Last week two new accusations of outrageous behavior were made against President Trump: He allegedly called soldiers killed in action “losers” and “suckers,” and by “downplaying” the dangers of COVID-19, he contributed to the needless deaths of thousands of Americans. The facts cited in support of both charges are sufficiently ambiguous to allow Trump’s supporters to deny their accuracy. But even if the accusations were proven to be completely accurate, they would persuade few, if any, Trump supporters to vote for Biden.
The accusation that Trump disparaged fallen American soldiers is plausible. In 2015 he ridiculed and denied the heroism of the late Senator John McCain, who as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam refused early release until every American prisoner of war captured before him was likewise released; for this he endured years of otherwise avoidable torture at the hands of his Communist captors. And in 2016 Trump foolishly and cruelly mocked the Muslim parents of an American Muslim army officer killed in action in the Middle East. Granted, the Gold Star parents had been recruited by the Hillary Clinton campaign to attack Trump at the Democratic National Convention. But his wisest course would have been simply to praise their son for his undeniable heroism and otherwise recognize their sacrifice and suffering.
But two factors make the story vulnerable to attack. First, its author, who initially said Trump made his comments while unjustifiably cancelling a trip to a cemetery in France, now admits that Trump’s stated reason for the cancellation, the weather, may have been legitimate after all. Trump’s supporters are asking why, if the story’s author got that fact wrong, he should be believed on anything.
Second, many who were with Trump when he allegedly made those comments actually deny, on the record, that he actually said anything like that at all. Chief among his defenders on this particular issue is former national security adviser John Bolton, a fierce critic of Trump who nonetheless denies the accusation. Remaining silent are former Marine Corps Generals James Mattis and John Kelly, Trump’s former Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff respectively, Yet it seems inconceivable that either—especially Kelly, whose son was a Marine Corps officer killed in action in the Middle East—would remain silent if the charge was true.
In contrast to the on-the-record denials of the charge is the continuing anonymity of those who say Trump made the comments he so vehemently denies. Who actually reported Trump’s alleged insults, and the circumstances under which he allegedly made them, need to be revealed before they can be treated with the seriousness Trump’s opponents think they deserve.
Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Bob Woodward’s report that Trump said he wanted to “downplay” the seriousness of covid-19 to avoid panic. After all, Trump is on tape as saying so. One is well justified in questioning both his bad judgment in making such statements, and especially for agreeing to 18 taped and on-the-record interviews with Woodward in the first place. But to say Trump’s silly happy talk is a new revelation and the major reason for the widespread suffering and death of Americans from covid-19 is without foundation.
Trump’s early comments, such as his assertions that the covid-19 virus would somehow miraculously vanish on its own, were on the record, widely reported, and widely dismissed and ridiculed at the time he made them. Also widely dismissed and ridiculed were the initial steps he took to try to limit covid-19’s impact, including his banning of incoming airline flights from Europe and China. In the latter instance the Democrats used the left’s all-purpose term to criticize anything they don’t like—banning flights from China was “racist,” despite the fact that covid-19 seems to have broken out there. Admittedly, it would have been far better if instead of offering us fatuous happy talk, Trump had said simply that the developing pandemic had the potential to pose grave risks for which his administration had to prepare.
But as the Washington Post’s Mark Thiessen notes, Trump’s actual comments, however fatuous, were little different in substance from those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. For example, writes Thiessen, “On Jan. 21, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview that ‘this is not a major threat for the people of the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.’ On Jan. 26 when he was asked whether Americans should be scared, Fauci replied, ‘I don’t think so. The American people should not be worried or frightened by this. It’s a very, very low risk to the United States, but it’s something that we, as public health officials, need to take very seriously.’ On Jan. 31 (the day Trump announced banning travel from China, saving countless lives), Fauci said, ‘We still have a low risk to the American public, but we want to keep it at a low risk.’” These and other Fauci comments can be read at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/10/if-trump-lied-so-did-fauci/.
So why does Trump get condemned for causing widespread suffering and death while Dr. Fauci is considered one of our heroes in the fight against covid-19? And why, also, do Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also get free passes for their happy talk? As the Wall Street Journal reported:
By the way, in February prominent Democrats sounded like Mr. Trump. Nancy Pelosi on Feb. 24: “it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come. . . . We want people to be concerned and vigilant. However, we don’t want them to be afraid. . . . So, again, this fear is—I think—unwarranted in light of the precautions that are being taken here in the United States.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 30: “We have been here before, and I want to remind New Yorkers that it is much more likely that they will be exposed to the influenza virus than to the coronavirus.” (https://www.wsj.com/articles/woodwards-non-revelation-11599780795).
So what impact will these stories have on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Probably little, if any, at all. Trump’s opponents will see them as supporting and reinforcing their belief that he is utterly unfit for office and must be soundly defeated. Trump’s supporters will find confirmation that he is the victim of unfair reporting and a double standard that has plagued him since he took office. Moreover, they either love his polices, or fear the prospective policies of the Democrats, or resent being called “deplorable” to much to have their faith shaken in him. Few minds, if any, will be changed. Most minds will see their existing beliefs confirmed. And this is also the most likely outcome of the upcoming debates, about which I’ll write soon.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.