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Trump’s lies endanger lives

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If there was any doubt that President Trump is completely, almost criminally irresponsible in his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, events last week completely erased it.

Most Americans have long realized that the Trump administration bungled the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus in February and continued to mismanage the crisis throughout the summer.

They have seen from the very beginning that the president first dismissed the disease’s severity, then repeatedly dropped the ball on testing, the gathering of supplies for beleaguered hospitals and health care workers and on the inadequate and inconsistent national guidance on public health measures to stem the virus.

The president has not only assumed no strong leadership role in overcoming COVID-19, taking only reluctant and brief action under pressure, but has actually been undermining his own public health experts in encouraging the public to disregard masks and social distancing, end lockdowns prematurely and embrace unproven and ineffective treatments.

We’ve seen the president’s cavalier attitude toward the virus throughout the summer, holding maskless and crowded campaign rallies despite pleas by local officials to abide by his own CDC guidelines. The ultimate disrespect until recently was the Republican National Convention, when 1,500 people crammed together on the White House lawn with few masks and less common sense.

What’s almost worse is that Trump’s disregard for public health has become shared by his Republican allies and supporters, who have made it a point of political pride to ignore masks and social distancing while acting as if the pandemic is a “hoax.”

And all the while, the national death toll from COVID-19 has been steadily rising to now almost 200,000 — with experts predicting last week that the total could rise to 413,000 by Jan. 1. The virus remains out of control in the country and in North Carolina, even as the president belittles Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts to obey scientific recommendations.

Last week, though, Americans got a good and unsettling look at just how badly the president failed the country.

Tapes of journalist Bob Woodward’s interviews of Trump for his newest book, “Rage,” were released Sept. 8. They revealed that Trump knew in late January that the virus was highly contagious, spread through the air, was five times deadlier than the flu and affected young people as well as the elderly. And yet the president took no action except to downplay the virus as little worse than the flu and soon to disappear. He lied, and he’s still lying.

Trump told Woodward privately, and repeated publicly last week, that he deliberately downplayed the virus to avoid panic. He even compared himself to FDR and Winston Churchill, which was absurd because those leaders — unlike Trump — told their citizens the truth.

And, finally, the Trump campaign held an indoor rally Sunday night at a manufacturing plant in Nevada, cramming in thousands of people in violation of state law limiting indoor groups to no more than 50 people. The rally was so flagrant a violation of public health guidelines that one doctor called it “negligent homicide.”

Trump has made it crystal clear he loves the big crowds, and it’s kind of pathetic that the Republicans are putting the president’s big ego ahead of the health and safety of his own supporters, who are themselves stupidly practicing voluntary voter self-suppression.

The phenomenon is not new. Republican governors around the country, taking their cue from the president, have been slow to adopt public health measures and quick to abandon them, only to watch the virus spread death through their states.

Thanks to their lack of leadership, and Trump’s lack of national leadership, the economy has been unable to open as quickly and easily as Americans hoped, and much of American life — including schools — is still a long, long way from normal. And as Trump’s campaign grows increasingly desperate, and his rhetoric more violent and deranged, death and destruction — under his watch — are certain to increase.

It didn’t have to be this way. I wish the president and Republicans in Washington and Raleigh were as honest and practical as our Nash County leaders.

Our commissioners are led by Republicans and the board would like as much as any of us to have the economy restored and normal life resume. But the commissioners and county staff are fully abiding by the governor’s orders. They are wearing masks and practicing social distancing, and encouraging residents to do the same. They are giving our hospitals, health care providers and public health department their full support and cooperation — and Nash County is bearing its fruit. We have not escaped the pandemic, but we are containing it together, the best we can.

Because of their honesty and respect for science, I trust our commissioners and believe they are doing a good job. I think our governor, who we well know in Nash County, is also doing his best to balance competing needs to defeat the virus in North Carolina, without much help from Washington. He needs our cooperation and patience, and perhaps a few prayers.

As last week shows, however, the more we learn about Donald Trump and his presidency, the more obvious it becomes we urgently need a change. Too many lives are at risk.

Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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