But there was another big lie in 2020, also spread by former President Donald Trump, involving the coronavirus pandemic. It was a lie that consistently downplayed the severity of Covid-19 and the usefulness of face masks. This most likely resulted in the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
To understand the genesis of this lie, remember that the coronavirus arrived in an election year. Despite an initial three-year grudge punctuated by impeachment, the former president’s path to re-election was supported by one blameless achievement: a robust economy. The coronavirus threatened that. The resulting interplay between politics and the pandemic created an intractable conflict that influenced the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus for the remainder of his term.
On January 22, 2020, the day the United States reported its first case of Covid-19, President Trump said he was not worried about the outbreak turning into a pandemic. “We have it totally under control,” he said.
In his book “Rage,” Bob Woodward reported that six days later National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told Trump unambiguously, “This will be the greatest national security threat you face. will be faced during your presidency. It will be the toughest thing you face. ”On February 7, 2020, Trump told Woodward that the coronavirus is very deadly, noting that it is“ deadlier ”than -“ even your tiring flu. ”
On February 25, four days before the first report of a U.S. coronavirus death, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, informed the reporters that she told her children that “as a family we must prepare for a major disruption in our lives.”
On the same day, Alex Azar, then secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, assured the press that the Trump administration was committed to “radical transparency.”
The next day the president said, “It’s flu. It’s like flu. It’s kind of like a regular flu that we get the flu shot for. And we’ll basically have a flu shot. for that pretty quickly. “
On March 9, as the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States rose, Trump again compared the coronavirus to the flu, tweeting: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is stopped, life and life At the moment, there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about it! ”
Despite knowledge that the virus spread via respiratory droplets and aerosols, the CDC was slow to recommend masks to the public. On February 29, Surgeon General Jerome Adams berated the public in a tweet: “Seriously folks – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but providers are care cannot get them to treat sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk! ”
On April 3, the CDC changed its position and advised all Americans to cover their faces in public. During a coronavirus task force briefing that day, the president immediately threw cold water on the recommendation, saying, “You can do it. You don’t have to. choose not to, but some people might want to do it, and that’s OK. ”He added:“ Wear a mask to greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings , queens – I just don’t see it. ” The message to his supporters was clear: masks were optional.
Despite Trump’s public nonchalance, in private he had known for months with precision just how easily the virus spreads and the reason for wearing masks. On February 7th, he said to Woodward, “It goes through the air, Bob. It’s always harder than touching it. You know, touching it – you don’t have to touch things, do you? But l ‘air, you just breathe air. That’s how it happened. And so it’s a very delicate question. It’s a very delicate question. “On April 13, Trump told Woodward that the coronavirus was “so easily transmitted that you wouldn’t even believe it”.
For Trump, however, there was no turning back and it would take another three months before he agreed to wear a mask in public. During a July 12 visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump told reporters, “I’ve never been against masks, but I think they have a time and place.” But the damage was done, and like wearing a red MAGA hat, refusing to wear a mask in public became a sign of loyalty to the president. The masks had been politicized.
In July, a Gallup poll found that 94% of respondents registered as Democrats always, or very often, wore a mask compared to just 46% of Republicans. Likewise, many Republican governors, fearing to risk a presidential reprimand or backlash from his supporters, refused to issue masked warrants. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota said: “There are many others who question the effectiveness of masks … As I said before, if people want to wear a mask, they should be free to do so. Likewise, those who do not want to wear a mask should not be ashamed to wear one. And the government should not make it compulsory. “
On Fox News in March, Tucker Carlson said, “Sure, masks work. Everyone knows that. Dozens of research articles have proven it.” In the fall, he openly scoffed at mask warrants and science backed them up. “What they’re really telling you is that the masks are magic,” he says. “What appears to be a fragile face covering is, in fact, a sacred amulet that protects us from disease.”
As the election approaches, Trump has resumed his large electoral rallies. Among those attending the first event, held on June 20 in Tulsa, was former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was pictured sitting unmasked in the tight crowd of 6,200 similarly unmasked attendees. A week after the rally, Cain tested positive for the coronavirus. Two days later, Cain tweeted his support for Noem’s decision not to require masks during Trump’s scheduled visit to Mount Rushmore. “Masks will not be mandatory for the event, which President Trump will be attending. PEOPLE ARE FED UP!” Cain died from the coronavirus a month later.
Over the summer, as deaths piled up, Trump dismissed his top coronavirus advisers and appealed to the Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institute, whose libertarian theories were more aligned with Trump’s public statements than those of his existing team including Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. Atlas has publicly questioned the effectiveness of the masks, tweeting in October: “Do the masks work? NO: LA, Miami, Hawaii, Alabama, France, Philippines, UK, Spain, Israel. WHO: ‘wide use unsupported ‘+ many prejudices. “
As the elections approached, the pace of the then president’s rallies, which were crowded and optional events, also increased. A Stanford University study estimated that 18 of these campaign events likely resulted in more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and 700 deaths.
On September 26, the White House hosted a Rose Garden event to announce the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Again, the masks were not necessary and very few participants wore them. Five days later, the president and the first lady tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, Trump was taken by helicopter to Walter Reed.
His three-day hospitalization gave him the opportunity to recreate his message on the coronavirus. He did not do it. In a taped statement from the hospital, Trump said, “Don’t let him dominate you. Don’t be afraid.” Upon his return to the White House, the President put on a show as he climbed the curved steps to the Truman Balcony. As he stood facing the South Lawn, the former president dramatically removed his mask, saluted Marine One, then turned and, actively infected with the coronavirus and unmasked, entered the executive residence.
Three weeks later, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Measurement and Evaluation released what turned out to be a surprisingly accurate prediction. The IHME has estimated that there could be 500,000 deaths in the United States by the end of February. Their analysis also suggests that 130,000 of these deaths could be prevented if the country adopted universal masking.
Dr Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute, said: “We think the key point here is that there is a huge winter wave ahead.” Murray and his colleagues were perfect, but the Trump administration still hasn’t pushed for universal masking.
When asked last fall why he hadn’t told the American public the truth, the then president replied, “I don’t want people to be afraid. I don’t want to panic … And certainly, I’m ‘I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. “
As expected, this week the United States has passed half a million deaths. The Greek tragedian Aeschylus wrote: “In war the first victim is the truth”. When the story of the US war on the coronavirus is finally written, historians will note that Donald Trump’s big mask lie was original sin.