WASHINGTON — Explaining his deceptive assurances about the pandemic, President Donald Trump suggested he was doing what Winston Churchill had done, soothing the public in a time of danger. That’s not how it went down in World War II.
Churchill did not tell Britons that Nazi Germany was “under control ” or that, “like a miracle, it will disappear,” to cite Trump’s words on the virus.
The British prime minister spread fear, as well as resolve, as he summoned Britons to national purpose against the “hideous apparatus of aggression” enslaving swaths of Europe and soon to be “turned upon us.”
Trump’s statements about the pandemic have been rife with misinformation from the start. But journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” reveals Trump admitting to using distortion as a tactic as he underplayed the threat of COVID-19 to Americans and young people in particular, while knowing better. The president said his purpose was to avoid panic.
Details from the book and its recorded interviews with Trump dropped during a week of intense politicking as the campaign for the Nov. 3 election entered its homestretch.
As the rhetoric flew, both Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden exaggerated their influence in reviving the auto industry. In a mix-up, Biden vastly overstated military COVID-19 deaths. Trump thoroughly misrepresented Biden’s positions.
BLOOD, SWEAT, TEARS
TRUMP on Churchill during the German bombing of London: “He always spoke with calmness. He said, ‘We have to show calmness.’” — remarks to Michigan supporters Thursday.
TRUMP: “As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ That’s what I did.’” — Michigan remarks.
THE FACTS: Historians take sharp issue with that.
“Churchill understood that candor in crisis was vital,” tweeted Erik Larson, author of “The Splendid and the Vile,” a history of Churchill and Britons during the German bombing campaign known as the Blitz. ”He did not sugarcoat the German threat.”
Fellow historian Jon Meacham responded to Trump with a quote from Churchill himself, rendered with Twitter abbreviation: “The British people can face any misfortune w/ fortitude & buoyancy as long as they are convinced that those in charge of their affairs are not deceiving them, or are not dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”
The slogan to “Keep calm and carry on” was printed on British posters in preparation for war but did not gain favor and the posters were soon scrapped.
In his first BBC broadcast as prime minister, in May 1940, Churchill described in chilling detail the “remarkable” advance of German armored columns and infantry through the ravaged French countryside and said it would be foolish “to disguise the gravity of the hour.”
He said “that hideous apparatus of aggression which gashed Holland into ruin and slavery in a few days will be turned upon us. I am sure I speak for all when I say we are ready to face it; to endure it.” The Blitzkrieg started that September.
While Trump was repeatedly minimizing the danger of the outbreak in his public remarks, he was telling Woodward that he knew the virus was deadlier than even a severe seasonal flu, that he was struck by how easily it spread and that “plenty of young people” were contracting it. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said in March. “I still like playing it down. Because I don’t want to create a panic.”
TRUMP: “We are going to have vaccines very soon, it may be much sooner than you think.” — news conference Thursday.
TRUMP: “You’ll have this incredible vaccine, and … in speed like nobody has ever seen before. This could’ve taken two or three years, and instead it’s going to be — it’s going to be done in a very short of period of time. Could even have it during the month of October.” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: He’s almost certainly raising unrealistic hopes as the November election approaches.
The Food and Drug Administration already has told manufacturers it won’t consider any vaccine that’s less than 50% effective. Getting the right math before November, as Trump has promised, is “incredibly unlikely,” said Dr. Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, who is overseeing the U.S. government’s vaccine studies.
Public health experts are worried that Trump will press the FDA to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year. Even then, Fauci made clear that the vaccine would not be widely available right away.
“Ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci told Congress last month.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, also expressed “cautious optimism” this past week that one of the vaccines being tested will pan out by year’s end. But he warned: “Certainly to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you.”
The “particular date” is Nov. 3, Election Day.
TRUMP: “The approach to the virus is a very unscientific blanket lockdown by the Democrats.” — news conference Thursday.
