It seems that Donald Trump was right when he said at a 2016 political rally, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Over the last four years, we have seen time and again that absolutely nothing would change the minds of Trump’s base about their support for him. Though to our knowledge, Donald Trump hasn’t shot anyone on Fifth Avenue, Americans learned this week that since January, he has stood at the podium time after time, knowingly allowing nearly 192,000 Americans to die of COVID-19, as he kept potentially lifesaving information from them. As expected, Trump’s supporters are silent, except for a few weak utterings of justification and blame here and there.
On January 28, 2020, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien briefed Trump on the novel coronavirus, telling him that it would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. Trump also learned that day that the country could face a situation as bad as the 1918 pandemic. The virus was airborne, highly contagious, and could be spread by people who had no symptoms, Trump was told during the briefing.
Just a few days later, on February 2, Trump told Americans that the virus was contained, and that “we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” His message to Americans would continue to be, “Don’t worry, relax, it’ll disappear, it’s going away soon…” as the virus took hold and would soon spread exponentially throughout the country.
On February 7, Trump told investigative journalist Bob Woodward, author of the soon-to-be-released book, Rage, “This is deadly stuff. You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed… And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
In public, however, he said, “This is a flu. This is like a flu.” He had told Woodward that it was five times more deadly than the flu.
A month after his conversation with Woodward, Trump tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” (Trump had apparently forgotten that just weeks before, he had told Americans that it had been shut down “coming in from China.”)
While writing Rage, which examines Trump’s responses to the crises of 2020, Bob Woodward conducted nearly 10 hours of interviews with Trump, recording each of them with Trump’s consent. During those conversations, Trump talked about the magnitude of the coronavirus threat to Americans, even as he publicly talked about the virus as if it were nothing more than the common cold.
Trump continued to hold packed rallies and encourage large gatherings. He did nothing to warn Americans or advise them to stay safe from the coronavirus. Instead, he continually downplayed the threat of the virus, accusing Democrats of politicizing it, and calling the public’s concern over it the Democrats’ “new hoax.”
And so Trump’s base has taken that message forward, tweeting and posting and meme-ing. Even now, long after the COVID-19 death rate surpassed the average number of yearly flu deaths in the U.S., the base insist that the flu is more deadly. They have followed Trump’s example of eschewing face masks and scoffing at social distancing guidelines, even though the guidelines came from the White House’s own expert public health advisors.
And as Trump encouraged them to ignore public health guidance, later even stoking rebellion against the lockdown guidelines some governors had put in place to protect them, he knew all along how deadly and contagious the coronavirus was.
“It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable,” he had told Woodward in early April. A week later, he told Woodward, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.” Yet publicly, Trump continued to discourage mask-wearing and social distancing.
Over the summer, though Trump had told Woodard in March that the virus was killing young people along with older people, his public message was that children were “almost immune” from the virus. He insisted that schools should open for full in-person instruction, and threatened to withhold some types of funding from schools who didn’t comply.
Since January, Donald Trump has done what he could to stoke divisiveness among Americans around the coronavirus. He has made it a partisan issue to follow protective guidelines, encouraging his base to ignore them. He has downplayed the deadliness of the virus and promoted the idea that the “mainstream media” are inflating the death statistics. And he has been a barrier to testing for the virus, as he has proclaimed that more testing would mean more cases (“Slow the testing down, please,” he joked at a rally.)
What excuse can there possibly be for a leader to knowingly, willingly, mislead his country about a deadly pandemic? How does one justify the fact that Donald Trump, with full knowledge, placed Americans in harm’s way while denying that they were in danger?
Early on, Donald Trump himself acknowledged that he was minimizing the seriousness of the virus. On March 19, he told Woodward, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
He continued to play it down, and consequently, so has his base. In fact, the coronavirus has been so successfully played down to his supporters that it has become a popular topic for conspiracy theories. Mask-wearing has become a subversive plot to make children easier to abduct. Testing with a swab has become a sneaky way to implant microchips into unsuspecting brains. Protective lockdowns have become tyrannical violations of constitutional freedoms.
Thousands of Americans’ deaths could have been prevented, had Donald Trump not repeatedly lied about the deadliness of the coronavirus, and had he encouraged Americans to take protective measures.
Trump still defends his lying to Americans about COVID-19. This week, Trump maintained that he was “showing leadership” and trying to avoid “panic.”
“We have to show calm,” he said. “Certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We have to show strength.”
Yet Trump attempts to drive the country into a frenzy of fear about the dangers of mail-in voting, the threat of violence in the suburbs, the anarchy of war-zone-like cities, and the imminent takeover by antifa and Black Lives Matter. He stokes panic over that possibility of “Biden’s America,” where, according to him, chaos will reign, God and guns will be outlawed, and illegal immigrants will not only take over all of the jobs, but will also rape America’s daughters. He “didn’t want to cause a panic,” however, about a deadly, highly contagious disease that more Americans could have protected themselves from, had he told them the truth.
Vice President Mike Pence responded to questions about what Donald Trump knew, and when, by saying, “This president has put the health of America first from day one.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also responded by lying. “The president never downplayed the virus,” she said, even though Trump himself admitted to doing so. “The president expressed calm. The president was serious about this when the Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment.”
Tim Murtaugh, Trump campaign communication manager, briefly attempted to rationalize that when news of the coronavirus was first breaking, Donald Trump was distracted by the Democrats’ “sham impeachment.” He then told The Hill, “The president has always said…that he views as part of his job as being leader of the country, is to calm people down, and not to create a crisis and cause panic.”
On Thursday evening, September 11, the day after the news broke about Trump’s intentional coronavirus coverup, Trump held his 18th rally since January 28. Thousands of MAGAs, mostly without masks, crowded together outside an airplane hangar in Freeland, Michigan, and chanted to their leader, “We love you!”
Donald Trump’s 2016 quip about his base’s unwavering support, even in the event that he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, was an insult to their intelligence. It appears, however, that he was accurate. Over and over, Trump has clearly shown his supporters that he really doesn’t care whether they live or die…He just wants their adulation (and their votes).
In turn, Donald Trump’s supporters eagerly show him that they really don’t mind that he doesn’t care whether they live or die. Trump aides and GOP lawmakers continue to enable him by lying for him themselves. The coronavirus is our Fifth Avenue, and those who continue to support Donald Trump and say nothing are his accomplices.
Trump Campaign TRIES To Defend Against Bob Woodward Book | The Hill
Trump talks COVID-19 with journalist Bob Woodward: “I always wanted to play it down” | CBS This Morning [2020-09-10]