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Trump’s Deadly Mistake

Donald Trump made the biggest mistake of his tumultuous presidential career in not telling the American people the coronavirus was far more dangerous than he had let on, keeping a secret that led surely to serious repercussions.

He virtually ignored it, possibly being responsible for the loss of who knows how many American lives. His Democratic election opponent, Joe Biden, called it “almost criminal.”

Trump knew in January the coronavirus was more deadly than the seasonal flu, which is what he had been passing it off as. But he coaxed the American people instead to think it would pass swiftly, according to the book “Rage” by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward. He even called the disease a “hoax” and said it again and again.

Withholding crucial information from the public about a COVID-19 pandemic that could kill them – nearly 190,000 Americans have died from it and 6.3 million others are infected – is beyond excuse. If he has any decency, he should resign.

Remember this: “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he replied when asked early on if he felt responsible for the coronavirus.

Of all the more than his 20,000 lies and misleading statements recorded by The Washington Post since Trump took office, this falsehood to the people he was elected to “faithfully” serve as president is beyond a reasonable doubt the most dangerous and egregious. There can be no excuse, no denials, because it’s all on tape.

Questions, chiefly by journalists, also have arisen about why Woodward didn’t
immediately write a news story once he learned of Trump’s revelation so the American people would be informed. He told the Post’s media reporter, Margaret Sullivan, that his “biggest problem . . . is I didn’t know if it was true.”

Trump didn’t learn about the coronavirus until a Jan. 28 intelligence briefing and was told by his national security adviser Robert O’Brien that “this is going to be the roughest thing you face,” according to a Post story about the book. O’Brien’s deputy, Matthew Pottinger, said it was comparable to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, the book said.

The president’s lack of a leadership role in combatting the coronavirus when he knew the scale of its potential loss of lives could sink his chance at re-election.

The president called Woodward Feb. 7, telling him the virus was more serious than he had been telling the American people.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” he said. “And so that’s a very tricky one. It’s also more deadly than your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff.”

If he knew you could breathe in the coronavirus, then why didn’t he urge people to wear masks? Why did he instead flamboyantly flout not wearing a mask, encouraging others to follow his absurd lead?

Trump told Woodward March 19 that he purposely dismissed the danger, saying “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Knowing what he did, Trump had an obligation to make a public statement, probably even in a televised prime time appearance, to alert millions of people about the seriousness of the disease that was making its way toward the United States from Wuhan, China, and Europe so that they could begin to take precautions.

Instead, he put everyone in peril, at risk.

Were White House officials advising him to go public? What were the conversations in the White House about this? Were congressional intelligence committees briefed on the deadliness of the coronavirus?

The Post quoted Woodward, “Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United
States had ever faced.”

If nothing else, Trump’s lack of even a common sense response to the virus and then the COVID-19 it causes is proof positive that he is totally unfit to be the president. His vice president and cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and get him out of office as rapidly as possible. Have Mike Pence run for president in his place.

Biden, campaigning in Michigan Wednesday, exploded against Trump in reaction to the revelation about his in-depth knowledge of the seriousness of the disease.

“He knew how dangerous it was,” the former vice president said, according to The New York Times. “And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life- and-death betrayal of the American people.”

Biden added, “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”

Biden also told CNN, “He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn’t do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. It’s almost criminal.”

Richard C. Gross, a career journalist at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.

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