Coronavirus: Five tweets that prove Trump didn't take the outbreak seriously

The president's pronouncements on the growing pandemic haven't always been so level-headed

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 18 March 2020 17:08
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Feb 2020: Donald Trump admits to cutting the Pandemic Response Team in 2018

As the US takes more and more drastic steps to try and stop the spread of coronavirus, Donald Trump is taking pains to reiterate that he understands the gravity of the crisis.

“I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously,” he tweeted. “And have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China – against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!”

Yet just nine days before that spiky missive, Mr Trump took quite a different tack:

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Since that tweet, the number of coronavirus cases in the US has surged, and the Trump administration has announced austere new guidance to help Americans keep the virus at bay.

But whatever he says now, the president who speaks about the coronavirus crisis today sounds very different to the one who’s been tweeting about it since January.

Here are five examples of Mr Trump’s views on the crisis that show what a journey he’s been on.

Mr Trump has a habit of taking credit for supposedly healthy markets, and doesn’t always ground his claims in reality. This tweet came as the Dow Jones and S&P 500 saw their worst daily declines since 2018. Not a good day to invoke them as an indication the crisis was “under control” – as we now know it wasn’t.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the senate, is one of Mr Trump’s favourite antagonists, and regularly finds himself the target of the president’s ire. Here, Mr Trump goes after him for requesting $8.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the outbreak.

The package now working its way through the Republican-controlled Senate, meanwhile, will stretch well into the hundreds of billions.

Another tweet indicating skewed priorities, not only misspelling the name of the virus but also focusing on perceived media bias rather than the outbreak itself. While this one does at least acknowledge some risk to the markets beyond Mr Trump’s control, the judgement “USA in great shape!” turns out to have been disastrously wide of the mark.

Mr Trump is extremely sensitive to any implication he may be even partly accountable for the severity of the crisis – and here, he cites Fox News host Trish Regan defending him against CNN’s supposed attempts to smear him. However, Ms Regan’s tirade accusing Democrats of engineering “mass hysteria to encourage a market sell-off” and trying to stage a second impeachment ended up backfiring, with her show moved from its prime-time slot after a storm of complaints.

Again, Mr Trump’s umbrage at being blamed for the spread of the virus within the US’s borders takes the reins. But again, he ignores the fact that at this point, there was no evidence the virus’s spread was notably slower in the US than elsewhere – while implicitly dismissing any criticisms of him as mere character assassination.

Footage from 2018 has now resurfaced in which Mr Trump explains why he was cutting various public health agencies. In typically blunt fashion, he says: “I’m a business person, I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them”. Now the coronavirus pandemic threatens to profoundly disrupt his country, he denies knowing the cuts ever happened.

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