Trumping truth as people die

By Charles Lewis

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We Americans have, unfortunately, become accustomed to the daily, multiple prevarications of the 45th president of the United States, Donald John Trump. Since his Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration, Trump has made 16,241 false or misleading claims, according to Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler.

Without doubt, previous presidents have misled or lied to the American public.

Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin, Richard Nixon lied about Watergate, Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush falsely touted Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” and Barack Obama misled Americans about portions of the Affordable Care Act.

But no other president has ever come close to lying as much, as often, or as shamelessly as Trump.

Trump’s lying has increased each year of his presidency: 1,999 false or misleading claims in 2017; 5,689 in 2018; 8,155 in 2019; and, just three months into 2020, the president appears on track to exceed last year’s number.

Perhaps this peculiar president has developed a rare, congenital malady called ostrichism — “the deliberate avoidance or ignorance of conditions as they exist.”

A detailed analysis by The New York Times found that in the past two months of the deadly coronavirus, Trump, via his tweets, has been mostly dismissive.

In his first public statements about the coronavirus on Jan. 22 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked by CNBC reporter Joe Kernen: “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?” The president responded: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Jan. 24, Trump tweeted: “It will all work out well.”

Jan. 30, in a speech in Michigan, he said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

That comment came the same day the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was a “public health emergency of international concern,” citing 7,818 confirmed cases around the world.

Fox News host Sean Hannity posed this question to Trump on Feb 2: “Coronavirus. How concerned are you?” Trump said: “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”

A few days later, on Feb. 10, Trump told a campaign rally, a meeting of governors and Fox Business reporter Trish Regan that warm weather would kill the virus. “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

Feb. 19, the president told a Phoenix television station: “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” Four days later, he announced that the situation was “very much under control . . . we had 12 [patients] at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.”

But his disingenuous minimizing of the dangerous international health crisis was an unabashed, outrageous lie.

The World Health Organization announced Feb. 23 that the coronavirus had spread to 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, “a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.”

Trump’s stubborn, obstinate lies not only continued, but he also tried a new tack.

With the U.S. stock market indexes waning, he began angrily criticizing the news media — specifically CNN and MSNBC — for upsetting and “panicking markets.” At a South Carolina campaign rally, Trump ludicrously asserted that “the Democrat policy of open borders” had brought the virus into the country.

The following week, Trump blamed “an Obama administration regulation for slowing the production of test kits,” which, according to The New York Times, was not true.

In late February, Trump continued to assert that the situation was improving, once again making numerous false assertions.

On Feb. 26, he said: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” The next day, Trump predicted: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” And on Feb. 29, he flatly stated that a vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly,” boasting that his administration’s efforts were “the most aggressive taken by any country.”

None of these assertions was true.

By the end of February, there were 85,403 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in 55 countries around the world.

In late February and early March, Trump said numerous times that the coronavirus is less serious than the flu. “We’re talking about a much smaller range of deaths than from the flu,” he said March 2, then two days later told Fox’s Hannity that the virus was “very mild.”

By then, it had become quite apparent that the U.S. had fallen badly behind on testing for the virus. But, to make matters worse, Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, lied about it, telling ABC News, “There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.”

And President Trump, touring the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta March 6, said: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” March 7, Trump said: “I’m not concerned at all.” March 10, Trump declared: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

Like so much else, this, too, was a lie.

Trump shocked many March 24 when he made the appalling statement that he wanted to reopen the country by Easter, April 12. “Easter’s a very special day for me,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the packed churches full? . . . You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

Michael Gerson, an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post and former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, was — along with many others — astonished.

In his March 26 column (“Trump’s Easter festival of infection“), he called Trump’s comments “one of the strangest, most dangerous moments in presidential history. At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period.”

The number of CDC confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. nears 130,000 — more than any other country in the world. More than 2,100 people have died.

Has anyone told Donald Trump? Does he even care?

In a time of profound health and economic crisis for this representative democracy and for the entire world, the United States does not have a leader. Instead, we have an arrogant, ignorant, prevaricating president who has been and continues to be astonishingly untethered to facts and truth.

Donald Trump has not protected us. Indeed, his lies continue to put the American people at risk.

Charles Lewis is executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop and author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity” (PublicAffairs Books, 2014)