Sean Hannity’s latest effort to portray President Trump as a heroic and decisive leader throughout the coronavirus crisis belongs in a time capsule. It will aid future study of one of the most monumental and destructive leadership failures in modern times — and the extraordinary lengths to which Trump’s propagandists are going to rewrite it as a spectacular triumph.
Hannity’s strategy, of course, is Trump’s strategy. Trump has already telegraphed that, however extensive the eventual coronavirus damage in American deaths and economic carnage, Trump will take credit for having kept it to that supposed minimum.
This requires memory-holing Trump’s catastrophic refusal to take coronavirus seriously for weeks and weeks, and instead substituting a narrative in which he acted decisively throughout.
Hannity displayed what this will look like with his broadcast on Tuesday night. Hannity and Trump talked about Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China as if it were a singularly decisive move. (This is an absurd exaggeration, but put that aside for now.)
Importantly, during that banter — which also featured them bashing the media for refusing to recognize Trump’s brilliant leadership — Hannity scrolled a timeline of major actions by the government all throughout this crisis.
The juxtaposition created the propagandistic impression that all these acts demonstrated how seriously Trump took coronavirus all throughout. This deserves close attention, folks: It heralds the major media push that’s coming.
But it’s nonsense. What Hannity doesn’t tell you is that in many of the cases he himself cited, Trump directly resisted those efforts, publicly undercut them, or privately raged over them for the most nakedly corrupt of reasons.
Let’s go through it.
Trump ignored and undercut urgent warnings
First, Hannity’s timeline begins by citing numerous warnings that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued to the public early on about coronavirus.
But Hannity doesn’t tell you that Trump repeatedly and explicitly undercut the CDC’s efforts to create a sense of public urgency about the threat.
For instance, CDC officials had to actively work to reverse Trump’s downplaying of coronavirus. In February, after Trump claimed coronavirus would “miraculously” go away in the spring, CDC Director Robert Redfield contradicted Trump, noting it would remain “beyond this year.”
Trump even privately raged about the CDC’s public warnings because they were spooking the markets, which Trump views as key to his reelection chances.
Second, Hannity’s timeline cites two acts to show the administration’s decisiveness: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s declaration on Jan. 31 of a public health emergency, and Trump’s appointment of Vice President Pence as head of the response on Feb. 26th.
What Hannity doesn’t tell you is that the internal dynamics involving both Azar and Pence actually showcased Trump’s refusal to treat coronavirus urgently — in a particularly vivid way.
Trump’s appointment of Pence was actually part of an effort to marginalize the prescient Azar. And it came late. Until Pence was appointed, no White House official had been in charge of the response to coronavirus “until nearly two months after it began.”
Trump repeatedly and disastrously flouted experts
Comically, Hannity’s timeline also hails Trump’s announcement of 15 days of strict social distancing guidelines.
But it doesn’t tell you that Trump subsequently moved to relax guidelines in defiance of urgent warnings from experts or that Trump only backed down and extended guidelines after truly dire projections, TV imagery of mounting corpses and warnings that a future death spike could damage his reelection chances cut through his haze of willful denial.
Similarly, Hannity’s timeline hails Trump for invoking the Defense Production Act, and extols Trump’s efforts on behalf New York. In fact, Trump utterly failed to fully deploy DPA in a manner that experts counseled would have prevented many problems now besetting the medical supply chain, which are leaving states and hospitals confused, scrambling and disastrously underequipped.
Finally, Hannity’s timeline notes Trump “mentioned” coronavirus in his February speech to Congress, as if that merits applause.
In fact, Trump’s reference was to his supposedly successful cooperation with China against it, in keeping with the line at the time that Trump, working with China, “shut it down,” as Trump put it. Amusingly, Hannity later abruptly pivoted in lockstep with Trump to blaming China for it.
It should be stressed that Trump’s casual dismissiveness had extensive consequences, badly hampering the federal response. It helped produce disastrous delays in testing that created a “lost month” in which coronavirus spread out of control, and a failure by this “wartime president” to marshal private sector resources in time for coronavirus to swamp hospitals.
Hannity has unintentionally done us all a public service. He has reminded us just how vast the gulf was between many members of Trump’s administration, who did urgently want to take coronavirus seriously, and Trump, who serially and pathologically refused to do so.