Trump lied and 200,000 Americans died

By Umair Haque

The world — and America — learned something shocking and horrific, yet somehow unsurprising. Trump knew that Coronavirus was “deadly” — and yet downplayed its risks to the American public. That revelation comes from journalist Bob Woodward, who somehow got Trump to put this stunning admission on the record. In other words:Trump lied. 200,000 died.

I don’t mean to make it sound like a campaign slogan. I simply want to tell the unvarnished truth. I don’t want to trivialise it. Instead, I want you to understand what a horrific act this really was — and is.

So let’s take it step by step.

How much did Trump “downplay the risks”? I’ve used the vernacular of Beltway pundits, but a more accurate way to say it is simply that Trump lied about how bad Coronavirus was, could be, would be. As Terry Schwadron puts it, it is “a dereliction of the basic job of being president.” He knew it was — and this is a direct quote — a “deadly” pandemic. And yet what he did couldn’t have been further from that truth.

First, he denied Covid existed at all. Then, he minimised the risks to the point of triviality. Then he said everything would be fine. Along the way, he told people to drink Lysol and inject bleach, and some of them…did.

And that is where America still is now.

As a result, Covid spun out of control. America now has the world’s worst pandemic outcomes, by a long, long way. It accounts for 25% of global deaths alone, while Americans make up just 4% of the globe’s population. More Americans have died of Covid than anyone or anywhere else in the world. That is what it means for a deadly pandemic to spiral out of control. America’s now suffered mass death at the scale of a nuclear bombing.

How did Covid spin out of control in earnest? Precisely because he was busy telling Americans this Big Lie, Trump didn’t do what almost every other leader in the world did. Put in place a national strategy to beat Covid. When I say nearly every other nation in the world, I’m not kidding. From Nigeria to Pakistan, far poorer countries have done vastly better beating Covid than America, and the reason is that Covid was not taken seriously in America. It wasn’t taken seriously because Trump was busy telling his Big Dumb Lie.

To this day, America doesn’t have a national strategy. Trump’s still telling his Big Lie — and there’s no indication whatsoever that if Trump is re-elected, America will ever have a Covid strategy. How many deaths will that result in? My estimate is in the millions. Covid will be the nuclear war America lost.

Now, America was one of the last countries to be hit by Covid. It had the luxury and benefit of time. By the time Covid reached American shores in earnest, there was already a template of global best practices emerging, thanks to pioneers like South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand. Trump could have used that time to learn something. Do something. Apply the template: test, trace, lock down, isolate. All of that would have — would have, beyond a shadow of a doubt — saved American lives. What did he do? He was too busy shrugging and repeating his lies.

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If Trump hadn’t lied, if he’d told the truth about how deadly coronavirus was — a fact that we now know he knew — people could and would have taken it much more seriously, treating it as a lethal pandemic.

How many American lives could have been saved? This is the part that sane Americans can’t believe, don’t want to believe. Because it is too horrific to be true. And yet it is. If America had applied the template of global best practices, it would have had somewhere between 20,000 to just 2,000 dead. That simple calculation is based on deaths per capita in New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam, applied to America. In other words, the death toll could have been reduced by orders of magnitude, entire decimal places.

Trump studied from his master well. He employed Hitler’s Big Lie technique to a T. He told lie after lie about Covid, all of which added to up the biggest lie any leader has told on the face of globe in a very long time. “This isn’t a deadly pandemic! Pandemic? What pandemic?” And when we survivors learned Mein Kampf was his favourite book…it didn’t take us long to understand such Big Lies were on the way.

Trump lied, 200,000 died, and somewhere between 90 to 99% of those deaths were entirely unnecessary and preventable.

Downplaying the risks is like saying maybe the risk is 10%, but you are calling 8%, or 5%, What Trump did — cause a pandemic to explode and result in mass death — goes much, much further than that, in hard empirical terms. 2,000 or 20,000 deaths became 200,000. Trump multiplied America’s Covid death toll by up to 100 times as a result of his Big Lie.

