WASHINGTON—Already up to his neck in scandals, with just 50 days until Election Day, President Donald J. Trump vowed that he would now be “really vicious” for the remainder of his campaign for reelection. He made the threat at a rally Sept. 12, and the mostly mask-less, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in an aircraft hangar outside Reno, Nevada, roared its approval.
“Once I saw that ad, I don’t have to be nice anymore,” Mr. Trump said, referring to a new campaign ad from Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, accusing him of disparaging U.S. military personnel.
“Pathetic Joe. He’s a pathetic human being to allow that to happen,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Biden and the ad which seized on comments the president reportedly made about America’s fallen soldiers.
“Sleepy Joe Biden. You know where he is now? He’s in his damn basement again,” Mr. Trump said, ignoring the veracity of three damaging reports in just one week—one from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer and “fixer” which depicted him as a foul-mouthed racist; another in The Atlantic, since corroborated by a number of media organizations including his darling Fox News which said he referred to injured and killed U.S. military personnel as “losers” and “suckers”; and a third series of interviews he granted to journalist Bob Woodward in which he admitted knowing about the severity of the looming Covid-19 pandemic, but then lying to the public about it to prevent a “panic” among the public.
When the president first landed in Nevada, Mr. Trump told reporters the pandemic is “rounding the corner” and he repeated his unlikely claim that a vaccine will be available before the end of the year.
With coronavirus deaths in this country approaching 200,000—a disproportionate percentage impacting Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans—he ignored the pandemic and went on the attack. Critics charge his decision has cost lives of Americans and is yet another reason Mr. Trump is not fit for the job of president and should be voted out of office in November.
A shameful moment in history
In 18 interviews between December 2019 and July 21 of this year with journalist Bob Woodward for his new book, Rage, Mr. Trump stated that he purposely played down the coronavirus. “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” stated Mr. Trump on recordings with the reporter.
Mr. Trump acknowledged the virus didn’t just affect the elderly, but the young, too. Yet he told the public that children are “practically immune” to the virus. He also said he knew it was airborne and could be deadlier than the flu. During a conversation in early February with Mr. Woodward, the president admitted “this is deadly stuff,” referring to the coronavirus. Yet only one month later in March, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that the “common flu” was worse than Covid-19.
Backlash to the revelation has been swift. He was blasted on social media. “198k+ AMERICANS dead and counting daily due to your selfish incompetence #TrumpLies #TrumpVirusDeathToll193K #DonTheCon,” posted @Angela49929733. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), chairman of the Health Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee tweeted: “While over 1,000 Americans died from #COVID-19 on Friday, by comparison, Canada reported ZERO deaths. Trump lies. Americans die.”
When Mr. Trump began talking to the public about coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in February and March, scientists were stunned at his seeming “lack of understanding of the threat,” noted H. Holden Thorp in a recent article. “We assumed that he either refused to listen to the White House briefings that must have been occurring or that he was being deliberately sheltered from information to create plausible deniability for federal inaction,” wrote Mr. Thorp, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals in an article on ScienceMag.org.
“Now, because famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward recorded him, we can hear Trump’s own voice saying that he understood precisely that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was deadly and spread through the air. As he was playing down the virus to the public, Trump was not confused or inadequately briefed: He flat-out lied, repeatedly, about science to the American people. These lies demoralized the scientific community and cost countless lives in the United States,” wrote Mr. Thorp. “This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy,” he added.
Yet it was not just Mr. Trump. Advisors and cabinet officials in his administration towed the line and also misleadingly assured the public that the president had the virus under control. Though the focus has been on Mr. Trump, others should not be left off the hook, said analysts.
If Donald Trump knew how deadly Covid was, Mr. Woodward could not have been the only person he told, noted Thom Hartman in a scathing article on CommonDreams.org titled, “How Should America Respond When Its President Commits Negligent Homicide?”
“Everybody in the Cabinet, the Vice President, the Health and Human Services Secretary, and pretty much everybody working around him in the White House had to have known,” he wrote in the Sept. 14 article. He even put Mike Pence in charge of the coronavirus task force back then. They all knew,” charged Mr. Hartman.
“So rather than asking why Woodward didn’t tell us, shouldn’t we be asking why our government officials, who are paid to keep America safe, also didn’t tell us or do anything about it?” he added.
Unfazed by critics and boosted by a loyal base
Except for the charges that he mocked fallen military service members, Mr. Trump, has been seemingly oblivious to his flaws. No complaints seem to stick to him, not even his own words in the new book by Woodward.
He is the only impeached president to run for reelection, although the Senate did not remove him from office after a trial earlier this year. His behavior conforms to the critiques from former high-ranking government officials in the Woodward book.
