There’s a difference between most Americans and President Donald Trump.
Most Americans have been told to keep a distance from each other. Trump’s trying to keep a distance from his own litany of lies.
Now, he wants us to believe it was his own quick action that may yet hold down the death toll from the coronavirus. Yes, he finally admits, this virus is no mere flu. But it might have killed millions, he says, instead of “mere” hundreds of thousands, had he and his people not done such a self-described “great job.”
He’s counting on instant amnesia hitting us, along with the virus.
His story this week is that “a lot of people here thought about it, ‘Ride it out, don’t do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious.”
This, after weeks and weeks of him telling us, in public, in front of the whole world, “This is like the flu.”
The truth is, the only public voice telling us to “ride it out” — other than Trump’s echoes over at Fox News, and the Rush Limbaugh voices on right-wing radio — was Trump himself.
The smartest scientists in the world were telling him, ever since early January, of the oncoming plague. But this president chose, over and over, chose not to tell us the truth about it.
Who knows why. Partly he was worried about the economy, which is so tightly linked to his re-election efforts. Partly, he probably wasn’t paying very close attention.
But when he now tells us, “Nobody saw this coming,” he’s got it exactly backwards. Everybody saw it coming.
But Trump, the man in charge, saw it and chose to do nothing about it.
And now, as the sickness spreads and the numbers of the dying become truly scary, he attempts to tell us it was he who saved the day.
Some people call this revisionist history. Others, more precise, call it lying.
The government grownups are now saying America’s death toll will likely reach between 100,000 and 240,000. If the medical people, and the scientists, hadn’t insisted on telling us the harsh truth each day, and finally gotten the country into some kind of self-protection scramble, we might have been looking at a million deaths.
As Trump fiddled, the country did nothing to prepare itself for the coming sickness. And now he tries to rewrite history, to posture himself as the man who saved us from a million deaths, and held it to 100,000.
“When you look at it,” Trump tells us now, “it could have been 2.2 million people died, and more if we did nothing, if we just did nothing.” But he and his people, he declares with a straight face, “have done a great job.”
Do we need another rundown of all the misguided, misinformed lies he handed us, the denials and the distractions that started three months ago, when America should have been organizing all of its anti-virus forces?
“We have it very well under control,” Trump said. Then, “We pretty much shut it down.” Days later, “People are getting better. They’re all getting better. Within a couple of days, it’ll be close to zero.”
A few days later, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it’ll disappear.” In late February, he was still calling it a “Democratic hoax.” In March, he was talking about an all-clear in time to fill the churches on Easter Sunday.
In mid-March, as the trouble mounted, he said, “I don’t take any responsibility at all.” Then, as the danger became incontrovertible, he claimed, “This came up so suddenly.”
And yet, astonishingly, a day later, he said, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
It was the beginning of Trump covering up the original lies with this week’s beauty of a lie: the tall tale about imaginary voices saying America should “ride it out” and not do anything –- letting people continue to mingle, letting the sickness spread beyond today’s frightening numbers, letting the death toll mount towards a full million.
But no, Trump tells us, he wouldn’t listen to those voices. And that’s why we’re only —only! — looking at maybe 100,000, or perhaps 200,000.
He wants us to believe he’s the one who saved us, by standing tall in the saddle when others wanted to do nothing.
But the truth is the opposite. It’s staring us in the face, if only we’ll look. It was Trump, all along, failing to tell us the truth about the sickness that was already upon us — and now, hoping the entire country’s got no memory at all and will buy any brand of lies he keeps shoveling our way.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.