As we remember the sad day in our nation’s history, when at least 3,000 people were killed and thousands more were injured in a series of coordinated attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, carried out by the Islamist global terror network Al Qaeda, we come to realize another sobering fact happening now, almost two decades later.
The American people’s lives and safety continue to be under threat, not only by homegrown extremists in America, but also by people in government who have betrayed their sacred oath to protect us.
We feel betrayed to know that the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, deliberately covered up information he already knew in January from the warnings coming from our own intelligence agencies and scientists, and purposely downplayed the grave and fatal threat of the coronavirus pandemic to the American people.
This judgment call by Trump has killed more than 192,000 people and has infected almost 6.5 million people and counting. COVID-19 has killed more Americans than during 9/11 and more than the 67,830 troops who died in every war since the start of the Vietnam conflict in 1964. It did not have to happen this way and more lives could have been saved if Trump had been honest with the American people.
You should have already watched or heard news reports, and listened to Trump’s voice himself from an interview, recorded with his permission for a new book by the legendary investigative journalist Bog Woodward. (Woodward teamed up with another investigative journalist, Carl Bernstein, to report on the Watergate scandal which led to government investigations that pushed President Richard Nixon to resign.)
Woodward interviewed Trump 18 times from December 2019 to July 2020. The president told the journalist that he downplayed the threat of the virus to avoid panic.
Quoting the reporting by the respected news organization of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), contrasting “What Trump was telling Woodward v saying publicly”:
28 Jan: National security adviser Robert O’Brien tells the president: “This is the biggest national security threat you will face.”
7 Feb: “This is deadly stuff,” he tells Woodward, far more serious than the flu.
23 Feb: “We have it very much under control,” President Trump tells reporters.
26 Feb: On the 15 confirmed cases at the time, he tells a briefing: “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done”, implying that flu is far more dangerous.
27 Feb: The virus is going to “disappear”, he says.
10 March: “We’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” the president says on Capitol Hill.
19 March: He tells Woodward he wanted to play it down to avoid a panic.
Following the backlash that ensued after the news broke out, Trump chose to lie about his lie despite the evidence of an audio recording.
“I didn’t lie, what I said is we have to be calm, we can’t be panicked,” he said in response to a reporter’s question in a White House news conference on Thursday afternoon, September 10.
And then Trump resorted to his usual tactic: Shoot the messenger. Deflect blame to anybody or everybody other than him.
“Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?” Trump contended. “Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”
Woodward said the reasons he did not immediately release the tape and information: “The biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true,” Woodward told The Post in an interview.
The investigative journalist also wanted to know the source of information and the context of Trump’s statements, so that he could tell the bigger picture to the American people before the November election.
Why is Trump deflecting the blame to Woodward? Trump is the President, the Commander-in-Chief, and it is his responsibility and obligation to be truthful to the American people about what is really happening in our country, the threats we are facing.
He is duty-bound to unify the country instead of dividing our people to defeat the invisible enemy by urging every American to follow safety measures based on science and facts to protect lives and keep us all safe.
Trump contends, “I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming, ‘death, death,’ because that’s not what it’s about.”
YES, Mr. Trump, that is what it is about: To protect the lives of the American people from death because of the severity of the virus. You said you did not want the American people to panic? That is not the way to do it, Mr. President. Lying is not the way to do it. The facts that we are No. 1 in the world with the most number of infected cases and No. 1 in the death toll, with a continued uptick in cases just as other progressive countries have already defeated the virus just prove you have failed in your duty to protect the American people.
Panic and death happen when people are confused because of mixed messaging coming from the government without a true, trustworthy and unifying leader for the nation. We, the people, cannot trust a leader who is not truthful to us. We cannot be calm when we do not have a true leader who has a clear plan and strategy based on facts and science to defeat the enemy, a plan we all can follow and abide by together.
But you, Mr. President, despite knowledge about the severity of the virus and its threat to human lives, continue with your misinformation campaign. Through your dangerous rhetoric and example, you have been selling us to the invisible enemy because the truth is — you are more obsessed about defeating your political opponents to be re-elected than defeat the virus and save people’s lives.
President Trump, you are too focused on covering up the facts, the numbers, downplaying the required wide-scale testing and contact tracing because such statistics will make you look bad and that is your worst nightmare more than seeing people die under your watch.
Despite warnings from our health officials and scientists, despite what you already know about the virus, and despite the death toll and the growing number of confirmed cases, Mr. President, you have been pushing states, businesses, and schools to open because the numbers you want are good economic indicators that will be your bragging right in your re-election bid.
Consequently, we see more people dying as a result. These are hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, including our front liners and teachers. You hardly even talk about this to urge people to come together and be united in the battlefront against COVID-19. But then you tweet urgently on the ratings and economic numbers you think are good for you, and more incessant tweeting against your political opponents and critics.
You foolishly think that fabricating a semblance of normalcy like life as we know it pre-COVID will make the virus go away. No, Mr. President. This approach only exacerbates the problem, and prolong our journey toward healing and true recovery, both in our health and in our economy.
My fellow Filipinos in America, my fellow American citizens, we deserve more than this from our president.
There is blood on his hands, and we have to call him out for his failure in leadership. No self-respecting American will give him four more years for betraying his constitutional duty to defend us and protect our lives because of his personal and political agenda. This is a betrayal of the public trust and power accorded to him by the Office of the President of the United States.
It is a betrayal of public trust when you use the bully pulpit and power of the Office of the President to attack people, institutions, even our own state and federal government officials who do not flatter you as they fulfill their constitutional duties to provide checks and balances in government, even fabricating lies against your critics.
It is a betrayal of public trust when you attempt to disenfranchise people of their right to vote safely by mail amid the threat of the pandemic, and peddle conspiracy theories without bases in fact to discredit mail-in voting, which you yourself use to cast your vote.
President Trump, you even tactically and maliciously smear the election process to cast doubt in the minds and faith of the American people in case you lose, as you are trailing behind your opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, in the polls.
My fellow Filipinos in America, my fellow Americans, it does not have to be this chaotic in America for another four years. We can do something to change the course of our country for the greater good this November.
We, the people, have to fire Donald Trump. We, the people, need to vote him out in November. Remember that we get the government that we deserve. A true democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
* * *
Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.