On July 17, President Donald Trump sat for a Fox News interview at the White House. At the time, nearly 140,000 Americans were dead from the novel coronavirus. The interviewer, Chris Wallace, showed Trump a video clip in which Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned of a difficult fall and winter ahead. Trump dismissed the warning. He scoffed that experts had misjudged the virus all along. “Everybody thought this summer it would go away,” said Trump. “They used to say the heat, the heat was good for it and it really knocks it out, remember? So they got that one wrong.”
Trump’s account was completely backward. Redfield and other U.S. public health officials had never promised that heat would knock out the virus. In fact, they had cautioned against that assumption. The person who had held out the false promise of a warm-weather reprieve, again and again, was Trump. And he hadn’t gotten the idea from any of his medical advisers. He had gotten it from Xi Jinping, the president of China, in a phone call in February.
The phone call, the talking points Trump picked up from it, and his subsequent attempts to cover up his alliance with Xi are part of a deep betrayal. The story the president now tells—that he “built the greatest economy in history,” that China blindsided him by unleashing the virus, and that Trump saved millions of lives by mobilizing America to defeat it—is a lie. Trump collaborated with Xi, concealed the threat, impeded the U.S. government’s response, silenced those who sought to warn the public, and pushed states to take risks that escalated the tragedy. He’s personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.
This isn’t speculation. All the evidence is in the public record. But the truth, unlike Trump’s false narrative, is scattered in different places. It’s in emails, leaks, interviews, hearings, scientific reports, and the president’s stray remarks. This article puts those fragments together. It documents Trump’s interference or negligence in every stage of the government’s failure: preparation, mobilization, public communication, testing, mitigation, and reopening.
Trump has always been malignant and incompetent. As president, he has coasted on economic growth, narrowly averted crises of his own making, and corrupted the government in ways that many Americans could ignore. But in the pandemic, his vices—venality, dishonesty, self-absorption, dereliction, heedlessness—turned deadly. They produced lies, misjudgments, and destructive interventions that multiplied the carnage. The coronavirus debacle isn’t, as Trump protests, an “artificial problem” that spoiled his presidency. It’s the fulfillment of everything he is.
Trump never prepared for a pandemic. For years, he had multiple warnings—briefings, reports, simulations, intelligence assessments—that a crisis such as this one was likely and that the government wasn’t ready for it. In April, he admitted that he was informed of the risks: “I always knew that pandemics are one of the worst things that could happen.” But when the virus arrived, the federal government was still ill-equipped to deal with it. According to Trump, “We had no ventilators. We had no testing. We had nothing.”
That’s an exaggeration. But it’s true that the stockpile of pandemic supplies was depleted and that the government’s system for producing virus tests wasn’t designed for such heavy demand. So why, for the first three years of his presidency, did Trump do nothing about it? He often brags that he spent $2 trillion to beef up the military. But he squeezed the budget for pandemics, disbanded the federal team in charge of protecting the country from biological threats, and stripped down the Beijing office of the CDC.
Trump has been asked several times to explain these decisions. He has given two answers. One is that he wanted to save money. “Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years,” he said in February. “If we have a need, we can get them very quickly. … I’m a businessperson. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.”
His second answer is that he had other priorities. In March, at a Fox News town hall, Bret Baier asked Trump why he hadn’t updated the test production system. “I’m thinking about a lot of other things, too, like trade,” Trump replied. “I’m not thinking about this.” In May, ABC’s David Muir asked him, “What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say were bare?” Trump gave the same answer: “I have a lot of things going on.”
Trump prepared for a war, not for a virus. He wagered that if a pandemic broke out, he could pull together the resources to contain it quickly. He was wrong. But that was just the first of many mistakes.
In early January, Trump was warned about a deadly new virus in China. He was also told that the Chinese government was understating the outbreak. (See this timeline for a detailed chronology of what Trump knew and when he knew it.) This was inconvenient, because Trump was about to sign a lucrative trade deal with Beijing. “We have a great relationship with China right now, so I don’t want to speak badly of anyone,” Trump told Laura Ingraham in a Fox News interview on Jan. 10. He added that he was looking forward to a second deal with Xi. When Ingraham asked about China’s violations of human rights, Trump begged off. “I’m riding a fine line because we’re making … great trade deals,” he pleaded.
