Trump lied by downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19. The virus came to the U.S. from Europe, not China. (Europe, however, was infected by visiting Chinese.) So Trump quickly shut the door to and from China. Around this time Trump began to downplay the effects of COVID-19.
The president explained at a later date that he had lied to prevent panic from gripping the nation. I accept this explanation. What else could he have said? “My fellow Americans, we are in the throes of a disease that may prove to be as terrible as the Black Plague. And as yet, there is nothing we can do about it.”
At the outset of this dire pandemic, the wearing of facemasks was not, and still is not, universally recommended. There remains some debate even among highly respected scientists as to whether facemasks are effective in preventing the spread of the pandemic-virus. Dr. Fauci, the eminent epidemiologist, was initially against using facemasks. And the World Health Organization reported (c. 2019) that masks alone are unable to prevent the spread of flu or COVID-19.
To lie or not to lie? Trump’s game plan was unavoidable and thus, acceptable. Moreover, it was not the first time an American president resorted to deception, nor is it likely to be the last.
Flashback: Dec. 7, 1941. News of a Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii reached Washington, D.C. in the afternoon. The news was chilling — 20 vessels, including eight battleships, plus 300 aircraft were destroyed. Casualties, both military and civilian, numbered 2,400. The air raid destroyed most of the United States Pacific fleet. Fortunately, the three Pacific fleet aircraft carriers were elsewhere.
A decision was reached to downplay the Pearl Harbor disaster because it was believed by Roosevelt, his cabinet, and the military that the full story might panic the American people, especially those living on the West Coast. (The strategy also included misleading the Japanese about the real results of the attack).
The lie was useful; there was indeed panic along the West Coast; one observer noted: panic was at a “fever pitch.”
CONCLUSION: It is gratifying to think that Americans are fearless, but we must remember that we are first and foremost human beings, complete with a panoply of emotions. Fear is one of them.
Recall the words of Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage [is] not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
THOMAS CARL NAST