U.S. President Donald Trump appears to be banking on one thing throughout the coronavirus pandemic: that his supporters will forget everything he says immediately after he says it, and that any contradictions will be ignored.
It’s certainly been difficult to follow Trump’s many twisting narratives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as he’s gone from downplaying the threat, to claiming total control of the crisis, to blaming his usual list of suspects for every setback.
Those usual suspects have included the Democrats, the media, Barack Obama, China and, most recently, the World Health Organization, which he’s now trying to financially starve out for supposedly not raising the alarm early enough.
But while Trump continues to claim that he got ahead of the WHO by closing the U.S. to travellers from China over two months ago, his own words show he frequently ignored or downplayed the threat after taking that action, even as the WHO ramped up its alarm. He also can’t escape the numbers, which show that the U.S. is leading the world in deaths and infections since the crisis began.
He’s claimed that he has “total” authority over the U.S. response to the virus, while taking no responsibility “at all” for the country’s widely reported testing failures. He’s accused the media of stoking “hysteria” around the virus while also failing to report the full scope of the danger. He’s even claimed that the virus will disappear like a “miracle,” only to declare a few weeks later that he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was a pandemic.”
It’s virtually impossible to keep up with all of the half-truths and total falsehoods the president has been pushing at his now-daily press briefings on the virus. The thought line has been pretty clear since the crisis began: anything good that happens is because of Trump, and anything bad that happens is because of someone else.
Here’s how Trump distorted the dangers of the virus, in his own words.
Early January — ‘Totally under control’ despite warnings
Trump received multiple warnings about the threat of the coronavirus in January. His health secretary, Alex Azar, briefed him about the threat on Jan. 18, three days before the first confirmed case in the U.S.
“We have it totally under control,” Trump told CNBC on Jan. 22. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
January 30 — WHO declares a global health emergency, Trump downplays ‘only 5 people in the U.S.’
Trump’s most frequent accusation against the WHO is tied to Jan. 30. That’s when the WHO declared COVID-19 a “public health emergency of international concern,” while also explicitly refusing to recommend travel restrictions to prevent it from spreading out of China.
“The Committee does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available,” the WHO said in a statement that day.
Trump reportedly received two dire warnings from his aides around this time. Peter Navarro, Trump’s economic adviser, warned that the virus could infect 100 million Americans and kill between 1-2 million of them, according to Navarro’s Jan. 29 memo obtained by Axios. Azar also warned Trump about the virus on Jan. 30, but the president dismissed the warning as “alarmist,” the New York Times reports.
Trump publicly downplayed the threat on Twitter, saying that he was working closely with China and others on the threat.
“Only 5 people in the U.S., all in good recovery,” he tweeted.
January 31 — Trump bars travellers from China
Trump issued an executive order barring visitors to the U.S. who had been to China within the previous 14 days. The order included carve-outs for U.S. residents, citizens and their family members.
This is the move Trump frequently refers to when he talks about his supposedly unprecedented response to the virus.
February 10-19 — Trump claims the virus will go away ‘miraculously’
Speaking at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump floated the notion that the virus will simply vanish.
“By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,” he said.
He repeated that claim on Feb. 19 at a meeting with a group of governors to discuss the threat.
“I think it’s going to work out fine,” he said. “I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus.”
February 24 — Coronavirus ‘under control’ despite plunging stock market
Trump tried to calm investors spooked by the threat of the virus on Feb. 24.
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he tweeted. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
February 25 — Trump congratulates himself for closing borders to China
Trump applauded his own response to the coronavirus on Twitter and during his trip to India on Feb. 25.
“You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country,” Trump told reporters in India, according to the White House. “We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are — in all cases, I have not heard anything other.”
He claimed on Twitter that his administration and the CDC were doing a “GREAT” job of handling the virus.
February 26 — Trump accuses the media of hyping up the virus to make him look bad
Trump accused MSNBC and CNN of doing everything they could to make him look bad in the fight against the “Caronavirus,” in a misspelled tweet.
“USA in great shape!” he said.
February 26-27 — Trump claims the virus will disappear, is no worse than the flu
“It’s going to disappear,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Feb. 27. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Trump also started comparing the virus to the death toll from the flu, and suggested that the country doesn’t react when the flu kills many people each year.
He repeated the claim several times throughout March.
February 28 — The ‘new hoax’ and ‘hysteria’
Speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump claimed the media was in “hysteria mode” around the coronavirus, and that his Democratic opponents were trying to use the virus against him.
“This is their new hoax,” he said.
March 6 — It came ‘out of nowhere’
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flagged the virus as a potential issue back on Jan. 8.
Trump visited the CDC in Atlanta on March 6, and claimed in a speech that the virus was a surprise.
“What a problem,” he said. “Came out of nowhere.”
March 7 — ‘I’m not concerned at all’
Trump downplayed the threat of the virus spreading in the United States on March 7, during a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
“No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. No, we’ve done a great job.”
March 11 — WHO declares a pandemic, Trump bans travel from Europe to stop ‘foreign virus’
Trump closed the U.S. borders to European travellers and blamed the European Union for the spread of the virus in a televised national address from the Oval Office.
He made the address after the WHO declared the virus a pandemic.
“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China,” Trump said. “Now we must take the same action with Europe.”
March 13 — ‘I don’t take responsibility at all’
Trump declared a national emergency in the face of the coronavirus, while downplaying widely reported issues with testing for COVID-19 within the U.S.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said, when asked about the testing failures.
March 16 — Coronavirus will ‘wash through’ in the summer
Trump told reporters in the White House briefing room that the virus might simply go away in the summer.
“So it could be right in that period of time where it, I say, wash — it washes through. Other people don’t like that term. But where it washes through.”
March 17 — Trump ‘felt’ it was a pandemic all along
The WHO declared the COVID-19 disease to be a pandemic on March 17.
“This is a pandemic,” Trump told reporters outside the White House, in response to the WHO.
“I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
He also dismissed questions about his comments from the past, including the notion that it would “wash through” just one day earlier.
“No, I’ve always viewed it as very serious,” Trump said. “There was no difference yesterday from days before. I feel the tone is similar, but some people said it wasn’t.”
He repeated that defence on Twitter the following day.
March 24 — ‘Raring to go by Easter’
In an interview with Fox News, Trump said he would “love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
Trump expressed frustration over the economic damage being caused by sweeping lockdowns, and started rolling out a new talking point that the “cure cannot be worse” than the disease.
He eventually backed off his target of re-opening the economy by Easter, and is now talking about May 1 for some states.
April 13 — ‘Total’ authority over re-opening the economy
Trump lashed out at a coalition of governors who said they would work together to re-open their states’ economies when the time is right. The president claimed “total” authority to make that decision himself, and later suggested that the governors were “mutineers” for trying to decide for themselves.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump falsely claimed at a White House coronavirus briefing. “The governors know that.”
The governors argued otherwise, led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Apr. 14.
“We didn’t have King George Washington, and we don’t have King Trump,” Cuomo said. “We have President Trump.”
April 14 — WHO’s to blame
Trump followed through on an earlier threat to pull funding from the WHO over its response to the virus on Apr. 14. He accused the international body of mismanaging the response and failing to disclose “credible” information about human-to-human transmission in December. He also suggested that the WHO was too sympathetic to China in its response.
Trump accused the WHO of obscuring facts and spreading misinformation, without mentioning any of his own past comments on the virus.
“It would have been so easy to be truthful,” he said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
—With files from The Associated PressView link »