U.S. President Donald Trump lies, but the COVID numbers don't

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President Donald J. Trump talks with reporters outside the South Portico entrance of the White House Wednesday, October 21, 2020. Image: The White House/Flickr

"All governments lie," legendary, independent journalist I.F. Stone wrote in 1965, critiquing official U.S. statements on the "progress" of the Vietnam War. He added, speaking of president Lyndon Johnson, "It is dangerous to trust anything he says."

Half a century later, President Donald Trump is taking lying to a whole new level. The Washington Post's fact checker documented 22,247 Trump lies during his first term, through late August. When asked why the pace of Trump's lies has increased over the course of his presidency, journalist Daniel Dale, CNN's full-time Trump fact checker, replied, "he's talking more."

The deadly consequences of Trump's lies have been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic. With less than five per cent of the world's population, the United States has 20 per cent of the world's COVD-19 infections and deaths: more than 8,300,000 infected people and over 220,000 deaths. How is it possible that the world’s richest country, with public health institutions that were, until recently, the gold standard globally, could fail so tragically? Much of the blame falls squarely on Donald Trump, who has lied from the start about this ever-worsening COVID catastrophe.

"We have it totally under control," Trump boasted on January 22. On February 7, Trump told journalist Bob Woodward the coronavirus was "more deadly than even your strenuous flus," while publicly repeating "it miraculously goes away." Trump claimed "Anybody that needs a test gets a test." An absolute lie. Across the country, there has been a devastating lack of access to tests, masks and other PPE (personal protective equipment), with no coherent federal pandemic response. A Columbia University study published this week blames "the abject failures of U.S. government policies" for anywhere from 130,000 to 210,000 preventable COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., based on comparisons to other countries that have fared far better.

Almost all states are now experiencing a sustained surge, with a national average of over 60,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, and almost 1,000 daily deaths. Many states now being hit the hardest are those with Trump-allied governors who repeated his lies, refusing to impose mask mandates, forcing schools to reopen, and aggressively pushing bars and restaurants to open without restrictions.

The coronavirus doesn't just strike geographically; it impacts different communities differently, exposing inequality and racism. More than two million U.S. prisoners are trapped in close quarters, usually without access to basic protections against COVID-19 infections: masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and adequate ventilation.

The New York Times reports that at least 242,000 people -- including prisoners, guards and other staff -- have been infected in prisons and jails in the U.S., and at least 1,400 have died. On Tuesday, a court in California ordered the state to reduce the prisoner population of its notorious, maximum security San Quentin prison by half through transfers or parole. Three-quarters of the prisoner population at San Quentin has tested positive so far, and 28 of them have died.

Trump, while dismissing or downplaying these terrible statistics, does care about some numbers. TV ratings, for example -- although he lost in the ratings matchup with Joe Biden in the recent town halls, broadcast on different networks simultaneously. He cares about crowd sizes, from forcing his press secretary to lie about his inaugural crowd on the first full day of his presidency, to exaggerating the size of his crowds at his current spate of rallies, where his fans gather, shoulder to shoulder, mostly without masks.

One figure that Trump must hate is the record-shattering number of people voting early. People want to avoid crowded polling places during the pandemic, or are concerned by Republican efforts to suppress the vote, and want to ensure their ballot is submitted and counted without being challenged or discarded. These early votes are widely believed to favor Joe Biden over Trump. The latest figures indicate over 43 million people have already voted.

In recent weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to scourge the U.S. and the world, Trump has repeated yet another lie: "We're rounding the curve." He sounds like General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam during the Johnson administration, who lied that there was "light at the end of the tunnel." Journalist I.F. Stone regularly shredded the lies told by Westmoreland and other architects of that disastrous war, documenting the deceptions in his famous weekly newsletter.

As Trump continues to lie about voter fraud, saying the election is being "rigged" against him, a bipartisan cross-section of U.S. society, from mass movements to the political establishment, has converged to defeat him, and to send him a clear message: The truth hurts.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: The White House/Flickr

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