President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic has faced heavy criticism in the months since the country was forced into a national lockdown in March. As the number of deaths continue to grow six months later, the president has also frustrated members of the scientific and medical community with his rhetoric downplaying the severity of COVID-19. However, veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, reveals that Trump openly admitted several times in private that he knows the virus is “deadly,” but he likes “playing it down.”
In a series of interviews with Woodward, Trump admitted as far back as February 7 that he knew the exact dangers of the virus, yet still gave public remarks that were in direct conflict with those facts. Via CNN:
“It goes through the air,” Trump said. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
But Trump spent most of the next month saying that the virus was “very much under control” and that cases in the US would “disappear.” Trump said on his trip to India on February 25 that it was “a problem that’s going to go away,” and the next day he predicted the number of US cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
Even as the situation worsened in March, Trump continued to make public statements that went against scientific information that he privately acknowledged. For example, the president has known for months that young adults and children are at risk from the virus:
By March 19, when Trump told Woodward he was purposely downplaying the dangers to avoid creating a panic, he also acknowledged the threat to young people. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people,” Trump said.
Publicly, however, Trump has continued to insist just the opposite, saying as recently as August 5 that children were “almost immune.”
In an excerpt from Rage, Woodward agrees with the assessment that February was a “wasted month,” and that the president failed to adequately prepare for the virus and gave the public misleading information that has only furthered its spread.
“Presidents are the executive branch. There was a duty to warn. To listen, to plan, and to take care,” Woodward writes. Instead, Trump minimized the threat “to reassure the public they faced little risk.”