Donald Trump spent the better part of two months downplaying, misunderstanding, and straight up lying about COVID-19’s potential impact on the United States. As he’s flouted health experts and bullied reporters in public, there’s always been a creeping sense that the president knew far more than he let on. And new information confirms he did.
On Monday, The New York Times published a story about a late-January memo from Trump economic advisor Peter Navarro, who wrote about the “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic” that could claim up to two million American lives. Then, Axios published the memo itself, as well as another from Feb. 23 addressed directly to the president.
Between these reports and at least two Republican senators dumping millions of dollars in stock after coronavirus briefings, it’s clear the administration and members of Congress knew far more about the incoming pandemic than they let on.
That means it’s time for Trump’s disinformation campaign to begin.
“The battle to keep Americans from understanding what went on [from] January to April is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern U.S. history,” New York University professor Jay Rosen tweeted. “So much of it is public that only the manufacture of mass confusion can work.”
Expect the disinformation to start immediately. Conservative cable news hosts and pundits will, undoubtedly, spend the next several days attacking the legitimacy of the Times and Axios reports. Some will refer to them as “just memos,” not legal documents that the president was required to act upon or even read. The president receives hundreds of memos a day, they’ll say, with varying information about a variety of subjects—how can he expect to read, understand, and act on just one or two, especially if they were just estimates?
The Trump Administration will continue deflecting blame onto China for underreporting infection rates and death tolls. Jingoistic conservative media will keep up, eager to resume feasting on the narrative that Trump’s trade war enemy fouled everything up. Anyone attempting to shift focus back to Trump and his administration will be labeled as abetting an authoritarian country.
Trump himself has publicly trivialized the virus’ potential impact since early February. He went from saying COVID-19 was completely under control, to parroting lines that it’s “just like the flu,” to simply saying he believes the virus will “go away” and wanting to “re-open” the country by Easter Sunday. But none of that will matter to his cronies, who will claim Trump was simply trying to give Americans hope in the face of an unprecedented health crisis. Those public statements need to be understood in the context of the enormous amount of pressure the president faced. This is a line conservative media types have already leaned on to minimize Trump’s reckless coronavirus discourse.
And as for Trump potentially having a financial interest in pushing hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, to treat COVID-19? That’s an absurd conspiracy theory, the administration will say, and an un-American one at that. Why else would Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman wait until the 23rd paragraph of a story about the drug to reveal that kind of information? It’s clearly not central to anything. Nor is the fact that Trump’s touting of hydroxychloroquine has (obviously) decreased availability for people who need it to treat rheumatic diseases. Or that he stopped Dr. Anthony Fauci from answering a question about it. The administration is banking on Trump being right about the treatment before robust testing, ignoring the misinformation and false hope he might be spreading beforehand.
Watch as Trump hovers over Dr. Fauci in case he needs to stop the truth from coming out & the he does. Going on the attack against the reporter who dared to ask the medical expert on pandemics to weigh in on hydrochloroquine! https://t.co/CIzkLSTrXJ pic.twitter.com/codAoLNYVo
— ΩBeckyΩ (@becketybeck) April 6, 2020
Essentially nothing you’ve heard or seen Trump say or do over the past two months will matter—at least not to those running his spin operation. Their battle begins now, and before long it’ll become an all-out assault.