TRUMP: “Biden’s plan for the China virus is to shut down the entire U.S. economy.” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: That’s not Biden’s plan at all. Biden has said he would shut down the economy only if scientists and public health advisers recommended he do so to stem the COVID-19 threat. He said he would follow the science, not disregard it.
Biden told ABC last month he “will be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives” when he was asked if he would even be willing to shut the country again.
“I would listen to the scientists,” he said. If they said to shut it down, “I would shut it down.”
TRUMP: “When Joe Biden was vice president, his failed approach to the swine flu was disastrous. … And 60 million Americans got H1N1 in that period of time. …We did everything wrong, it was a disaster.” — news conference Thursday.
THE FACTS: This is a distorted history of a pandemic in 2009 that killed far fewer people in the United States than the coronavirus is killing now. For starters, Biden as vice president wasn’t running the federal response. And that response was faster out of the gate than when COVID-19 came to the U.S.
Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu surveillance network sounded the alarm after two children in California became the first people diagnosed with the new flu strain in this country.
About two weeks later, the Obama administration declared a public health emergency against H1NI, also known as the swine flu, and the CDC began releasing anti-flu drugs from the national stockpile to help hospitals get ready. In contrast, Trump declared a state of emergency in early March, seven weeks after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was announced, and the country’s health system struggled for months with shortages of critical supplies and testing.
More than 190,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. The CDC puts the U.S. death toll from the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic at about 12,500.
BIDEN: “President Obama and I rescued the auto industry and helped Michigan’s economy come roaring back.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Biden is assigning too much credit to Barack Obama and himself for saving the auto industry.
As an initial matter, what the Obama administration did was an expansion of pivotal steps taken by Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush.
In December 2008, General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of financial collapse. The U.S. was in a deep recession and U.S. auto sales were falling sharply. GM, Chrysler and Ford requested government aid, but Congress voted it down.
With barely a month left in office, Bush authorized $25 billion in loans to GM and Chrysler from the $700 billion bailout fund that was initially intended to save the largest U.S. banks. Ford decided against taking any money. Once in office, Obama appointed a task force to oversee GM and Chrysler, both of which eventually declared bankruptcy, took an additional roughly $55 billion in aid, and were forced to close many factories and overhaul their operations.
All three companies recovered and eventually started adding jobs again.
TRUMP: “We brought you a lot of car plants, you know that right? … I saved the U.S. auto industry.” — Michigan rally Thursday.
BIDEN, on Michigan’s economy: “Donald Trump squandered it — and hardworking Michiganders are paying the price every day.” —tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Both Trump and Biden are overstating it. Trump did not wreck Michigan’s economy, but he certainly didn’t bring an auto industry boom, either.
In fact, the number of auto and parts manufacturing jobs in the state fell slightly between Trump’s inauguration and February of this year, before the coronavirus took hold.
When Trump took office there were 174,200 such jobs, and that dropped to 171,800 in February, according to Labor Department statistics. While most plants shuttered for about eight weeks after the pandemic hit, many are back running near capacity again, at least for now. In July, the most recent figures available, Michigan had 154,400 auto and parts manufacturing jobs.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, recently said the state’s economy was operating now at 87% of pre-pandemic levels, citing figures from Moody’s Analytics and CNN.
ENERGY and ENVIRONMENT
TRUMP: “Instead of focusing on radical ideology, my administration is focused on delivering real results. And that’s what we have. Right now we have the cleanest air ever we’ve ever had in this country — let’s say over the last 40 years.” — remarks Tuesday in Jupiter, Florida.
FACTS: He’s not responsible for all of the progress — far from it.
All six air pollution measurements monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that in 2019 the U.S. air was the cleanest on record. But the most important pollutant, tiny particles, was essentially about the same as 2016, only down 1%, according to Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor Neil Donahue. The same figures also showed that air pollution rose in the first two years of the Trump administration before falling greatly in 2019.
Donahue and three other outside experts in air pollution said the president was wrongly taking credit for what years, even decades, of ever-increasing emissions restrictions caused.
