Revising history, Trump makes bizarre claim about pandemic foresight

A week after accusing journalists and Dems of trying to "inflame the coronavirus situation," Trump wants credit for recognizing the pandemic threat early.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the press briefing room at the White House
President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the press briefing room at the White House on March 15, 2020.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump's habit of claiming world-class expertise in a wide variety of areas is well documented, but there's a related element of the president's personality that's less recognized: he's gifted with extraordinary hindsight.

For example, the New York Republican is certain that he predicted the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, long before the 9/11 attacks, in one of his ghostwritten books. That didn't actually happen in reality, but Trump nevertheless lamented the fact that people didn't listen to his wisdom and prevent the attacks.

Today, something similar happened. At a White House press briefing, NBC News' Kristen Welker noted the president's apparent shift in tone yesterday and asked what prompted it. Trump didn't say he predicted the outbreak, but he questioned the premise of the question:

"I have seen that where people actually liked [Monday's tone], but I didn't feel different. I've always known this is a real -- this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.... I've always viewed it as very serious."

I desperately wish this were true. It's not. In fact, Trump is rewriting history in ways that are unusually brazen, even for him.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but it was literally eight days ago when the president published a tweet that read, "The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, 'The risk is low to the average American.'"

Are we really supposed to believe that the author of this missive saw the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic "long before it was called a pandemic" and he's "always viewed it as very serious"?

As the crisis took shape, Trump downplayed the threat over and over and over again, which leaves us with two possibilities: either he (a) minimized a public-health emergency he considered a pandemic "long before it was called a pandemic"; or (b) engaged in some over-the-top revisionist history this afternoon.

Either way, given the number of Americans who already find it difficult to trust Trump's rhetoric on the crisis, this really isn't helpful.