Opinion: Forget shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. 190,000 Americans are dead because Trump wanted to ‘play down’ coronavirus

President Donald Trump.
It wasn’t just incompetence that made Trump flub the COVID response. It was willful negligence.
(Laurent Gillieron / Keystone via Associated Press)

Trump knew.

He knew, and he lied. New audio reveals that Trump knew back in March that the new coronavirus was airborne, contagious and significantly “more deadly” than the flu. But he publicly told Americans that the virus was no big deal and “going to disappear.” He wasn’t just unprepared to deal with a crisis. He wasn’t just incompetent. He wasn’t even ill-informed. He knew how bad it was, and he did everything he could to downplay the situation.

We know because he admitted all this — not just on the record, but on tape — to Bob Woodward, the investigative journalist who helped break the Watergate story that brought down President Nixon. So, you know, he’s an idiot too.

“I wanted to always play it down,” said Trump during a March 19 interview with Woodward. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” (Yes, you can hear him say this.) And during a July 21 interview, he deflected all responsibility: “The virus has nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault,” said the president.


Trump dragged his toes on the coronavirus response, refusing to take decisive action and outsourcing most public health responsibility to the states. He ignored the science. He called the virus “kung flu.” He touted bogus miracle cures. He held massive indoor rallies. For a long time, he refused to wear a mask. At pretty much every step of the federal coronavirus response, the United States government failed to protect its people. The tapes show that this wasn’t just a subpar plan of action. It was willful — even criminal — negligence.

And now, 190,000 Americans are dead of COVID-19. One hundred and ninety thousand. That’s more than the number of Americans who died in Iraq. Or Vietnam. Or the Revolutionary War. Or World War I. Or Hurricanes Maria and Katrina combined, and then multiplied by 39. Or sixty-three 9/11s.

That’s 22% of all COVID deaths worldwide — from a country that has 4% of the world’s population. We know now that thousands of lives could have been saved if social distancing measures were implemented just a week earlier — 36,000 lives, according to one study published in May. If the United States had the same death rate as the European Union, 84,000 Americans would still be alive. If we had the same death rate as Canada, more than 100,000 people would still be with us.

These new quotes reveal the depths of Trump’s hypocrisy, callousness and willingness to lie to the American public — his willingness, even, to sacrifice lives to save face.

During Trump’s first election campaign back in 2016, he famously said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

What he’s actually done is much, much worse.