People For the American Way

Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (9/11 Update)

News and Analysis
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (9/11 Update)

This week, we learned that as early as January 28, Donald Trump knew about the serious danger posed by COVID-19 even as he intentionally misled Americans about the severity of the pandemic. Trump’s comments were revealed in a series of interviews he did spanning over six months with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward for Woodward’s new book, which The Washington Post obtained ahead of its September 15 release.

We now know that Trump’s blithe dismissal of the real dangers of COVID-19 and his efforts to downplay the advice of scientific experts about how to respond – issues that we first began reporting on in April – were, in fact, a calculated decision to misinform the American public.

  • Trump’s alarming comments to Woodward on the pandemic include:
    • On February 7, Trump described the novel coronavirus as being five times “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” directly contradicting his many assurances to the public that the virus would disappear.
    • On March 19, Trump explained that he had been deliberately minimizing the severity of the pandemic: “I wanted to always play it down,” he said. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.” He also told Woodward that “it’s not just old people, Bob,” which flies in the face of Trump spending weeks pushing for schools to reopen while claiming that “Young people are almost immune to this disease.”
    • On July 21, during Trump’s final interview with Woodward, he vented that “the virus has nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault.”
  • In addition to Woodward’s interview bombshells, Trump has continued to recklessly reject COVID-19’s severity and experts’ safety guidelines. This week:
    • Trump repeatedly mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for frequently wearing a mask.
    • On September 6, he retweeted a far-right agitator’s post saying that “All the lockdowns must end immediately.”
    • On September 8, during a White House press briefing, Trump asked a Reuters reporter to remove his mask.
    • On September 9, after a Republican county official from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, asked Trump to wear a mask to his rally, Trump ignored the request and railed against pandemic social distancing and economic restrictions during the event. Attendees at the rally itself were also mostly maskless.
  • If the U.S. were to relax mask mandates, social distancing, and other pandemic restrictions, as Trump seems to be promoting, a model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that more than 410,000 people in the U.S. could die from COVID-19 by the end of 2020. That is more than double the current death toll.
  • Possibly due to Trump’s unrelenting politicization of health and safety guidelines, Republican-leaning counties and states are now facing significantly higher coronavirus caseloads. Seventy percent of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. come from Republican-led states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee —all of which are states whose leaders have refused to impose mandatory mask mandates.
  • Health experts continue to temper or directly contradict Trump’s promise of a coronavirus vaccine before the general election on November 3, including Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor for the White House vaccine program; Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert; and Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. In addition, nine competing pharmaceutical companies joined together to issue a statement that promised that they would “stand with science” and not release a vaccine before it has been rigorously vetted and tested.
  • On September 8, Senate Republicans returned from recess with a dramatically scaled back COVID-19 relief bill that would have done little to address Americans’ needs; that bill failed to pass. As a reminder, Senate Republicans have now stonewalled the House-passed HEROES Act for 120 days – and their refusal to hold a vote on the bill continues to have dire consequences for millions of people across the country.
  • Trump’s insistence on promoting in-person schooling is resulting in clear spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country. More children attending K-12 schools are contracting the virus, which is also spreading rapidly in college towns. Between August 20 and September 3 alone, the national total of new coronavirus cases in children saw a 16 percent increase. Taken together, about half of 203 U.S. counties where students comprise at least 10 percent of the population just experienced their worst week of the pandemic since August 1.

Trump’s callousness about the harm he is inflicting upon the country was thrown into sharp relief this week. His deliberate choice to “play down” the pandemic lays bare the scope of his failure to lead with honesty, integrity, and decisive action and to protect the American people. And the consequences of his lies and self-interest are clear: A country that leads the world in both cases and deaths, mass public fear and confusion, a loss of confidence in facts and scientific data – and in America’s leadership and our global standing as a country.

We cannot forget that Trump admitted that he “still like[s] playing it down.” He clearly has no intention of changing his dangerous behavior – and that is why we must vote him out of office this November.