Here are two reports resulting from Boob Woodward’s book “Rage.” The first summarizes the main points of the book. The second punctures Trump’s defensive response.
5 Takeaways From ‘Rage,’ Bob Woodward’s New Book About Trump. Mr. Woodward reveals that President Trump sought to play down the severity of the coronavirus and repeatedly denigrated the U.S. military.
"This is deadly stuff,” President Trump said of the coronavirus in a Feb. 7 interview with the journalist Bob Woodward for his upcoming book, “Rage.” But it was a vastly different story than he was telling the public at the time. Mr. Trump would later admit to Mr. Woodward that publicly, he “wanted to always” play down the severity of the virus.
Mr. Woodward conducted 18 interviews with the president for the book, which goes on sale next week. Mr. Trump also granted Mr. Woodward access to top officials inside the White House, revealing the inner workings of the president and his administration.
Here are five takeaways.
Mr. Trump minimized the risks of the coronavirus to the American public early in the year.
Despite knowing that the virus was “deadly” and highly contagious, he often publicly said the opposite, insisting that the virus would go away quickly.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
And while he was saying publicly that children were “almost immune” to the virus, he told Mr. Woodward in March: “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older. Young people too — plenty of young people.”
In April, as he began to urge the country to reopen, Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward of the virus, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
Two of the president’s top officials thought he was “dangerous” and considered speaking out publicly.
Gen. Jim Mattis, Mr. Trump’s former defense secretary, is quoted describing Mr. Trump as “dangerous” and “unfit” for the presidency in a conversation with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence at the time. Mr. Coats himself was haunted by the president’s Twitter feed and believed that Mr. Trump’s gentle approach to Russia reflected something more sinister, perhaps that Moscow had “something” on the president.
“Maybe at some point we’re going to have to stand up and speak out,” Mr. Mattis told Mr. Coats in May 2019, according to the book. “There may be a time when we have to take collective action.”
Ultimately neither official spoke out.
Mr. Trump repeatedly denigrated the U.S. military and his top generals.
Mr. Woodward quoted Mr. Trump denigrating senior American military officials to his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, during a 2017 meeting.
"They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” the president said.
And in a discussion with Mr. Woodward, Mr. Trump called the U.S. military “suckers” for paying extensive costs to protect South Korea. Mr. Woodward wrote that he was stunned when the president said of South Korea, “We’re defending you, we’re allowing you to exist.”
Mr. Woodward also reports that Mr. Trump chewed out Mr. Coats after a briefing with reporters about the threat that Russia presented to the nation’s elections systems. Mr. Coats had gone further than he and the president had discussed beforehand.
When asked about the pain “Black people feel in this country,” Mr. Trump was unable to express empathy.
Mr. Woodward pointed out that both he and Mr. Trump were “white, privileged” and asked if Mr. Trump was working to “understand the anger and the pain, particularly, Black people feel in this country.”
Mr. Trump replied, “No,” and added: “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”
Mr. Woodward writes that he tried to coax the president into speaking about his understanding of race. But Mr. Trump would only say over and over that the economy had been positive for Black people before the coronavirus led to an economic crisis.
Mr. Woodward gained insight into Mr. Trump’s relationships with the leaders of North Korea and Russia.
Mr. Trump provided Mr. Woodward with the details of letters between himself and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in which the two men fawn over each other. Mr. Kim wrote in one letter that their relationship was like a “fantasy film.”
In describing his chemistry with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said: “You meet a woman. In one second, you know whether or not it’s going to happen.”
Mr. Trump also complained about the various investigations into ties between his campaign and Russia, saying that they were affecting his abilities as president and his relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“Putin said to me in a meeting, he said, it’s a shame, because I know it’s very hard for you to make a deal with us. I said, you’re right,” Mr. Trump said.
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post reports There’s a big hole in Trump’s frantic spin about the Woodward revelations.
Faced with the damning revelation that President Trump admitted he downplayed the coronavirus despite fully grasping the urgency of the threat, he and his propagandists have settled on their counter-spin: Trump was acting as a kind of modern-day FDR, sagely calming the country to prevent an outbreak of self-destructive mass “panic.”
