(CNN)Lies have consequences. Misinformation can be deadly.
That reality has been driven home in painful ways over these past months, with more than 300,000 Americans dead from a virus that President Donald Trump and his supporters worked to minimize and dismiss for political purposes.
It’s that effort that led PolitiFact, a nonpartisan fact-checking operation, on Wednesday to declare that “Coronavirus downplay and denial” was the “lie of the year.”
As PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders wrote:
“President Donald J. Trump fueled confusion and conspiracies from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. He embraced theories that COVID-19 accounted for only a small fraction of the thousands upon thousands of deaths. He undermined public health guidance for wearing masks and cast Dr. Anthony Fauci as an unreliable flip-flopper….
“…It was a symphony of counter narrative, and Trump was the conductor, if not the composer. The message: The threat to your health was overhyped to hurt the political fortunes of the president.”
From the very start of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump insisted it was not going to be a big problem.
“We have it totally under control,” he said on January 22. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Then this on February 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
And this on February 26: “This is a flu. This is like a flu. … It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”
And this on March 27: “You call it germ, you can call it a flu. You can call it a virus. You can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody knows what it is.
There’s more. Lots and lots more. But you get the idea.
What’s worse than all of these statements, though? Trump knew that Covid-19 was far more dangerous than he was letting on.
He told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in March that he “wanted to always play [the threat posed by the coronavirus] down” and “still like[d] playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic”
A month prior to that stunning admission, Trump had told Woodward that Covid-19 was “deadly stuff” and that it was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
Even after the gravity of the threat was clear to the country, Trump actively sought to dispute and undermine best practices to mitigate the spread of the virus. He repeatedly refused to wear a mask in public. He pushed hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus despite a lack of anything beyond anecdotal evidence. (The Food and Drug Administration eventually revoked the emergency use of the drug after it became clear that it was “unlikely to be effective” in treating Covid-19.) During the fall campaign, Trump promised — over and over again — that the United States was “rounding the corner” on the virus even as medical experts suggested, rightly, the worst was yet to come.
The impacts were clear. Republican governors, afraid of crossing Trump, were reluctant to take actions — most notably mask mandates — to slow the spread. Patients literally dying from the virus were in disbelief. Mask-wearing, which is simply a matter of public health, became a political statement. And the sick and dying just kept piling up and up and up.
And for what? To improve Trump’s political prospects. The President saw the virus, from the start, as a political problem to be managed. If people thought the virus was running rampant and was a massive threat to their well-being, his chances of winning a second term went down. So he dedicated himself to downplaying it — not because he truly believed the virus was fake or overblown but because he wanted to win.
Even after Trump himself contracted the virus — and was forced to be hospitalized for three days — he kept telling his all-too-willing-to-listen supporters that this was all no big deal, and pretty much over anyway.
All lies — especially when told by someone as powerful as the President of the United States — are dangerous. What Trump and his allies did over the past nine months was deadly.