In February and March, Donald Trump knew how severe the coronavirus threat was, and he even understood how easily the virus was transmitted. The president nevertheless chose to deceive his own country, deliberately, about the seriousness of the crisis.
Pressed for some kind of explanation, Trump insisted yesterday afternoon that he didn't actually "lie," he simply tried to keep people "calm" by hiding the truth and misleading the American public about the dangerous, life-threatening conditions. (Yes, watching the Republican lie about lying is very meta.)
But last night, at a campaign rally in Michigan, the president went a little further about how impressed he is with himself.
"[W]e're doing very well. 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.... We have to be calm. We don't want it to be crazed lunatics. We have to lead. When Hitler was bombing -- I don't know if you know this -- 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.'"
As a rule, when Team Trump starts referencing Winston Churchill, trouble soon follows. For example, in June, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tried to justify the Lafayette Square Scandal by arguing that Trump's photo-op was similar to Churchill "inspecting the bombing damage" during World War II.
And while it's true that the giant of British history did venture out after German blitzes, there's no record of 10 Downing Street ever ordering security forces to launch an offensive against British citizens in a public park so that Churchill could safely pose for the cameras.
But this latest rhetoric three months later is even more ridiculous. Did Churchill deliver speeches from rooftops? No. Was "Keep calm and carry on" a key part of the British government's public message during the war? No.
And while specific details like these matter, the larger problem is that Trump believes he and Churchill did the same thing, prioritizing public optimism and "calmness" amidst public despair.
The trouble is, Churchill was consistently candid and forthcoming with the British population about the nature of the war-time threat. Trump, by his own admission, has done the exact opposite in the face of a deadly pandemic.
Many are familiar with Churchill's legendary "We shall fight on the beaches" remarks from 1940. But note, Churchill never said, "We won't have to fight on the beaches, since the enemy threat will just go away."
It's why Trump's desperate, ahistorical comparison is so pitiful.