Trump signed the deal on Jan. 15. He lauded Xi and said previous American presidents, not Xi, were at fault for past troubles between the two countries. Three days later, Alex Azar, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, phoned him with an update on the spread of the virus. On Jan. 21, the CDC announced the first infection in the United States. Two of the government’s top health officials—Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases—said the virus was beginning to circulate around the world.
Trump would later claim that he saw from the outset how grim the situation was. That was clear, he recalled, in the “initial numbers coming out from China.” But at the time, he told Americans everything was fine. “We’re in great shape,” he assured Maria Bartiromo in a Fox Business interview on Jan. 22. “China’s in good shape, too.” He preferred to talk about trade instead. “The China deal is amazing, and we’ll be starting Phase Two very soon,” he said. On CNBC, Joe Kernen asked Trump whether there were any “worries about a pandemic.” “No, not at all,” the president replied. “We have it totally under control.” When Kernen asked whether the Chinese were telling the whole truth about the virus, Trump said they were. “I have a great relationship with President Xi,” he boasted. “We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made.”
The crisis in China grew. In late January, Trump’s medical advisers agreed with his national security team that he should suspend travel from China to the United States. But Trump resisted. He had spent months cultivating a relationship with Xi and securing the trade deal. He was counting on China to buy American goods and boost the U.S. economy, thereby helping him win reelection. He had said this to Xi explicitly, in a conversation witnessed by then–National Security Adviser John Bolton. Trump also worried that a travel ban would scare the stock market. But by the end of the month, airlines were halting flights to China anyway. On Jan. 31, Trump gave in.
His advisers knew the ban would only buy time. They wanted to use that time to fortify America. But Trump had no such plans. On Feb. 1, he recorded a Super Bowl interview with Sean Hannity. Hannity pointed out that the number of known infections in the United States had risen to eight, and he asked Trump whether he was worried. The president brushed him off. “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” said Trump. That was false: Thanks to loopholes in the ban, the coronavirus strain that would engulf Washington state arrived from China about two weeks later. But at the time of the interview, the ban hadn’t even taken effect. The important thing, to Trump, was that he had announced the ban. He was less interested in solving the problem than in looking as though he had solved it. And in the weeks to come, he would argue that the ban had made other protective measures unnecessary.
There were three logical steps to consider after suspending travel from China. The first was suspending travel from Europe. By Jan. 21, Trump’s advisers knew the virus was in France. By Jan. 31, they knew it had reached Italy, Germany, Finland, and the United Kingdom. From conversations with European governments, they also knew that these governments, apart from Italy, weren’t going to block travel from China. And they were directly informed that the flow of passengers from Europe to the United States far exceeded the normal flow of passengers from China to the United States. Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Matthew Pottinger, pleaded for a ban on travel from Europe, but other advisers said this would hurt the economy in an election year. Trump, persuaded by Pottinger’s opponents, refused to go along.
Not until March 11, six weeks after blocking travel from China, did Trump take similar action against Europe. In a televised address, he acknowledged that travelers from Europe had brought the disease to America. Two months later, based on genetic and epidemiological analyses, the CDC would confirm that Trump’s action had come too late, because people arriving from Europe—nearly 2 million of them in February, hundreds of whom were infected—had already accelerated the spread of the virus in the United States.
The second step was to gear up production of masks, ventilators, and other medical supplies. In early February, trade adviser Peter Navarro, biomedical research director Rick Bright, and other officials warned of impending shortages of these supplies. Azar would later claim that during this time, everyone in the administration was pleading for more equipment. But when Azar requested $4 billion to stock up, the White House refused. Trump dismissed the outcry for masks and ridiculed Democrats for “forcing money” on him to buy supplies. “They say, ‘Oh, he should do more,’ ” the president scoffed in an interview on Feb. 28. “There’s nothing more you can do.”
The third and most important step was to test the population to see whether the virus was spreading domestically. That was the policy of South Korea, the global leader in case detection. Like the United States, South Korea had identified its first case on Jan. 20. But from there, the two countries diverged. By Feb. 3 South Korea had expanded its testing program, and by Feb. 27 it was checking samples from more than 10,000 people a day. The U.S. program, hampered by malfunctions and bureaucratic conflict, was nowhere near that. By mid-February, it was testing only about 100 samples a day. As a result, few infections were being detected.
