President Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in a private interview that the coronavirus is “deadly stuff,” and possibly even more dangerous than the flu in February. Woodward publicly released the recordings of the Feb. 7 interview early this month.

These tapes exist in a weird uncanny valley. They’re terrifying, but they show our president in a light we never see him in. Trump sounds well-spoken, understanding, concerned — traits we don’t see in his public appearances. 

Most left-wing people and media outlets have been trying to spin Trump as a dunce who was never fit to be president. These tapes prove without a doubt that Trump could have successfully run this country as a reasonably moderate Republican president, but instead he deliberately chose to play an extremist character. 

The presidency has become a show that we pay with our votes to see. Our friend Donald has known this from day one. Ever the reality star, he’s incredibly skilled at captivating the American people with the outlandish things that he says. He’s used shock value by harping on extreme conservative concerns, like alleging that Antifa wants to tear the country apart, and by completely dismissing left-wing concerns such as systemic racism. 

Low-information voters, die-hard Republicans, and people who wanted disruptive change all voted for him hoping that his words would translate to radical change. His presidency has been no different than his campaign — all talk and no nuance — and it has deified him. He’s barely passed any policy that’s lived up to his extreme MAGA ideology — what happened to the wall? But his loyal supporters would never accept that Trump used the tell-it-like-it-is theatrics to secure their votes. It was the easiest way to the White House. 

Let’s take a step back and imagine that the man on the tapes is the man who was actively leading our country. He sounds caring, like he listens to the advisors who get paid to inform him on subjects he understandably doesn’t have a full grasp on. He’s repeating figures that public health experts have been trying to drill into our heads for months.

“[COVID-19] is more deadly [than the flu]. You know, this is five percent, versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.” -Donald J. Trump, February 7, 2020

Trump clearly understood early in the year how many American lives were at stake. 

A leader who reassured his people and didn’t contradict himself or others would have eased so much collective anxiety. If it weren’t for his racism, he wouldn’t have fanned the flames of the nationwide protests. He may have allowed legislation to pass that would actually help struggling families, rather than denying the extent of the problem. 

But he didn’t. He had a persona  to maintain, and votes to secure through deception and misdirection. He pretended there was no major threat to the public, knowing followers would believe him. 

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” – Donald J. Trump, March 19, 2020

Trump repeated inflammatory and denial-ridden statements for months, until he got his press briefings cancelled by suggesting we intentionally harm ourselves to cure COVID-19. Maybe it was a joke, but you lose your right to be sarcastic when 300 million people are looking to you for legitimate solutions. Even worse, he continued to spread harmful misinformation.

The polarizing politics of America are strenuous. It’s hard to wake up everyday and be cognizant of the weight the next election carries. We think constantly about the police state we’re on our way to becoming. We fight with people on social media who disagree with us and we’re shown the most extreme examples of injustice and destructive partisanship to spark our rage. 

Yet the worst part about this entire climate is that it was a choice. And furthermore, during this whole tragedy of a pandemic, that choice was maintained. Donald Trump is a reasonable man who could have led ethically during this once-in-a-lifetime moment. Instead, he chose to put us in this situation. He’s committing manipulative acts of pure malice via his presidency, and should be tried as such after the election.

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