Mr. Trump is “dangerous” and “unfit” to serve and he lacks a “moral compass,” former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, according to Mr. Woodward’s book. He wrote that the retired Marine Corps general has some serious concerns. Mr. Mattis expressed his concerns in a conversation with Dan Coats, former Director of National Intelligence, to which Mr. Coats responded: “True. To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”
Support for the otherwise flawed character remains strong however. “His people are on fire and the more he gets called out, the more they dig their heels. That’s the only thing I can think of,” Dr. Johanna Fernandez, professor of history at New York’s Baruch College said in an interview.
“I mean, this is in many ways the trajectory and history of this man, we thought that it was going to be over when he said I’m going to grab them by the p***y. I mean, remember that’s how we started this. This is where we are.
“I don’t know that that statement is any worse than what he said about the troops. But it seems like this man is like Teflon, and maybe we need to start asking questions about the character of our society,” she continued.
Mr. Trump is unfazed by his critics, viewing himself as an imperial figure. He told the Nevada rally that he plans to “negotiate” to run again in 2024 if he wins reelection in November, his latest in a series of comments that have alarmed critics who say he has little regard for constitutional boundaries, such as the XXII Amendment which limits the presidential term to two elections.
Mr. Trump and his vocal supporters insist that the only way he can lose in November is if there is a “rigged” election. “After that,” he said, “we’ll negotiate,” asserting that he’s “probably entitled to another four years” based on “the way we were treated.”
Once before, during a rally in Wisconsin in August, he stated he would win four more years and “go for another four years” because “they spied on my campaign,” referencing his unproven “Obamagate” theory that his campaign was spied on by the government.
In his tell-all, insider book, Mr. Cohen argues that the president’s comments should not be disregarded as humor, insisting that Mr. Trump believes he should be the “ruler” or “dictator” of the U.S. and wants to “change the Constitution.” Mr. Cohen predicted that if Mr. Trump wins reelection, “he is going to automatically day number one start thinking how he can change the Constitution for a third term, and then a fourth term.”
Mr. Trump confidant, and convicted felon, Roger Stone said that the president should declare “martial law” to seize power if he loses what Mr. Stone characterized as an already corrupt election. The results will only be legitimate if the “real winner”—Mr. Trump—remains in office, regardless of the vote count.
“I think we have a crisis of media,” said Dr. Fernandez. “I don’t think mainstream media knows how to deal with this and they are part of the problem. And ‘the Left’ really (does not) have a coherent media with a clear message countering the ideology of the far right. They’ve been funded tremendously by the Koch brothers.
“There’s a lot of money being poured into their media apparatus and a campaign that was clear from the RNC (Republican National Convention) and not so much on our side. The only thing that can save us, I think, truly (is) the expansion of a coherent mass movement, coherent. Mass movements usually are not, or it takes them a minute to become coherent with a clear message so that we can influence the people in the middle,” Dr. Fernandez said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump appears to be fulfilling his promise to be “really vicious.” Discussing the recent police killing of a self-described anti-fascist suspected of fatally shooting a far-right activist in Portland, Oregon, the President openly endorsed extrajudicial executions in a Fox News interview Sept. 12, declaring that “there has to be retribution.”
“I put out, ‘When are you going to go get him?’ And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him,” the president told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, referring to Michael Forest Reinoehl. “This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I’ll tell you something—that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.”
His comments came days after a minister who lives in an apartment complex near where Mr. Reinoehl was shot and killed by members of a law enforcement task force earlier this month in Lacey, Washington, said it was not at all clear that Mr. Reinoehl was armed when police gunned him down, as they claimed.
The eyewitness told The Washington Post that “Reinoehl was clutching a cellphone and eating a gummy worm as he walked to his car. …That’s when officers opened fire without first announcing themselves or trying to arrest him.” That account contradicts the law enforcement claim that Mr. Reinoehl “produced a firearm” when officers attempted to arrest him.
Some analysts attribute the president’s political invincibility and the unconditional allegiance of his followers to his ability to keep his base fearful, with scary messages like, “Illegal immigrants are murderers and rapists,” and “Islam hates us,” and Mr. Trump projects himself as the great protector.
But there is another possible explanation, according to Bobby Azarian, a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University, who wrote for Raw Story, “For most evangelicals, it is not only fear that keeps them in line, but it is also faith.
“As a cognitive psychology researcher who has been writing about the science underlying Trump’s unshakable support since he began his presidential campaign, I have learned—through comments, emails, and discussion forums—that a significant portion of his supporters literally believe the president was an answer to their prayers. He is regarded as something of a messiah, sent by God to protect a Christian nation,” said Mr. Azarian.
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)