FACT CHECK: Was Trump Right to Compare His COVID Response to Winston Churchill During WWII?
Trying to recover from the fallout over his February admission that he wanted to “play down” the imminent Coronavirus pandemic, President Trump today compared himself to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War. Explaining to a rally in Freeland. Michigan that “they wanted me to come out and scream, ‘people are dying,’” Trump boasted, “We did it just the right way.”
By the “right way,” the 45th President meant Winston’s way. Despite the 190,000 Americans killed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 6.3 million more infected and the concomitant economic devastation during his watch, Trump insisted he prevented panic:
"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…
When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. He always spoke with confidence. He said we have to show calmness. Nah, we did it the right way.”
Let’s check the historical record to put Trump’s Churchillian boast to the test.
Take, for example, President Trump’s February 2020 predictions that the United States could expect help in the fight against COVID from the weather and, apparently, God. “When we get into April, in the warmer weather—that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.” A few weeks later, Trump proclaimed, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”
Well, Churchill similarly put his faith in a providence of a different. Following Adolf Hitler’s rise to total power in 1933, the future Prime Minister proclaimed, “Thank God for the French army.”
Like Trump’s belief in the healing power of heat, sunlight, ingestible disinfectant, hydroxychloroquine and oleander, Winston was let down by the Maginot Line and the 100-plus divisions of the Grand Army of the Third Republic. After the Wehrmacht’s panzers shattered French forces and sprinted towards Paris in June 1940, the new Prime Minister calmly announced to the British people:
“It is what it is.”
But for the UK, another disaster was unfolding along the English Channel. After plunging into Belgium after the German invasion, virtually the entire 300,000-man British Expeditionary Force faced being cut off by Hitler’s rapidly advancing armored legions. Finding the cream of the British army trapped at Dunkirk, Churchill explained to his frightened citizenry:
“I take no responsibility at all.”
With France defeated, Prime Minister Churchill on June 4, 1940 addressed the House of Commons. The United Kingdom would steadfastly face the full weight of Hitler’s army, navy and air force alone. As he famously reassured his countrymen:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we don’t want to be crazed lunatics. We have to lead. We shall be indifferent to the end, we shall ignore them in France, we shall steer clear on the seas and oceans, we shall pretend with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall depend on a miracle for our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall ignore them on the beaches, we shall close our eyes on the landing grounds, we shall disregard in the fields and in the streets, we shall feign interest in the hills; we shall never admit defeat, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
In May 1940, Winston Churchill modestly assumed the premiership by declaring, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” (Afterwards, Churchill admitted to General Ismay: “Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.”) But by that August, with London and other English cities enduring punishing air raids from the German Blitz, Churchill took a different tone in an inspiring address to the British people:
“The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world except in the abodes of the guilty goes out to me.
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
I alone can fix it.”
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war on the United States on December 10, 1941, Churchill’s dream that the New World would “with all its power and might, step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old” seemed on the verge of coming true. (As Pearl Harbor was still a smoking ruin, Churchill said he “slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”) Speaking to a joint session of Congress on December 26, 1941, Churchill calmly suggested Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany would pay a price for their aggression:
“What kind of a people do they think we are? Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to hope for the best against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?"
It should be noted that Churchill, an outspoken foe of Soviet socialism, was quick to declare his total support for the dictator in the Kremlin following the German invasion of June 22, 1941. “All this was no surprise to me,” the Prime Minister explained, “In fact I gave clear and precise warnings to Stalin of what was coming.” Then, Winston essentially asked his people, “Honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we actually got along with Russia?”
“The cause of any Russian fighting for his hearth and home is the cause of free men and free peoples in every quarter of the globe.
That is our policy and that is our declaration. It follows, therefore, that we shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people. We have offered the Government of Russia any technical or economic assistance which is in our power, and which is likely to be of service to them."
We rate this claim: F*CKING RIDICULOUS.