On December 8, 1941 the President of the United States had to appraise the American public regarding an attack on American military forces in Hawaii, and across the Pacific. I suppose he could have played it down, assured the American people that it would all be okay. After all, he wouldn’t want to start a panic. Instead, in a radio address to the American people about “a day that shall live in infamy,” the President also said this:
“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”
The ensuing war would kill over 400,000 Americans over the next four years. Covid has now killed nearly half that number in less than six months.
The current President faced his own Pearl Harbor with this virus. His approach was to significantly downplay the risk at least when speaking to the American people.
In private Trump spoke different. As early as February 7th Trump told Bob Woodward that the virus was difficult to stop because it was spread through the air, that it was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” Trump directly said, “this is deadly stuff.”
At the same time Trump’s message to the American people amounted to don’t worry, it will all go away, and it’s not that bad anyway.
He, and his administration would later deny he downplayed the risk. However, the President is now on tape, acknowledging he downplayed the risk telling Woodward on March 19th that:
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The words of FDR to the American people quoted above are the words of a leader. The words of Donald Trump to the American people quoted and cited above are the words of a weasel. The President of the United States has admitted, on tape, that he deliberately lied to the American people about the greatest threat to our public health and economic prosperity of our time.
Can you imagine what Trump would have said to the American people after Pearl Harbor? I suspect it would have gone something like this.
“Today we had a bad day, you know what a day is right? But the important thing is that the stock market is up. Our Navy is great, the greatest in the world, and, as everyone knows, I made it that way. So I am imposing a great travel ban on the Japanese and I can tell you that they will be very sorry. As everyone knows Japan is a long way away, with a lot of very wet water, the wettest water ever, in between. Besides, Hawaii isn’t even part of the United States. Someday, like a miracle, this war will be over. If we just stay out of it less losers will have to die. Vote Trump in 44, to make America great again.”
On February 7th Trump told Bob Woodward that Covid was more much more dangerous than any flu, was at great risk of spreading, and was “deadly stuff.” Can you imagine how many American lives would have been saved, how much of our ruined economy could have been saved, had Trump just said to the American people what he told Bob Woodward in private?
FDR’s words to America galvanized this nation’s people into a marvel of collective action. Trump’s words lulled the American people into deadly placidity. We continue to pay the price.