Every once in a great, great while, life is more delicious than you’d dared to hope.
I was reading early Wednesday afternoon about what may be the big scoop from Bob Woodward’s new book on the Trump administration: that on February 7, while Trump was pooh-poohing the virus publicly, he told Woodward, “This is deadly stuff.” In fact, five times as deadly as the normal flu, he said. There’s no denying that Trump said this; lordy, there are tapes.
So I asked myself the question that any journalist would: What was Trump saying publicly on that day? When the president of the United States was acknowledging to America’s most famous reporter that the coronavirus was far more deadly than your average flu, it was hours after he’d sent out these two successive tweets, at 5:31 a.m.:
I mean, this is one of those God-must-be-a-Democrat moments. First of all, we all get reminded again of Trump’s fulsome, toadying praise of Xi Jinping. “Strong, sharp, and powerfully focused.” At a time when Trump is trotting out lame lines like “If Joe Biden wins, China wins,” which he used at Tuesday night’s rally in North Carolina, it’s perfect cosmic justice that Americans will be reminded that when it comes to the Xi sycophancy long jump, it’s Trump who takes the gold.
But that’s just the appetizer. Then we get that insanely embarrassing thing about how when the weather gets warmer, it’s going to disappear. That’s one of the all-time howlers of the whole episode.
So in sum: While Trump knew that the coronavirus was deadly, he was telling the people he was elected to serve and protect that it was no big deal. While we’re at it, let’s go over some other quotes, from this timeline:
Feb. 10: "I had a long talk with President Xi—for the people in this room—two nights ago, and he feels very confident. He feels very confident. And he feels that, again, as I mentioned, by April or during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus.”
Feb. 27: “It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear.”
March 4: “Yeah, I think where these people are flying, it's safe to fly. And large portions of the world are very safe to fly. So we don't want to say anything other than that.”
March 24: “There is tremendous hope as we look forward and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
I could go on (and on and on). You get the picture.
It’s staggering. Pre-Woodward, the conventional wisdom was that Trump was such an idiot, such a superstitious anti-science buffoon, and/or in such denial about the whole thing, that he just didn’t take it seriously.
But now we know that was wrong. He actually wasn’t that stupid. He knew, at least for those few moments when he was talking to Woodward anyway, how deadly the virus was. But he still did next to nothing and kept saying don’t worry, it’ll go away. That’s even worse!
There’s more in the book that just confirms everything. His generals are “pussies,” and he really doesn’t pay much thought, let us say, to race relations. Don’t you think, Woodward asked him, that as white men from well-off families, we have some sort of responsibility to give some thought to the challenges that Black people face in this country that you and I don’t? Cried the man who inherited $4 million from his probably-white-supremacist father: “No… You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? No, I don’t feel that way at all.”
What’s maybe most astonishing here is that Trump said all these things to Woodward for what he must have known was all for a book that Woodward was going to publish before Election Day. I just heard Chuck Todd say on TV that apparently, a lot of this was Trump calling Woodward late at night from the residence. It’s close to psychologically unfathomable why Trump would do this, except that he thinks, “I’ve lied and tossed out bullshit all my life, and look where it’s gotten me: the White House!”
Which raises the question of what impact this will have. The tendency is to roll our eyes and say none. But I’m not so sure here. Now, Joe Biden can say not simply that Trump misled the public, which he might have done out of ignorance. Now Biden can credibly say that Trump intentionally misled the public. That’s a whole different charge.
And he said exactly that within two hours at a speech in Michigan: “He knew. He knew and purposefully played it down. He knowingly and willingly lied to the American people… a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”
Difference? It doesn’t have to make much difference. A couple percentage points. Even one. But you take the Atlantic scoop and the non-V-shaped recovery and the imminent 200,000 deaths landmark and, well, it all has to add up eventually. And now we know he lied to the American people about life and death.