Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial published by The Greensboro News & Record on Tuesday.
Now we all know what President Trump knew and when he knew it.
Because he’s told us so … in his own words.
The president knew the coronavirus was a deadly menace in February and did nothing about it.
In tapes from journalist Bob Woodward’s interviews with the president for his forthcoming book, “Rage,” Trump told Woodward what he wouldn’t admit to the public.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 interview. “It’s also more deadly than your strenuous flus.” Five times as deadly, he said.
But in public, he downplayed the seriousness of the virus, saying it would pass quickly and wasn’t that severe anyway. By Feb. 28, he was calling it the Democrats’ “new hoax.”
Not long after that, he began praising himself for his amazing response, the most amazing response to any problem ever.
But since he first learned of the virus’s severity, more than 190,000 Americans have died.
In a March 19 interview with Woodward, he acknowledged that young people were susceptible to the virus.
But on Aug. 5, while speaking to the public, he claimed that children were “practically immune.”
To avoid ‘panic’
After Woodward’s tapes began airing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany quickly called a news conference to claim, “The president never downplayed the virus.”
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
“I don’t want to create a panic,” explained the man who has been shouting to Americans through a bullhorn about killer Mexican caravans, antifa terrorists and Joe Biden, if he’s elected president, destroying suburbs.
Trump said he kept quiet about the coronavirus’ deadliness because he wanted to portray “confidence and calm.”
But Trump didn’t portray confidence and calm. He encouraged his supporters to buck state authorities and “LIBERATE” themselves from safety precautions. He held close-quartered pep rallies. He played games with supply chains, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. He pushed for schools to reopen, despite knowing the threat to young people. He allowed hundreds of thousands if not millions of small businesses to be shuttered permanently.
And as medical professionals struggled to keep up with the first surge, some doctors and nurses gave up and committed suicide.
Trump egged people on, most recently over the weekend, to flout public health rules at campaign events, ridiculing former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing one. He did this while knowing that the virus was killing Americans.
Speaking on CNN, Woodward’s Watergate colleague, Carl Bernstein, said, “Thousands and thousands and thousands of people died” because Trump is “putting his own re-election before the safety, health and well-being of the people of the United States. We’ve never had a president who’s done anything like this before.”
North Carolinian Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, expressed his dismay last week that Trump chose to sit with Bob Woodward. Talk about missing the point.
On Thursday, Trump defended his approach, telling the press, “I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming, ‘Death, death’ because that’s not what it’s about.”
But no one is suggesting that that should have been his response. He should have been upfront with the American people about just how dangerous the virus is, like other world leaders were. He should have set a better example of mask-wearing and social distancing. He should have encouraged everyone, including his base, to work together to avoid spreading the virus. Lives could have been saved.
He could have made wearing a mask as patriotic as wearing a flag pin.
As if that weren’t enough, we also learned that Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, allegedly urged a former chief of intelligence, Brian Murphy, to withhold reporting on potential Russian threats to the election because it “made the president look bad.” Murphy says he was told to emphasize potential threats from China and Iran instead.
Murphy also alleges he was told by the department’s second-highest ranked official, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups and antifa, according to his whistleblower complaint, which was released on Sept. 9 by the House Intelligence Committee.
The White House and DHS denied the claims, saying that Murphy was a “disgruntled former employee” — there sure are a lot of those — but his claims have a ring of truth.
Two weeks ago, Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention for DHS, told NPR that the Trump administration had urged her to downplay the threat of right-wing extremism to U.S. security.
Also, we learned that Attorney General William Barr intervened to move a defamation lawsuit against Trump to federal court so that his Department of Justice could defend the president — meaning that U.S. taxpayers are now on the hook to defend Trump in what should be a civil suit.
Trump’s rigid core
It goes without saying that all of this is beyond irregular for American presidential politics.
Our country is facing serious challenges. We’re in the midst of a severe economic downturn. We’re more deeply divided, politically, than we’ve been in decades. Violence is bubbling up on American streets. A deadly pandemic is raging across the country. And Trump has only fed the flames.
Trump’s base seems immune to legitimate criticism of their leader. Some of them say there’s nothing he could do to lose their support.
If they’re not moved by the tens of thousands of American deaths that Trump could have prevented, it’s difficult to imagine what would move them.
Whatever political gain some might imagine in Trump’s presidency, it’s not worth this chaos and death.