But there’s a serious problem with this account. The facts already on the public record demonstrate that whatever desire Trump had to avert any panic was largely about doing what he perceived was in his own personal and political interests, not those of the nation or the American people. Trump and his defenders have fixated on the word “panic” in this quote, which Trump gave to Bob Woodward on March 19:
Well I think Bob, really to be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.
That came after Trump admitted on Feb. 7 to Woodward that he understood the coronavirus was airborne, making it particularly contagious, and even that “it’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” Trump conceded he knew how bad the threat was and then admitted to downplaying it.
Yet Trump’s defenders now insist his stated desire to avoid a “panic” demonstrates that he was operating from the belief that he had good reason to downplay the virus threat — and that in so doing, he was acting in the public interest.
192,000 dead and that number likely will double by year’s end.
"We don’t want to instill panic,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, in defending himself. “We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem,” Trump continued, because this would “scare everybody.”
Similarly, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked about the new revelations and Trump’s own repeated refrain that the coronavirus will “go away,” responded by claiming that Trump had merely “expressed calmness” and sought to avoid “inciting fear.” Other defenders have pushed versions of the same nonsense.
But a look at the timeline before and after that admission to Woodward shows that even if Trump did want to avoid provoking “panic,” it was largely for self-absorbed reasons, not out of any discernible conception of what was good for the country.
The timeline is damning
In February, for instance, Trump did repeatedly rage over the idea that the coronavirus was creating a panic. But, crucially, his own public statements explicitly revealed that he saw the possibility of a panic largely through the prism of his own interests.
Throughout February, Trump was utterly obsessed with the impact that public news about the coronanvirus was having on the markets. And as Slate’s William Saletan demonstrated at the time, Trump openly cast the markets as inextricably linked to his own political fortunes, regularly suggesting efforts to use the coronavirus to rattle them were the work of political enemies out to tank him.
Indeed, Trump repeatedly raged at the media for deliberately trying to panic markets to harm him politically. Trump approvingly tweeted a media ally accusing CNN of trying “to stoke a national Coronavirus panic” as part of its “anti-Trump” agenda. He blasted the media for trying to make the coronavirus “look as bad as possible” and “panicking markets” to help Democrats.
Trump’s aversion to a “panic” was primarily resistance to something he thought would damage him.
Worse still, Trump’s obsession with panicking the markets — and harming his reelection chances — deeply hampered his governmental response to the coronavirus crisis.
In late February, after one of Trump’s most senior health officials publicly warned about the threat of the virus spreading, which Trump’s own officials wanted to do so the American people could protect themselves and each other, Trump privately raged because it “was scaring the stock markets,” as The Post reported.
Even into early March, Trump was still resisting pressure from senior officials to take big steps to halt the spread, such as making a full-throated call for major social distancing efforts and lockdowns, out of fear that it would harm the markets.
As he dug in, Trump regularly listened to counsel against such quarantining and restrictions from business leaders. Why? Because, as the New York Times reports, he was “always attuned to anything that could trigger a stock market decline or an economic slowdown that could hamper his reelection effort.”
Trump’s spin isn’t remotely exonerating
Even if you grant that Trump worried to some extent about panicking the public in addition to hurting the markets and his reelection hopes — which is highly unlikely to have weighed heavily on him in the least — this only incriminates him further.
The whole reason Trump’s own officials urged him to tell the full truth was so he’d use his presidential authority and megaphone to prep the American people for the excruciatingly difficult and self-sacrificing steps that would be needed to combat the virus and limit more loss of life.
He refused to do that for weeks and weeks. And that helped allow the virus to rampage out of control here, ironically leading to an even worse economic lockdown than might otherwise have been necessary.
Trump’s stated desire to avoid what he called a “panic” isn’t exonerating in the least. In yet another wretched perversity, this excuse reflects a harsh light right back on the same depravity, malevolence and incompetence that has characterized his mishandling of the pandemic all along, with unthinkable consequences.