Fauci saw this as a grave vulnerability. From Feb. 14 to March 11, he warned in a dozen hearings, forums, and interviews that the virus might be spreading “under the radar.” But Trump wasn’t interested. He liked having a low infection count—he bragged about it at rallies—and he understood that the official count would stay low if people weren’t tested. Trump had been briefed on the testing situation since late January and knew test production was delayed. But he insisted that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” and that “the tests are all perfect.” Later, he brushed off the delay in test production and said it had been “quickly remedied.” He complained that additional tests, by exposing additional cases, made him “look bad.”
To keep the numbers low, Trump was willing to risk lives. He figured that infections didn’t count if they were offshore, so he tried to prevent infected Americans from setting foot on American soil. In mid-February, even as he refused to bar Europeans from entering the United States, he exploded in anger when more than a dozen infected Americans were allowed to return from Japan. “I hated to do it, statistically,” he told Hannity. “You know, is it going to look bad?” In March, he opposed a decision to let passengers off a cruise ship in California. “I’d rather have the people stay” offshore, he explained, “because I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”
When the spread of the virus in the United States could no longer be denied, Trump called it the “invisible enemy.” But Trump had kept it invisible. The CDC would later acknowledge that due to woefully insufficient testing, the overwhelming majority of infections had gone undiagnosed. Models would show that by mid-February, there were hundreds of undetected infections in the United States for every known case. By the end of the month, there were thousands.
Trump didn’t just ignore warnings. He suppressed them. When Azar briefed him about the virus in January, Trump called him an “alarmist” and told him to stop panicking. When Navarro submitted a memo about the oncoming pandemic, Trump said he shouldn’t have put his words in writing. As the stock market rose in February, Trump discouraged aides from saying anything about the virus that might scare investors.
The president now casts himself as a victim of Chinese deception. In reality, he collaborated with Xi to deceive both the Chinese public and the American public. For weeks after he was briefed on the situation in China, including the fact that Beijing was downplaying the crisis, Trump continued to deny that the Chinese government was hiding anything. He implied that American experts had been welcomed in China and could vouch for Beijing’s information, which—as he would acknowledge months later—wasn’t true. On Twitter, Trump wrote tributes worthy of Chinese state propaganda. “Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation,” he proclaimed.
On Feb. 10, just before a rally in New Hampshire, Trump told Fox News host Trish Regan that the Chinese “have everything under control. … We’re working with them. You know, we just sent some of our best people over there.” Then Trump walked onstage and exploited the political payoff of his deal with Xi. “Last month, we signed a groundbreaking trade agreement with China that will defeat so many of our opponents,” he boasted. He told the crowd that he had spoken with Xi and that the virus situation would “work out fine.” “By April,” he explained, “in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”
Trump didn’t tell the crowd that he had heard this theory from Xi. But that’s what the record indicates. There’s no evidence of Trump peddling the warm-weather theory prior to Feb. 7, when he had an overnight phone call with Xi. Immediately after that call, Trump began to promote the idea. Later, he mentioned that Xi had said it. When Fauci, Messonnier, Azar, and Redfield were asked about the theory, they all said it was an unwise assumption, since the virus was new. The American president, against the judgment of his public health officials, was feeding American citizens a false assurance passed to him by the Chinese president.
Three days after the rally in New Hampshire, Trump defended China’s censorship of information about the virus. In a radio interview, Geraldo Rivera asked him, “Did the Chinese tell the truth about this?” Trump, in reply, suggested that he would have done what Xi had done. “I think they want to put the best face on it,” he said. “If you were running it … you wouldn’t want to run out to the world and go crazy and start saying whatever it is, ’cause you don’t want to create a panic.” Weeks later, Trump would also excuse Chinese disinformation about the virus, telling Fox News viewers that “every country does it.”
Trump envied Xi. He wished he could control what Americans heard and thought, the way Xi could control China’s government and media. But Trump didn’t have authoritarian powers, and some of his subordinates wouldn’t shut up. As the virus moved from country to country, Fauci, Redfield, and Azar began to acknowledge that it would soon overtake the United States. On Feb. 25, when Messonnier said Americans should prepare for school and workplace closures, the stock market plunged. Trump, in a rage, called Azar and threatened to fire Messonnier. The next day, the president seized control of the administration’s press briefings on the virus.
