‘American Carnage’ Unveiled

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It doesn’t seem to sink in that this country’s so-called president withheld deadly serious information from the American people about such a life-altering, once-in-a-century coronavirus that it could kill them. It was his biggest lie yet.

What Donald Trump did was comparable to setting the house on fire – our house – with “we the people” locked inside as we helplessly watched the smoke curling in under the doors and dying one by one with little or no possibility of rescue.

One wag posted online that Trump’s excuse for not telling the people about the seriousness of the virus and its follow-on COVID-19 was because he didn’t want to panic them is as if Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to turn on air raid sirens as German bombers approached Britain’s shores during the Blitz in World War II because he didn’t want to frighten Londoners.

He would have been locked away in London Tower for the rest of his life.

Not our leader. Though impeached by the House and forgiven by his Republican-led Senate, he hasn’t been accountable for his actions as president since he took office Jan. 20, 2017. The extent of his self-proclaimed irresponsibility toward more than 320 million Americans is indescribable; it’s haunting, chilling, ghastly. (“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said March 13.)

His election opponent Joe Biden accused Trump of an “almost criminal” act. Almost?

Tens of thousands of Americans may have died needlessly because Trump didn’t have the moral sense, the empathy, even the cold political reckoning to share his knowledge about the danger of the coronavirus even though he was informed about it in an intelligence briefing Jan. 28, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Rage.” And he was urged several times by administration officials in January and February to act, The New York Times reported May 4.

“When a pandemic is raging, it becomes harder to deny that rigorous, truthful information is a mortal necessity,” wrote Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, in the Aug. 20 edition of The New York Review of Books.

“No one need explain the risks of false information when one can point to, say, the likely consequences of Americans’ coming to believe they can deflect the virus by injecting themselves with bleach,” he wrote.

How can someone, especially the president of what is rapidly becoming what critics say is a failed state, deliberately lie to his people by telling them the virus — “one day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear” – when the reality that he knew existed was the exact opposite? Where is the humanity? Where is the ability to think of the consequences of his statements about how the disease will just “disappear?”

Trump angrily defended his deliberate lying at a White House news conference Thursday by resorting to the not-wanting-to-cause-panic defense by saying, “I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming ‘Death! Death!’ because that’s not what it’s all about. We have to lead a country. There has to be a calmness.”

Jumping up and down like a little boy isn’t how a sane leader would go about telling his people that an alarmingly dangerous disease is coming their way and there’s a need to prepare. But Trump lied again, full of nonsense about not wanting to cause panic.

Philip Rucker, the White House bureau chief for The Washington Post, hit the bullseye when he wrote that Trump always purposely tries to panic people: “Throughout his five years on the national political stage, Trump has used fear to acquire and keep power. Scare tactics are the hammer and screwdriver of his tool kit.”

As examples, Rucker reminds that Trump began his campaign in 2015 by warning that Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime.” He warned against Muslims, MS-13 gangs, caravans of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States, denounced mail-in voting and rigged elections and wrote shrill tweets crusading for “LAW AND ORDER.” Let’s not forget his warnings about “looters,” “anarchists” and “radical Democrats” supposedly creating havoc in the streets during demonstrations for racial justice.

All fantasies created in his twisted mind.

No one, especially in a democracy, in a country ruled by laws, should be permitted to singlehandedly create a laughingstock and a dystopia virtually overnight, treating the citizenry aside from his base of supporters as if they didn’t exist. The best example of that is how he refused to help coastal big cities because they were Democratic strongholds. He never has been the president of all the people.

By not acting on his knowledge of the approaching danger, Trump not only exacerbated the threat from the virus, shutting down the infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci but also cratered a thriving economy, on which he had pinned his hopes for re-election because of a nationwide lockdown whose duration may have been shorter if federal restrictions on movement had been enforced early on.

What we got instead was a remarkable total lack of leadership from the federal government. And there was no one, not even Ivanka or her husband Jared Kushner, White House advisers, to force Trump to take responsibility for guiding his country through its worst health disaster in 100 years. It’s as if a frightened citizenry were led by a 5-year-old.

We the people should not let this pass as if it were just one more of Trump’s lies that his supporters disregard as a harmless personality quirk. This lie was no quirk. It killed people, probably very many people. (“I alone can fix it,” he said at the outset of his presidency.)

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump said in his dark inaugural address. Trouble is, he is the one responsible for the carnage. Perhaps it’s best summed up by Shakespeare:

“You told a lie, an odious damned lie; Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie.” Othello, Act V, Scene 2.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.