At a campaign rally in Michigan Thursday night, Trump defended himself after coming under fire when revelations in Bob Woodward’s upcoming book ‘Rage’ showed he privately acknowledged the dangers of COVID while publicly telling Americans the situation was under control.
Trump argued he was trying not to cause panic – a theme he kept up Thursday night, this time comparing himself to Roosevelt and Churchill, who became icons for their leadership in the United States and the United Kingdom during the war with Nazi Germany.
But his comparisons were flawed both in the historical sense and in his presentation of them – Roosevelt and Churchill famously leveled with the public about the challenges their countries faced during the war while Trump said everything would be fine during the growing threat of the pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans.
‘As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ That’s what I did,’ Trump told the crowd in Freeland, Michigan, airport.
President Donald Trump compared his response to the coronavirus to the actions of the great leaders of World War II: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill
Trump has long sought to compare himself to Winston Churchill, the legendary prime minister who led the United Kingdom during World War II
President Trump also quoted FDR’s famous line: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself
Most of the attendees were not wearing face masks and there was no social distancing.
Trump then attacked Woodward, to whom he gave 18 on-the-record interviews for his book.
‘This wack job that wrote the book he said, well Trump knew a little bit. They wanted me to come out and scream ‘People are dying. We’re drying,” he said. ‘We did it just the right way. We have to be calm. We don’t want to be crazed lunatics.’
He then compared his actions to those of Churchill.
‘When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with calmness. He said, ‘We have to show calmness.’ No we did it the right way,’ he said.
The president also repeated his argument that the United States has done the ‘best job, certainly of any major country’ on the pandemic. And invoked Roosevelt in his argument.
Trump’s comparisons were flawed both in the historical sense and in his presentation of them – Roosevelt and Churchill famously leveled with the public about the challenges their countries faced during the war while Trump said everything would be fine during the growing threat of the COVID pandemic
‘America will prevail over the China virus. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ That’s it. We’re doing well,’ the president said.
But his argument contained flaws.
While Churchill did take to the rooftops of London during World War II to watch bombing raids, he never gave a speech from there.
And Churchill’s speeches during the war were often grim with their realism of the challenges ahead.
‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering,’ he warned the British people in 1940.
Historian Jon Meacham, in response to Trump’s remarks, pointed to this Churchill quote, tweeting it out: ‘The British people can face any misfortune w/ fortitude & buoyancy as long as they are convinced that those in charge of their affairs are not deceiving them, or are not dwelling in a fool’s paradise.’
Trump hasn’t denied what he told Woodward but instead argued he was trying not to cause a panic.
‘The fact is, there has to be a calmness. You don’t want me jumping up and down screaming there’s going to be great death. Really causing serious problems for the country,’ he said at a White House press conference on Thursday before his rally.
Trump also denied he lied to the American people when asked about discrepancies in his conversations with Woodward and what he was saying in public at the time.
‘This is deadly stuff,’ the president told Woodward in February during one of their 18 interviews.
‘You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,’ he said. ‘And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.’
But while Trump admitted privately to the dangers of COVID, just three days later, he struck a far rosier tone in an interview with Fox Business: ‘I think the virus is going to be – it’s going to be fine.’
Trump said his public words were not a lie.
‘There is no lie here. What we’re doing is leading,’ he said at his press conference.
President Trump returned the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office after Obama replaced it with a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King; above Trump shows the bust to then-British Prime Minister Theresa May during her January 2017 visit to the White House
The phrase Trump cited during his rally – ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – while popular today was never used during World War II
But the phrase Trump cited during his rally – ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – while popular today was never used during World War II.
Britain’s Ministry of Information came up with phrase during the war – even producing posters with it – but internal politics kept the posters from being made public.
Most of the posters were destroyed but, in 2000, the owners of Barter Books in Alnwick, a town in northeastern Britain, came across one. They hung it on the wall and it became so popular they reprinted it and sold.
The logo is now common t-shirts, posters and coffee mugs.
Trump, a longtime anglophile, has long sought to tie his presidency to Churchill’s tenure as prime minister.
One of his first acts as president was to restore the bust of Churchill to the Oval Office after President Barack Obama replaced it with a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Obama moved the Churchill bust to a place outside the Treaty Room of the White House, a move that sparked outrage from the British across the pond and from many conservatives in America. Churchill was given an honorary American citizenship, only one of eight people to receive one.
Trump brought the Churchill bust back to the Oval, placing it on the table near his desk and moving the King bust to a side table.
Additionally, White House staff have tied the president to the prime minister at other points in his presidency.
When Trump was criticized, during Black Lives Matter protests in June, for walking across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church to hold up a bible in front of it as a photo-op, the White House said it was something Churchill would do.
The square was damaged during the protests that sprung up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and there was a small fire in the church basement ahead of Trump’s visit. The church, which sits across from the White House, is known as the church of presidents.
‘Through all of time, we’ve seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for our nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination,’ White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at the time.
‘Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage and it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people,’ she said.
The White House has compared Trump to Churchill before – such as during his June 1, 2020 visit to St. John’s Church to hold up a bible during the Black Lives Matter protests
President Trump and his family toured the Churchill War Rooms during the June 2019 state visit to London
Trumps’ children posted pictures of the tour to social media
Additionally, during his June 2019 state visit to London, Trump toured the Churchill War Rooms with his family.
It was in the labyrinthine bunker that Churchill and his war cabinet plotted war strategy that ultimately led to the Allies’ victory. The underground location kept them safe from German bombing raids.