A 'propaganda' video and claims of 'total' power: Donald Trump's disturbing COVID-19 response.


This morning, US President Donald Trump announced his administration is putting a hold on funding to the World Health Organisation, the authority coordinating the global fight against COVID-19.

Announcing the decision, President Trump claimed the WHO “failed in its basic duty” while handling the early response to the virus, which emerged in China at the end of 2019.

Watch: US President Donald Trump explains his decision to freeze funding to the WHO.

Video by MSNBC

“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organisation’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Mr Trump told a news conference at the White House.

The US is the WHO’s largest donor. According to the organisation’s website, the country provided over US$400m in 2018-19, roughly 15 per cent of its total budget.

“With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” the president said.

Some have accused the president of deflecting blame, as the US struggles to contain the devastating local outbreak of the virus.

The United States has so far recorded more than 606,800 cases and 25,900 deaths — the highest of any country.



As the numbers climb, the media has been leaning harder and harder on the president over his response to the crisis, raising allegations that he ignored the advice of health authorities and downplayed the threat of the pandemic for too long. (In late February, he claimed that the small number of COVID-19 cases in the country “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”)


But so far, he’s refused to acknowledge a single error. Instead, he seems to have ramped-up attempts to direct scrutiny elsewhere (the press, the states, his own key experts), resulting in a week of stunning actions like this morning’s funding freeze.

These are some of President Trump’s most eyebrow-raising moves over the past few days.

He retweeted a call to sack the country’s leading infectious diseases expert.

Dr Anthony Fauci is a leading immunologist and the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. But it’s been a tricky relationship.

Dr Fauci has been compelled to publicly correct the president on a number of matters, including his unproven claims that the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19. He’s also had to caution against the president’s eagerness to end lockdown measures for the sake of the economy.

The relationship seems especially strained this week, after Dr Fauci conceded during an interview with CNN that lives could have been saved if the US had shut down earlier in the novel coronavirus outbreak: “Obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don’t think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor,” Dr Fauci said. “It’s very complicated.”

On Sunday night, President Trump retweeted a conservative who called to #FireFauci over the claim.


Naturally, a significant amount of media coverage followed, compelling President Trump to try to smooth things over — for the press, anyway. In a briefing on Monday, he said that he and Dr Fauci had been on the same page about the virus “from the beginning”.

“Today I walk in, I hear I’m going to fire him. I’m not firing him. I think he is a wonderful guy,” the president said.

“This [tweet] was a person’s view. Not everybody’s happy with Anthony. Not everybody is happy with everybody. But I will tell you, we have done a job the likes of which nobody has ever done.”

He claimed his authority as president is “total”.

On Monday, two groups of US state governors announced they would be forming regional working groups to assess when it would be safe to ease stay-at-home restrictions. Just hours later, President Trump claimed it wasn’t up to them.

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” President Trump said in a press conference. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

Asked by journalists what constitutional provisions allow him to overrule the states if they wanted to remain in lockdown, he replied, “Numerous provisions”. He didn’t name any.

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said.

As several constitutional lawyers have since stressed, it’s definitely not.

“Trump has no authority to ease social distancing, or to open schools or private businesses,” Professor Kathleen Bergin of Cornell University told NPR. “These are matters for states to decide under their power to promote public health and welfare.


“Despite what he claims, no president has absolute authority over domestic policy, and he certainly has no power to override the type of measures that have been taken across the country that have proved successful in flattening the curve.”

The press conference and the propaganda video.

As you will have gathered from all of the above, President Trump’s Monday press briefing was a doozy. But it went to a whole other level when the president presented a bizarre campaign-style video defending his response to COVID-19.

The nearly four-minute video, complete with visual effects, graphics and dramatic music, contained a timeline of his ‘achievements’, along with news clips of state governors and news anchors championing his actions.

“Everything we did was right,” President Trump said after the video ended.

Some networks cut away from the press conference amid concerns that the White House was peddling “propaganda” rather than providing promised medical updates.

Journalists in the briefing itself certainly seemed stunned. “I’ve never seen a video like that played in this room. It looks like a campaign video,” the ABC’s Jon Karl told the president. “Who made that for you?”

President Trump confirmed the video was made by White House staffers, which raised concerns that he used public resources for his own political gain, ahead of the presidential election later this year.


Explaining the motivation for the clip President Trump said simply, “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected.”

Unfortunately for President Trump, though, the clip actually ended up highlighting a major failure in his response.

A CBS journalist at the briefing pointed out to the president that the entire month of February was missing from the clip, and queried what he did in that month to make the most of the “time bought” by his January travel ban (something he’s heralded as a key achievement in the fight against COVID-19).

President Trump responded “a lot”. When pressed further for examples, he replied: “You know you’re a fake. You know that?”

Yep, this has all happened since Sunday.

Stay tuned for more chaos updates.

Read more about COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Getty.