After going through security, I arrive in the West Wing briefing room, which is usually busy like a train station, but now sparsely populated by journalists, some wearing face masks.
My temperature has picked up and I sit at several seats of the other reporters. When Donald Trump and his team leave the right stadium, they seem less worried than we are about physical distancing (yet the American president has been tested twice, with negative results, for the coronavirus).
America has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. It’s a public health crisis, an economic crisis and – this is where we come in Washington – a leadership crisis. Trump, real estate developer and reality TV star, was the first US president elected without prior military or political experience. She was a bit of a lark. Well, we are not laughing now. He is the man in charge of America in its greatest emergency since the Second World War. And it seems the story’s verdict will be ruthless: it’s not up to par.
I watch most of his daily briefings from the coronavirus task force, which sometimes last more than two hours, from home (grateful for television and regular broadband, but not always easy with two rowdy kids), but i I go there about once a week and ask questions. Up close, the president’s stature (he measures 6 feet 3 inches), a mat of blond hair and a peach face give a certain perverse charisma.
It’s closest to us from the court of George III, with its blend of awesome power and terrifying whims
I was there one evening when, defying the advice of a doctor, Trump spoke bluntly about the reopening of the economy by Easter. It was just a little scary, this realization that the most powerful person in the world was not upset – the closest of us would arrive at the court of King George III with his mixture of awesome power and whims terrifying. Fortunately, on this occasion, Trump finally bowed to the experts and maintained the physical distance guidelines until the end of April.
It’s also a presidential election year. Trump can no longer hold electoral rallies with large crowds. He transformed daily briefings by replacing, still voicing grievances, spinning untruths, intimidating journalists, and narcissistically promoting his favorite brand: himself. “I have, you know, hundreds of millions of people,” he meditated on April Fool’s Day. “Number one on Facebook. Did you know that I was number one on Facebook? I mean, I just found out that I’m number one on Facebook. I thought it was very good, whatever that means. “
War President Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here. Trump agrees with the opposite view. Having minimized the virus for so long – “When you have 15 people, and the 15 in the next few days are going to be close to zero, it’s a very good job that we have done,” he said. February 26 – and has failed to prepare the resources, he is now trying, extraordinarily, to sell a potential death toll of 100,000 Americans as a success. Even for this master of glare, it would be quite a magic trick.
Generally, in times of national crisis, by default, leaders are expected to tell the truth, or most importantly (let’s not forget George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction). But with Trump, this assumption no longer holds. His briefings would be accompanied by a government health warning if he was not the government.
In the midst of this confusing torrent of bluster, medical experts also provide real information, showing predictive patterns, urging people to maintain physical distance, advising the wearing of face masks. It therefore becomes an intensive exercise to try to separate fact from fiction.
American television networks are having a heated debate about this. Should they show the shows with a 30-second delay to allow for fact-checking interventions? Should they show them at all? Increasingly, some are issuing disclaimers at the start and cutting before the end.
At The Guardian, our ongoing coverage of briefings includes a fact-checking in real time by a team of journalists. It’s important not to let Trump’s baseless claims, such as his promotion of an unproven drug, hover in the air without dispute. Our reports are determined to hold the powerful to account. What did the president know and when did he know? And why did he not act?
For example, an article explored how the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 could have been reported in South Korea and the United States on the same day – January 20 – but one country took swift action to stem the tide. epidemic while the other is still vacillating towards disaster. Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the government’s response to international disasters at USAid, told the Guardian: “We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times. “
For a journalist, this very special presidency already looked like the story of a lifetime. Now he has collided head-on with another life story. But, day after day, I also witness the unfolding of an American tragedy. For three years, Trump thought he could define the events. In the end, he discovered, events will define him.