On Feb. 7, Trump described the virus as airborne and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” adding, “this is 5 percent versus 1 percent, or less than 1 percent.” It’s not clear whether Trump thought that Covid-19 had a 5 percent case fatality rate — a number that seemed plausible in February — but he clearly knew that compared with the flu, it was several times more likely to kill.
And yet he told the country just the opposite. “The percentage for the flu is under 1 percent,” Trump said on March 7. “But this could also be under 1 percent because many of the people that aren’t that sick don’t report.” Despite knowing that the virus was airborne, he mocked mask-wearing and held several large indoor rallies. He told Woodward in March that “plenty of young people” were getting sick, but over the summer would insist that 99 percent of cases were “totally harmless” and that children are “almost immune.”
We know now that this wasn’t just Trump being buffoonish and engaging in magical thinking. It was conscious deception. Publicly, Trump kept insisting that the virus would disappear. Privately, he told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
It’s now clear that just because Trump is lying to us, that doesn’t mean he’s lying to himself.
Trump’s lies sabotaged efforts to contain the coronavirus, almost certainly leading to many more deaths than it would have caused under a minimally competent and non-sociopathic leader. On Sept. 9, there were 1,176 coronavirus deaths in the United States. In Canada, there were two.
When someone’s actions lead to the death of another, we evaluate that person’s intent and state of mind in order to assign the right measure of blame. When a president’s actions lead to the deaths of thousands, we should do the same.