President Donald Trump took his defense of his intentional downplaying of the coronavirus to another level on Thursday night, comparing his decision to lie to the American public to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill telling London residents to stay calm during World War II bombing campaigns.
During a rally in Michigan which featured very little social distancing or mask-wearing, the president railed against the fallout over his February admission to veteran journalist Bob Woodward that he knew that COVID-19 was airborne, highly contagious, and deadlier than “strenuous flus.” Weeks later, after belatedly declaring a national emergency, Trump would tell Woodward that he “wanted to always play it down.”
After patting himself on the back over his response to a pandemic that has taken over 190,000 American lives, the president invoked President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inspirational inaugural address during the height of the Great Depression. (Fox News host Sean Hannity, a confidant and informal presidential adviser, referenced FDR’s speech the night before.)
“America will prevail over the China virus,” Trump bellowed. “As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ We do it very well.”
The president then seamlessly shifted to Churchill, analogizing his early dishonesty and downplaying of the virus to the late prime minister’s leadership during World War II and The Blitz.
“As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on,” Trump declared. “That’s what I did.”
Calling Woodward a “whack job,” Trump reiterated his previous assertions that he didn’t want to “panic” or “scare people” at the beginning of the pandemic.
“They wanted me to come out and scream, ‘People are dying!’ We did it just the right way,” he exclaimed. “We have to be calm. We don’t want to be crazed lunatics. We have to lead.”
“When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak,” Trump continued. “He always spoke with confidence. He said we have to show calmness. Nah, we did it the right way.”
Trump comparing himself favorably to Churchill comes three months after his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the president’s Bible photo-op at St. John’s Church—after law enforcement forcibly removed and gassed peaceful protesters—was like Churchill “inspecting the bombing damage.”