H. Christopher Frey, an engineering professor at North Carolina State University and former chief of the EPA’s air quality scientific advisory board, said that “current trends in air quality are for reasons irrespective of, or despite, policies of the Trump administration.” Instead he and Donahue attributed it to a shift from use of dirtier coal — a shift the Trump administration has fought against — and to newer, cleaner cars replacing older vehicles.
TRUMP: “We’re showing that we can create jobs, safeguard the environment and keep energy prices low for America and low for our citizens. And you see that. You also see it when you pump the gas in your car and you’re sometimes paying a lot less than $2 lately. So we’re doing well.” — Florida remarks.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrongly taking credit. Gasoline prices didn’t fall because of the Trump administration. They plunged because the coronavirus forced people to abandon their offices, schools, business trips and vacations.
“Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy demand and supply patterns in 2020,” said the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
World demand for oil has fallen by 8 million barrels a day, the agency estimates.
Underscoring the connection to the pandemic shutdown, U.S. gas prices were at their lowest in April when people were staying home most now are up 33 cents a gallon on average, the agency says.
TRUMP: “We’re pretty much out of Syria.” — news conference Thursday.
THE FACTS: Not so much.
Last year close to 30 U.S. troops moved out of two outposts near the border area where a Turkish attack on the country was initially centered. But the U.S. currently has about 700 troops deployed to Syria, a number that hasn’t changed a lot lately.
BIDEN: “Troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan: 6,922. … Military COVID deaths: 6,114. Folks, every one of these lives mattered.” — remarks Wednesday in Warren, Michigan.
THE FACTS: He’s way off on the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. military.
According to the Defense Department, just seven members of the military have died from COVID-19, including reservists and those in the National Guard.
The Biden campaign acknowledged he had misspoken. citing overall coronavirus deaths in Michigan instead of U.S. military deaths in a mix-up.
TRUMP: “If you look at NATO, with the exception of eight countries — we’re one of them — every country is way behind. They’re delinquent, especially Germany, in paying their NATO bills. … And they’ve increased their spending now $130 billion, going up to $400 billion a year. It’s all because of me.” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect on several fronts.
First, countries don’t pay to be in NATO and don’t owe the organization anything other than contributions to a largely administrative fund that Trump is not talking about. Member countries are not delinquent on NATO bills. Nor have collections increased, as he asserted.
Trump’s actual beef is with how much NATO countries spend on their own military budgets. He’s pressed them to spend more. So did Obama. And in 2014, during the Obama administration, NATO members agreed to move “toward” spending 2% of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024.
Trump then mangles what happened next.
In December, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that by 2024, military spending by non-U.S. members of the alliance will have increased by $400 billion since 2016 because of commitments from the member states.
That’s $400 billion cumulatively over eight years. It’s not “$400 billion a year,” as Trump put it. And it’s not “all because of me.”
TRUMP, retweeting an Associated Press analysis projecting the number of ballots that get rejected will soar this fall because of increased mail-in voting: “Rigged Election!” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, defective ballots do not equate to fraud. The overwhelming majority aren’t.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the vast majority of ballots are disqualified because they arrive late, a particular worry this year because of recent U.S. Postal Service delays and an expected surge in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ballots also are deemed defective if there is a missing signature — common with newer voters unfamiliar with the process — or it doesn’t match what’s on file. In addition, some states require absentee voters to get a witness or notary to sign their ballots.
“None of those are fraud,” said Wendy Weiser, director of Brennan’s democracy program at NYU School of Law. When suspected cases are investigated for potential fraud, studies have borne out the main reason for defects is voter mistake.
The AP analysis published Monday found that rejections of absentee ballots could triple compared with 2016 in some battleground states, potentially tipping the election outcome.
It said voters “could be disenfranchised in key battleground states” and that nullified votes could be “even more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and ballot rejection rates trended higher during this year’s primaries.” That’s far from an election “rigged” against Trump.