Like I said, Americans tune this fact out. But they shouldn’t. Because the truth is that Trump’s lies flourished because an atmosphere of permissiveness has emerged in America.. It took newspapers and columnists years to even call Trump’s lies lies. To this day, they are often called other things, that minimise the damage an authoritarian telling lies to a whole nation can do. Trump “downplayed the risks of Covid,” say the pundits. That is not really as true as it should be. Trump lied, and Americans experienced mass death at the level of nuclear war is a much more accurate way to put it.

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When Americans tune facts like these out, they are enabling the atmosphere of permissiveness that allows authoritarianism to flourish. An attitude towards authoritarianism in general, the abuses of power that are routine in the Trump administration, that minimises their dangers.
Americans, I think, have seen Trump’s lies as mendacious and corrosive, but not immediately lethal and dangerous. Ironically, they are the ones who have downplayed — the risks and costs of authoritarianism. Now Americans should see that when authoritarians lie, it isn’t just some abstract corrosion to democracy’s noble but abstract ideals. There is a real world price to be paid, often a heavy one, usually paid in human lives.

We survivors of authoritarianism have sounded the alarm about authoritarianism for just this reason. We’ve lived all this before. Maybe not mass death at the hands of this lie — “the pandemic isn’t dangerous! What pandemic?” But we have lived mass death at the hands of Big Lies, which are all just excuses for it. “Those people are subhumans! They don’t belong here!” Or: “The only our society will survive is if we purify and cleanse it!” Or: “Those hated minorities are the ones responsible for your woes, chosen people!”

We’ve lived it before, the consequences of the Big Lie. Those consequences have never been as abstract as American pundits think — that over years and decades they corrode some abstract, noble conception of democracy. The truth is not an abstraction. It is not a game. It is made of human lives.

We have been trying to warn you precisely because we have understood that a man like Trump with the power to lie means even “real” Americans were going to ultimately experience mass death. And now they have.

What kind of man, by the way, does it take to tell a lie so big it causes mass death? In psychological terms, it takes a true psychopath.

I said the other day something like: “Trump is going to rank up there with history’s true monsters, once Americans understand the truth about Covid and its unnecessary death toll.” Have they understood it yet? Then let me try to make it even clearer.

Do you know why I’ve used the phrase “Big Lie” in this essay? Do you know where it comes from? Go ahead, guess. Maybe you think it’s some modern pundit, like Frank Luntz. Or maybe some academic. Wrong. It comes from Adolf Hitler. He literally outlined the Big Lie technique. In the book, it’s said, that Trump kept at his bedside. Mein Kampf.

“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths,” Hitler noted, “and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so.” Translation: the masses don’t often believe that someone would lie about something so big, and so the bigger the lie, the more they believe it.

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Trump studied from his master well. He employed Hitler’s Big Lie technique to a T. He told lie after lie about Covid, all of which added to up the biggest lie any leader has told on the face of globe in a very long time. “This isn’t a deadly pandemic! Pandemic? What pandemic?” And when we survivors learned Mein Kampf was his favourite book…it didn’t take us long to understand such Big Lies were on the way.

What a malicious individual. And yet there he is, still using the Big Lie Technique. Trump’s latest lie? Maybe even you believe it.
There’s going to be a vaccine that will fix everything. There, there. Hush now, and don’t worry. Reality check: it takes five to ten years to develop a vaccine. Covid is a new disease, on which there’s little real data, and so even if efforts are strenuous, it’s not going to happen soon. It is still probably going to take years. Expecting a vaccine in months is the realm of fiction. It is another Big Lie.

Yet there Trump is, telling it.

George W. Bush once uttered that old saying. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Americans should be learning the hard way what the price of Trump’s hardening authoritarianism really is. 200,000 dead, already, of which 90–99% percent were needless. I know that the mind shuts down, rejects that fact, goes numb, that denial erupts. And yet unless Americans confront that fact — they are the fools. No, not all of them. But enough of them. They have become the world’s laughingstocks precisely because they let a man as ignorant and brutal as Donald Trump literally throw their lives away.

Americans should be learning what the price of Trumpism, of fascism, of authoritarianism really is. Not some abstract corrosion of theoretical ideals. But mass death at the scale of a nuclear bombing. That is growing, every day, reaching even more horrific levels.

But are they? Are Americans capable of learning a damned thing anymore? Or will Donald Trump have the last laugh, as America plunges right down the abyss?

You, my friend, tell me.

*Umair Haque first published this essay in Medium