Throughout history, presidents responded to moments of great trial by leveling with the American people about often-dire challenges, but also summoned a collective sense of mission toward a less perilous destination.
Twice, in the 1930s Great Depression and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, a Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, told the country the truth, and it listened and followed. On another day of infamy — 19 years ago on Friday — a Republican, George W. Bush, consoled and united a people violated by a shocking act of terrorism on 9/11.
The 190,000 American families who lost loved ones and could never say goodbye, the millions of unemployed, the business owners who went bust, a generation of kids who haven’t been in class for months and everyone else self-distanced from their regular lives now face the same question: How different would things have been had the President done his job properly?
‘I always wanted to play it down’
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The fallout from the Woodward bombshells just 54 days before the election goes beyond White House palace intrigue. Trump’s own narrative of the crisis has now been shattered. His frequent complaints that no one could have foreseen the magnitude of the challenge from Covid-19 are shown to be flagrantly untrue. Woodward reports that Trump was told by his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, on January 28 that the virus would be the greatest national security threat of his presidency.
Trump told Woodward he could not remember that warning — but that “I’m sure if he said it — you know, I’m sure he said it.” That the President apparently missed such a flashing alarm brings its own concern.
The President’s refusal to inform his nation of a building threat and instinct to keep comparing the disease to the flu as late as the end of March — when he knew it was a lie — show he flunked his date with destiny.
Trump contradicts his own White House’s defense
Not every country is a South Korea or New Zealand — which quickly understood the threat from the coronavirus and acted accordingly. There was plenty of failure in Europe, for instance, though most countries bought a summer respite from a mounting second wave.
And a more honest approach by Trump would not have saved every American life. But his deliberate deception and lack of seriousness at a grave national moment turned the US response into one of the world’s worst.
The failure laid bare by Woodward in the President’s own words is the ultimate repudiation of the “I alone can fix it” and “I know more about ISIS than the generals” school of leadership, in which Trump makes gut calls, ignores advice and puts politics above science.
Typically, Trump reacted to one of the most damaging moments of his presidency by following his usual playbook, trusting that disinformation and…