On Feb. 26, shortly before Trump held his first briefing, aides gave him bad news: The CDC had just confirmed the first U.S. infection that couldn’t be traced to foreign travel. That meant the virus was spreading undetected. But when Trump took the podium, he didn’t mention what he had just been told. Instead, he assured the public that infections in the United States were “going down, not up” and that the case count “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” He predicted that America wouldn’t “ever be anywhere near” having to close schools or distribute more masks, since “our borders are very controlled.” When a reporter pointed out that the United States had tested fewer than 500 people, while South Korea had tested tens of thousands, Trump shot back, “We’re testing everybody that we need to test. And we’re finding very little problem.”
Trump’s eruption brought his subordinates into line. Shortly after the president’s angry call to Azar, Redfield told Congress that “our containment strategy has been quite successful.” At her next briefing, for the first time, Messonnier praised Trump by name. She parroted his talking points: that the United States had “acted incredibly quickly, before most other countries” and had “aggressively controlled our borders.” Azar, in testimony before the House, went further. When he was asked to explain the discord between Trump and his medical advisers, the health secretary argued that Americans, like citizens of China, needed to be soothed. The president, Azar explained, was “trying to calm” the populace because, as “we see in China, panic can be as big of an enemy as [the] virus.”
Having cowed his health officials, Trump next went after the press. He told Americans to ignore news reports about the virus. On Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, Trump denounced CNN and MSNBC for “panicking markets” by making the crisis “look as bad as possible.” He dismissed their reports as “fake” and tweeted, “USA in great shape!” At a rally in South Carolina on Feb. 28, he accused the press of “hysteria,” called criticism of his virus policies a “hoax,” and insisted that only 15 Americans were infected. Weeks later, he would tell the public not to believe U.S. media reports about Chinese propaganda, either.
In the three weeks after his Feb. 26 crackdown on his subordinates, Trump opposed or obstructed every response to the crisis. Doctors were pleading for virus tests and other equipment. Without enough tests to sample the population or screen people with symptoms, the virus was spreading invisibly. Fauci was desperate to accelerate the production and distribution of tests, but Trump said it wasn’t necessary. On a March 6 visit to the CDC, the president argued that instead of “going out and proactively looking to see where there’s a problem,” it was better to “find out those areas just by sitting back and waiting.” A proactive CDC testing program, lacking presidential support, never got off the ground. Nor did a separate national testing plan—organized by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—which was supposed to be presented for Trump’s approval but, for unknown reasons, was never announced.
Trump also refused to invoke the Defense Production Act, which could have accelerated the manufacture of masks, gloves, ventilators, and other emergency equipment. In January, HHS had begun to plan for use of the DPA, and in early February, some members of Congress suggested it might be needed. But Trump declined to use it until the end of March. When he was asked why, he said that governors, not the president, were responsible for emergency supplies and that telling “companies what to do” might upset the “business community.”
The president’s most decisive contribution to the death toll was his resistance to public health measures known as “mitigation”: social distancing, school and workplace closures, and cancellations of large gatherings. Messonnier and others had warned since early February that Americans needed to prepare for such measures. On Feb. 24, Trump’s health advisers decided it was time to act. But they couldn’t get a meeting with Trump, because he was off to India to discuss another trade deal. When he returned, he blew up at Messonnier for talking about closing schools and offices. The meeting to discuss mitigation was canceled.
Mitigation required leadership. The president needed to tell Americans that the crisis was urgent and that life had to change. Instead, he told them everything was fine. On March 2, he held another rally, this time in North Carolina. Before the rally, a TV interviewer asked him whether he was taking more precautions because of the virus. “Probably not so much,” Trump replied. “I just shook hands with a whole lot of people back there.” The next day, he said it was safe to travel across the country, since “there’s only one hot spot.” On March 5, at a Fox News town hall, he repeated, “I shake anybody’s hand now. I’m proud of it.” On March 6, visiting the CDC, he was asked about the risks of packing people together at rallies. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said.
As schools and businesses began to close, Trump pushed back. On March 4, he dismissed a question about further closures, insisting that only “a very small number” of Americans were infected. On March 9, he tweeted that the virus had hardly killed anyone and that even in bad flu seasons, “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on.” Italy locked down its population, the NBA suspended its season, and states began to postpone elections. But through the middle of March, as advisers urged the president to endorse mitigation, he stood his ground. Finally, as the stock market continued to fall, Trump’s business friends agreed that it was time to yield. On March 16, he announced mitigation guidelines.
