The health and even the lives of at least some Americans facing the spread of coronavirus are at greater risk today because Donald J. Trump is our president.
On the same day that the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the spread of coronavirus to its highest global risk level, Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina, claimed that fears about the pandemic’s spread are part of a “hoax” conjured up by political enemies intent on blocking his bid for reelection.
Setting aside, for the moment, the morally reprehensible nature of such a charge, the president’s latest conspiracy theory is also very dangerous.
As if anticipating Trump’s reckless allegation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who leads the WHO, recently warned that as dangerous as the coronavirus pandemic is the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself, it’s fear, rumors and stigma.”
People should not panic. There’s nothing to be gained from that. But the American people and our government must be prepared for what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has described as the inevitable spread of the virus in our country.
The COVID-19 virus, which has no vaccine, has spread to at least 70 nations. More than 90,000 people have been infected with coronavirus and more than 3,000 have died worldwide, the vast majority of them in China.
All told, just under 2% of those worldwide with the coronavirus have died – a mortality rate nearly 20 times greater than the common influenza outbreaks that kill tens of thousands every year in the U.S.
So, the truth is that no matter how much the president tries to minimize the risks, more Americans will be infected by the virus in the coming weeks and months, and some of those people will die.
No one knows exactly how many people will ultimately be sickened by the disease, but lying to the nation about the dangers associated with it can only make things worse.
How bad things will get depends largely on the ability of our nation’s leaders to mount a coordinated and well-resourced emergency response to stem the spread of the virus. Accurate information about the disease, how to avoid catching it and what to do if you do get sick can literally save lives.
But that hasn’t stopped the president from suggesting the worst is over and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to make him look bad.
This is what he said in South Carolina on Friday night: “One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That did not work out too well. They could not do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. This is their new hoax.”
The next day, Trump’s eldest son took it a step further by accusing Democrats of hoping the virus “kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning…”
Then, during a campaign rally in North Carolina on the eve of Super Tuesday, Trump broadened his conspiracy theory by claiming, “There are fringe globalists who would rather keep our borders open than keep out infection. Think of that: keep all of the infection, let it come in.”
It’s one thing for the president to claim that Russia didn’t work to help him win the 2016 presidential election or deny he tried to get the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a key political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. But to allege, without evidence, that Democrats and the news media are purposely exaggerating the dangers of coronavirus is not just a categorically false, but proof that the president cares more about maintaining his grip on power than protecting the American people.
The president has spread thousands of false or misleading statements since he took office, according to a running tally by The Washington Post, but lying about the threat of a deadly worldwide pandemic may be his single most dangerous lie yet.
It’s dangerous because the health and safety of the American people depends in part on the ability of a president to lead and protect us in our darkest hours. Think of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. President George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
Virtually every president at some point in office has had to stand before the American people and fulfill his responsibility as the “comforter-in-chief.”
Not this president. Instead, Trump is taking advantage of the global health crisis to prove yet again how little he cares about anyone but himself.