But publicly, Trump lied.
He lied at the gathering of the world’s elite in Davos, Switzerland on January 22, saying, “It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” He lied days later in Michigan, declaring that “everything’s going to be great” and falsely claiming, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” He later said the virus was going to have “a very good ending for it.” And with an eye toward Wall Street, he lied to the entrepreneurs in India, declaring “as far as what we’re doing with the new virus, I think that we’re doing a great job.”
But the markets fell again that day Trump spoke in New Delhi, creating their biggest two-day slide in four years, and things were about to get worse. None of Trump’s magic words would prevent the Dow from losing 37 percent of its value from February to March, shocking the market when it dropped almost 3,000 points on March 16 — its worst single-day plummet in history.
Those final days of February 2020 set the tone for the rest of Trump’s terrible year. Joe Biden’s turnaround on Super Tuesday in early March robbed him of his socialist foil, Bernie Sanders. Days later, Trump’s shaky Oval Office address on the coronavirus did little to reassure a jittery nation. His blustery social media posts didn’t move the needle either — the virus, after all, didn’t have a Twitter account. And in the coming months, the racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd would underscore just how out of touch Trump was with Black Americans.
Over the summer, the president who had equivocated about the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., found himself in a bunker under the executive mansion when a small fire ignited at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church during protests in Lafayette Park. When the bunker move leaked to the press, Trump exploded with anger for fear that it made him look weak. He horrified much of the nation by using the military and federal police to clear nonviolent demonstrators from the park, posing for an awkward photo-op in front of the damaged church, bible in hand.
By October, Trump’s lies about COVID caught up with him when he was hospitalized, ill with a potentially deadly disease after nearly a year of flouting the rules, believing that wearing a mask would, as he told aides, make him look like “a pussy.”
After he was discharged from Walter Reed, and with the lighting just so, Trump strode up the steps to the Truman Balcony. Though still highly contagious, he tore off his mask before stepping inside. Reporters on the lawn, though, noticed something odd: Trump immediately backtracked out to the balcony again before returning inside, as if recreating his entrance. And that’s what he did: He was using the moment to film a video marking his so-called triumph over COVID.
“Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump said.