So Bob Woodward went out and found the “named source” Trumpists were clamoring for: Boss Trump himself.
Following a bitter dispute over an anonymously sourced article in The Atlantic that quoted their hero calling American war dead in a French cemetery “suckers” and “losers” for being fool enough to serve their country, nothing less would have convinced them.
What’s more, Woodward had Trump on tape, in his own voice, confiding to the veteran Washington journalist that he understood exactly how infectious and deadly the COVID-19 virus was, and explaining his policy of lying to the public lest he provoke a panic.
A stock market panic, the context made clear; he spoke of protecting the cruise ship and airline industries. Human life, not so much.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned him all about the disease.
These talks happened last February and March, as Trump kept holding large indoor rallies, calling the rapidly spreading virus a “Democratic hoax,” predicting that it would vanish with warm weather, and refusing to wear a face mask in public, painting doing so as somehow unmanly and unpatriotic.
He’s always worried people will think he’s soft, this big galoot in his corset and elevator shoes.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down.”
Weeks later, he confided: “Bob, it’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it ... I was in the White House a couple of days ago, meeting with 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneezed -- innocently. Not a horrible -- you know, just a sneeze. The entire room bailed out, OK? Including me, by the way.”
I love the image of Trump waddling away.
And yet he continues to mock Joe Biden for wearing a mask. As do his deluded supporters even today. Maybe especially today. People who study these things say that evidence against a cult leader only strengthens his followers’ need to believe. Frantic with delusion, people at Trump’s indoor pep rallies -- “super-spreader events,” epidemiologists call them -- assure reporters that they fear no evil, because COVID-19 remains in their minds a “hoax.”
Close to 200,000 American dead, and counting; more than 20% of COVID-19 deaths worldwide occurring in the United States, which has 4.3% of the world’s population. That’s some hoax, ain’t it?
Maybe that’s why, as bombshell revelations go, Woodward’s book “Rage” has provoked a relatively mild response. Indeed, some of the most vitriolic criticism has been directed against the author. More than a few journalists have questioned Woodward’s keeping Trump’s admissions to himself for months when exposing them could presumably have saved lives. “A crime against humanity,” one hyperbolic critic called it.
Even Boss Trump joined in. “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? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers.”
I think Woodward had no such obligation, and that what would have happened months ago is pretty much what’s happened now: very damn little. What former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Woodward, on the record, is no doubt right: Trump “doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie,” and simply cannot be shamed.
Indeed, writing in, yes, The Atlantic, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum points out that “two days before Trump’s headline-grabbing quote to Woodward, on March 17, Trump said virtually the same thing at a televised press conference: ‘I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.’”
He’s forever boasting that experts are wowed by his superior understanding. In truth, he doesn’t actually know anything as psychologically normal people do. Reality exists for him purely in relation to the needs of his diseased ego. Trump says whatever he imagines will impress his listeners at the moment: big him, little you.
The 19th-century term for malignant narcissists was “moral imbeciles.”
He spoke to Woodward in the first place only because he saw him as a fellow celebrity, like Kim Jong Un. Doing so confirmed his self-importance. He also figured he could con him.
OK, so Woodward got famous for taking Richard Nixon down. To Trump, he was just another pigeon. Instead, the Forrest Gump of the Beltway took him to the cleaners. Dan Pfeiffer, an adviser to Barack Obama, describes it as “truly one of the most stupidly self-destructive communications decisions made by a politician in memory.”
That said, so what? Back in the day, a committee of senior GOP senators went to the White House to inform President Nixon that he’d lost his party’s support and would have to resign. No such independence or political courage is imaginable in today’s Republican Party.
If the job’s to be done, voters will have to do it themselves.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]