By then, the number of confirmed infections in the United States had surged past 4,000. But that was a fraction of the real number. The CDC would later calculate that in the three weeks from “late February to early March, the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases increased more than 1,000-fold.” And researchers at Columbia University would find that the final two-week delay in mitigation, from March 1 to March 15, had multiplied the U.S. death toll by a factor of six. By May 3, the price of that delay was more than 50,000 lives.
On March 23, a week after he announced the mitigation guidelines, Trump began pushing to rescind them. “We have to open our country,” he demanded. He batted away questions about the opinions of his medical advisers. “If it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down,’ ” he shrugged. But “you can’t do that with a country, especially the No. 1 economy.” The next day, the stock market soared, and Trump took credit. Investors “see that we want to get our country open as soon as possible,” he crowed.
Trump fixated on the market and the election. In more than a dozen tweets, briefings, and interviews, he explicitly connected his chances of reelection to the speed at which schools and businesses reopened. (Trump focused on schools only after he was told that they were crucial to resuming commerce.) The longer it took, he warned, the better Democrats would do in the election. In April, he applauded states that opened early and hectored states that kept businesses closed. In June, he told workers in Maine, “You’re missing a lot of money.” “Why isn’t your governor opening up your state?” he asked them.
Trump pushed states to reopen businesses even where, under criteria laid out by his health officials, it wasn’t safe to do so. He called for “pressure” and endorsed lawsuits against governors who resisted. He issued an executive order to keep meat-processing plants open, despite thousands of infections among plant employees. He ordered the CDC to publish rules allowing churches to reopen, and he vowed to “override any governor” who kept them closed. In April, he made the CDC withdraw an indefinite ban on cruises, which had spread the virus. In July, he pressed the agency to loosen its guidelines for reopening schools.
He continued to suppress warnings. In April, he claimed that doctors who reported shortages of supplies were faking it. When an acting inspector general released a report that showed supplies were inadequate, Trump dismissed the report and replaced her. When a Navy captain wrote a letter seeking help for his infected crew, Trump endorsed the captain’s demotion. The letter “shows weakness,” he said. “We don’t want to have letter-writing campaigns where the fake news finds a letter or gets a leak.”
Having argued in March against testing, Trump now complained that doctors were testing too many people. He said tests, by revealing infections, made him “look bad.” When Fauci and Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said more tests were needed, Trump openly contradicted them. In July, he claimed that 99 percent of coronavirus infections were “totally harmless”—which wasn’t true—and that the testing system, by detecting these infections, was “working too well.”
Fauci, Birx, Redfield, and other health officials pointed out that mitigation was working. They argued against premature resumption of in-person social activities, noting that the virus wasn’t under control and might roar back. Trump publicly overruled them, tried to discredit them, and pressured them to disavow their words. To block Fauci from disputing Trump’s assurances that the virus was “going away,” the White House barred him from doing most TV interviews. In June, when Fauci said resuming professional football would be risky, Trump rebuked him. “Informed Dr. Fauci this morning that he has nothing to do with NFL Football,” the president tweeted.
Trump interfered with every part of the government’s response. He told governors that testing for the virus was their job, not his. When they asked for help in getting supplies, he told them to “get ’em yourself.” He refused, out of pique, to speak to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or to some governors whose states were overrun by the virus. He told Vice President Mike Pence not to speak to them, either. He refused to consult former presidents, calling them failures and saying he had nothing to learn from them.
Trump didn’t just get in the way. He made things worse. He demanded that Wisconsin hold elections in early April, which coincided with dozens of infections among voters and poll workers. (Some researchers later found correlations between infections and voting in that election; others didn’t.) He forced West Point to summon cadets, 15 of whom were infected, back to campus to attend his commencement speech in June. He suggested that the virus could be killed by injecting disinfectants. He persistently urged Americans to take hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, despite research that found it was ineffective against the coronavirus and in some cases could be dangerous. Trump dismissed the research as “phony.”
The simplest way to control the virus was to wear face coverings. But instead of encouraging this precaution, Trump ridiculed masks. He said they could cause infections, and he applauded people who spurned them. Polls taken in late May, as the virus began to spread across the Sun Belt, indicated that Trump’s scorn was suppressing mask use. A Morning Consult survey found that the top predictor of non-use of masks, among dozens of factors tested, was support for Trump. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found that people who seldom or never wore masks were 12 times more likely to support Trump than to support his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Some scientific models imply that Trump’s suppression of mask use may have contributed to hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.
