful truth.
It's possible Trump did it to try to win reelection. He believed that if he invented a bubble, a false reality, many U.S. voters would support him. Instead, he has given voters a clear choice on Nov. 3. Who do you prefer: A president who lied to avoid creating panic, or the other candidate?