The electronic billboard along the highway between Flint and Saginaw in the 2020 election battleground state of Michigan recorded last week the ominous total of 150,000 Covid-19 deaths. This week it ticked past 155,000, and it is headed toward 160,000. Soon it will pass 170,000. Then 180,000. Then 190,000. Then we will pause, for a moment, to note that 200,000 of our fellow Americans have died because of a public health crisis for which—the billboard erected by the group Mad Dog Pac reminds us—the president says, “I don’t take responsibility.”
If you have chosen to believe that the president is an idiot, you may imagine that he can get away with absolving himself of responsibility for the constant mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic that swept the country in March, seemed briefly to have been controlled by the urgent efforts of responsible governors, and then surged anew as Trump urged on a “reopening” strategy that history will recount as fatally flawed.
If, on the other hand, you recognize the reality that Donald Trump is a calculating egomaniac who cares about nothing save his own political success, then it is necessary to accept that the president is lying to the country that will vote on November 3. And that those lies are killing astronomical numbers of the people he has sworn to protect and serve by faithfully executing the duties of the office of president of the United States.
Trump has never obeyed that oath, and he will continue not to obey that oath, even in an election year when, polls tell us, he is in political peril.
He will keep lying. And people will keep dying until he is removed from office in an election that, thankfully, he cannot delay.
He is already outlining the lies that he will tell as Election Day approaches.
It was a desperate Donald Trump who sat down July 28 with Jonathan Swan, the Australian political journalist who now works with Axios.
And in his desperation, the president told all the lies that he will repeat and amplify as the election approaches. Most Americans are familiar with the line, popularized by Mark Twain, about how “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
In the 35 minute interview with Swan, Trump feverishly peddled all three.
He sought to diminish the memory of Representative John Lewis—refusing to even say whether he found the late congressman’s record of civil rights activism and congressional service “impressive”—and again claimed that “nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.” He brushed aside New York Times reporting on how US intelligence agencies had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered payments for killing US troops in Afghanistan as “fake news.” He continued to rant and rave about “corruption having to do with universal, mail-in voting” and suggested that taking necessary steps to prepare for a safe and fair vote this fall could result in chaos where “this election won’t be decided on the evening of November 3.”
The president was lying. Lying about Lewis. Lying about his record on issues of concern to African Americans. Lying about intelligence reports. Lying about voting by mail, which is already working in states across the country. Lying about the prospect of chaos that exists only because he and his political allies have blocked needed funding for upgrading election systems and deliberately undermined the US Postal Service.
Worst of all, Trump was lying—and will continue to lie—about a pandemic that is not, as he suggests, under control—that is, in reality, worsening with each passing day.
Without acknowledging that the US pandemic response has been a disaster, Trump tried to make excuses for his failures—claiming “nobody knew what this thing was all about.” In fact, his White House knew in January, when economic adviser Peter Navarro warned of “an increasing probability of a COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.”
Trump then claimed that “if you watch the fake news on television, they don’t even talk about it, but there are 188 other countries right now that are suffering. Some, proportionately, far greater than we are.” When Swan pointed out that “very few” were worse than the United States under Trump, the president pushed told a bigger lie: claiming that other countries have “proportionately greater” problems.
He was lying with statistics.
Trump, as Swan noted, “was actually trying to litigate the death toll with me.” The president argued that the United States looks bad only “because we test so much”—another lie—and demanded that his interviewer accept the premise that “because we are so much better at testing than any other country in the world, we show more cases.”
“The figure I look at is death. And death is going up now,” he said. “It’s a thousand a day.”
Trump demanded that his interviewer “look at some of these charts.”
“Here’s one,” the president said. “Well, right here: United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world.”
That’s where Trump revealed his absolute determination to lie, even when directly—and repeatedly—confronted.
“Lower than the world?” asked Swan.
“Lower than Europe,” replied Trump.
“In what?” the interviewer asked.
Trump handed Swan a stack of papers. “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population,” Swan explained. “That’s where the US is really bad. Much worse than Germany, South Korea, etc.”
That’s where Trump, the liar in chief, went into overdrive.
Trump: You can’t. You can’t do that.
Swan: Why can’t I do that?
Trump: You have to go by, you have to go by—look, here is the United States, you have to go by the cases. The cases of death.
Swan: Why not as a proportion of population?
Trump: What it says is when you have somebody, where there’s a case, the people that live from those cases.
Swan: Sure. It’s surely a relevant statistic to say if the US has X population and X percentage of death of that population, opposed to some–
Trump: No, because you have to go by the cases.
Swan: In South Korea, for example: 51 million population, 300 deaths. It’s like, it’s crazy compared to other countries.
Trump: You don’t know that. You don’t know that.
Swan: I do. You think they’re faking their statistics? South Korea?
Trump: Uh, I won’t get into that, because I have a very good relationship with the country. But you don’t know that. They have spikes.
Swan: Germany, low nine thousands?
Trump: Here’s one right here, United States. The number of cases; have a look. We’re last—meaning we’re first.
Swan: Last? I don’t know what we’re first in.
Trump: Take a look, it’s cases. And we have cases because of the testing.
Swan: I mean, a thousand Americans are dying a day. But, I understand, on cases it’s different.
Trump: No, but you’re not reporting it correctly, Jonathan.
Swan: I think I am.
Swan was reporting it correctly. Trump was rejecting reality—and demanding that others do the same. He will keep doing this, not because he is stupid but because he’s a desperate politician facing electoral accountability.
Trump’s lies will keep killing us from now until Election Day and, if his record is any indicator, until he is ushered out of the White House on January 20, 2021. The only question is what the death toll will be on the electronic billboard along that Michigan highway.