May 6, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Trump Is on Track to Smash George W. Bush’s Body-Count Record
Instead of Iraqis, they'll be Americans.
On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush gave a triumphant speech atop an aircraft carrier in which he celebrated “the end of major combat operations in Iraq” and the toppling of its dictator, Saddam Hussein. Though the president conceded there was much work to be done, in the background blazed a huge banner sending a quite contrary message.
That was a lie. Even as television audiences were told American troops would be hailed as liberators, administration officials knew, or at least suspected, that there were months ahead, perhaps years, in which the US might be bogged down in a bloody sectarian civil war even as it spent trillions rebuilding a sovereign nation it destroyed.
Half a million Americans may be dead by Election Day.
Specifically, “mission accomplished” was one half of a bigger lie. The other half was telling Americans that the US must invade a country that did us no harm on Sept. 11, 2001, even if we could not prove definitively that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Why wait for a smoking gun when a smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud? Thus was the beginning of the end of the United States as global champion of peace, prosperity, law and order. The beacon of hope in a dark world was blowing out.
The American public would not catch up to administration suspicions until well after the 2004 election, by which time Bush had established himself as a war president and by which point his campaign had slandered a war hero into electoral oblivion. This is perhaps the most insidious facet of the Bush administration’s dishonesty. It lied until it could not lie anymore. By that point, tens of thousands were dead, maimed and wounded, the world order was in deep rot, but at least a Republican was president.
Donald Trump is, as I’ve often said, a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. But even he must put some effort into eclipsing George W. Bush’s record. The current president is a golf ball-sized hail storm of lies, but his lies have not yet yielded a body count equal to the years-long US occupation of Iraq, which is estimated to be 185,000 to 208,000. The current president, however, is on track, and instead of Iraqis, they’re Americans.
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Two thousand people died in this country yesterday from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, bringing the tally of dead, as of this writing, to more than 72,000. Two thousand people are probably going to die today. Two thousand people are probably going to die tomorrow. More than 3,000 Americans died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. By June, death by Covid-19 may reach 3,000 every day. All things being equal, half a million Americans may be dead by Election Day. By then, the president will have smashed George W. Bush’s body-count record, and then some.
Trump is now pretending the worst is over. As a “war president,” he’s celebrating the defeat of the “invisible enemy.” The White House task force charged with coordinating a nationwide response will pivot to “reopening” the economy as well as finding a new coronavirus vaccine. From now until November, the president will likely spend his time hyping how much his administration has done for the American people. He will, in other words, follow a predecessor’s playbook—lie until he can’t lie anymore, but by that time, all the lies won’t matter, and neither will the legion of dead.
In saying he knows Americans will die as a result of “reopening” the economy, he’s telling us life is cheap.
Bush and Trump are different in an important way. While Bush put a higher value on American life than he did Iraqi life (3,000 dead Americans in one day, it could be argued, are worth 185,000 dead Iraqis over years), Trump doesn’t value any lives.
The president knows the pandemic will kill more of us, and he knows it will kill more of us as a result of the White House rushing to “reopen” the economy for the sake of political expedience. In telling us he knows, the president is telling us life is cheap. Trump told ABC News last night: “There’ll be more death, that the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.”
“I always felt 60, 65, 70, (thousand) as horrible as that is,” the president told anchor David Muir. “I mean, you’re talking about filling up Yankee Stadium with death! So I thought it was horrible. But it’s probably going to be somewhat higher than that.”
We promised ourselves we’d never forget the 3,000 victims of 9/11. We erected huge memorials to honor their names. We altered world history avenging their deaths. What are we going to do when the pandemic is over. Conveniently forget—or remember?
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.