In the face of undeniable evidence that he deliberately downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic this spring to a public desperate for credible information about the threat posed by covid-19, President Donald Trump has put forward a novel defense that goes something like this: If I said it was so bad, then why didn’t Bob Woodward make it public at that time?
“If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately gone to the authorities to prepare,” Trump said at an official White House press conference at a campaign event Thursday afternoon.
To be very clear about what Trump is saying here, let’s take it one step at a time:
1. In a series of interviews beginning in December 2019 and ending in July 2020, Trump talks with Woodward, the legendary Washington Post reporter, about, among other things, how the coronavirus is transmitted (through airborne droplets), how much more severe it is than people think, and how he is deliberately minimizing that seriousness to people.
2. Woodward compiles this information, and much more, in a book called “Rage.”
3. When the audio of Trump’s conversations with Woodward was leaked, he defended his claims that he was intentionally minimizing the virus by pointing out that Woodward never went to the “authorities” when he heard what Trump was doing.
There is only one small problem with this defense: BOB WOODWARD IS NOT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
There is, no doubt, a worthy debate about whether Woodward, who technically works for The Washington Post but in practical terms has been writing books for years, should have gone to the newspaper immediately after Trump made his statements about downplaying the virus and demanding space on the website (and in the next day’s newspaper) to write a great contemporary article about it.
But that conversation pales compared to this one: If the President of the United States knew that covid-19 was worse than people thought and worse than he made out when he compared it to seasonal flu, why didn’t he tell the American people?
Trump’s stated reason for downplaying the virus was to avoid “panic.” But that notion creates a false choice. It’s simply not true that Trump could only a). create a total panic by telling people the truth about what he knew about covid-19 or b). minimize the severity of what he knew about the virus to stay calm.
It’s not one or the other! And even if it were one or the other, it still wouldn’t excuse what Trump did. He didn’t just play down the virus. The president openly mocked masks, one of the only proven tactics we have to mitigate the spread. He pushed hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, even though the FDA revoked its emergency use authorization for the drug in mid-June. Hell, it even suggested that people might benefit from putting bright light inside their bodies or ingesting disinfectants to fight the virus.
That’s much more than downplaying what I knew about the coronavirus. That’s openly rejecting the science in favor of personal opinion and political punctuation.
But let’s go back to Woodward. The simple fact is that it’s Trump, not Woodward, the president of the United States, which means that the burden of informing the public of uncomfortable truths about a virus that has killed more than 190,000 Americans this year to date, and of implementing policies to mitigate it, falls on the man who was elected to lead the country. Not the guy who is writing a book about the guy who was elected leader of the country.
And so this defense, like so many of Trump’s excuses, rationalizations, and faults, crumbles with even the slightest inspection. And it shows once again that Trump doesn’t understand the responsibilities that come with being president or the moral burden that comes with running for office.
For The Yucatan Times
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