On June 10, Trump announced that he would resume holding political rallies. He targeted four states: Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma. The point of the rallies, he explained, wasn’t just to boost his campaign but to signal that it was time to “open up our country” and “get back to business.” When reporters raised the possibility that he might spread the virus by drawing crowds indoors, he accused them of “trying to Covid Shame us on our big Rallies.”
Despite being warned that infections in Oklahoma were surging, Trump proceeded with a rally at a Tulsa arena on June 20. To encourage social distance, the arena’s managers put “Do Not Sit Here” stickers on alternate seats. The Trump campaign removed the stickers. Trump also refused to wear a mask at the rally—few people in the crowd did, either—and in his speech, he bragged about continuing to shake children’s hands. Two weeks later, Tulsa broke its record for daily infections, and the city’s health director said the rally was partly to blame. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain attended the rally, tested positive for the virus days afterward, and died at the end of July.
At the rally, Trump complained that health care workers were finding too many infections by testing people for the virus. He said he had told “my people” to “slow the testing down, please.” Aides insisted that the president was joking. But on June 22, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said he was only half-joking. He affirmed, this time seriously, that he had told “my people” that testing was largely frivolous and bad for America’s image. Weeks later, officials involved in negotiations on Capitol Hill disclosed that the administration, against the wishes of Senate Republicans, was trying to block funding for virus tests.
Two days after the Tulsa rally, an interviewer asked Trump whether he was putting lives at risk “by continuing to hold these indoor events.” Trump brushed off the question: “I’m not worried about it. No, not at all.” The next day, June 23, the president staged another largely mask-free rally, this time in a church in Arizona, where a statewide outbreak was underway. Days later, Secret Service agents and a speaker at the Arizona rally tested positive for the virus. On June 28, Trump urged people to attend another rally, this time featuring Pence, at a Dallas church where five choir and orchestra members had tested positive.
In his interview with Wallace, which aired July 19, Trump conceded nothing. He called Fauci an alarmist and repeated that the virus would “disappear.” He excoriated governors for “not allowing me to have rallies” and accused them of keeping businesses closed to hurt him in the election. He claimed that “masks cause problems” and said people should feel free not to wear them. He threatened to defund schools unless they resumed in-class instruction. As to the rising number of infections, Trump scoffed that “many of those cases shouldn’t even be cases,” since they would “heal automatically.” By testing so many people, he groused, health care workers were “creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, ‘Oh, we have more cases.’ ”
Since that interview, Trump has attacked and belittled his medical advisers. He lashed out at Birx for acknowledging the ongoing spread of the virus. He retweeted a false claim that Fauci was suppressing hydroxychloroquine “to perpetuate Covid deaths to hurt Trump.” When Fauci told Congress that infections had increased due to insufficient mitigation, Trump rebuked him and blamed the surge on increased testing. And when Dave Portnoy, a wealthy Trump supporter, complained that his stocks tanked every time Fauci called for mitigation, Trump assured Portnoy that the doctor’s pleas would go nowhere. “He’d like to see [the economy] closed up for a couple of years,” Trump said of Fauci. “But that’s OK, because I’m president. So I say, ‘I appreciate your opinion. Now somebody give me another opinion.’ ”
It’s hard to believe a president could be this callous and corrupt. It’s hard to believe one person could get so many things wrong or do so much damage. But that’s what happened. Trump knew we weren’t ready for a pandemic, but he didn’t prepare. He knew China was hiding the extent of the crisis, but he joined in the cover-up. He knew the virus was spreading in the United States, but he said it was vanishing. He knew we wouldn’t find it without more tests, but he said we didn’t need them. He delayed mitigation. He derided masks. He tried to silence anyone who told the truth. And in the face of multiple warnings, he pushed the country back open, reigniting the spread of the disease.
Now Trump asks us to reelect him. “We had the greatest economy in the history of the world,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. “Then we got hit with the plague from China.” But now, he promised, “We’re building it again.” In Trump’s story, the virus is a foreign intrusion, an unpleasant interlude, a stroke of bad luck. But when you stand back and look at the full extent of his role in the catastrophe, it’s amazing how lucky we were. For three years, we survived the most ruthless, reckless, dishonest president in American history. Then our luck ran out.