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The end of Trump’s presidency began one year ago this week

Published Jan 19th, 2021 4:23PM EST
Trump presidency
Image: Chris Kleponis - Pool via CNP/MEGA

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  • The beginning of the end of the Trump presidency can be traced back to something Trump said one year ago this week about the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • On January 22, 2020, Trump told CNBC that the US has COVID “totally under control.”
  • As the Trump presidency comes to an end and the Biden-Harris administration begins, around 400,000 Americans thus far have died from COVID-19 since early 2020.

If you had to look back and pinpoint one moment above all others that marked the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, you could do a lot worse than the moment President Trump uttered a now-infamous phrase about the coronavirus pandemic one year ago this week.

Speaking with CNBC’s Joe Kernen from the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 22, 2020, Trump downplayed the nascent threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The virus, which had at the time killed only a small number of people (we thought) and infected hundreds more, Trump assured Kernen: “It’s one person coming in from China. We have it totally under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Only two weeks later, though, Trump would tell famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in a phone call, which went unreported at the time, that COVID-19 seemed to be airborne and very dangerous. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Woodward in an interview for his book, Rage, which was released in September 2020 and which painted a damning picture of the Trump presidency. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

Totally Under Control was the name that documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney chose for his film about the US’ disastrous coronavirus response — which he filmed in secret over several months last year, finally dropping the trailer for the film the day after Trump revealed his own COVID diagnosis. It was a fitting title, only because of the inherent irony.

As President Trump finishes up his last full day on the job Tuesday, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, it’s staggeringly clear just how wide of the mark that phrase was to describe how the Trump presidency handled everything COVID threw at it during 2020.

Unemployment, for example, exploded last year as a result of the pandemic, and it’s now more than one-third higher than it was when Trump took office in January of 2017. Meantime, the pandemic that Trump promised was “under control” will have claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans according to Johns Hopkins University by the time Biden takes office Wednesday — which helps explain why Trump’s approval rating has plummeted over the past year.

Biden will have to hit the ground running by enacting a massive $1.9 trillion economic rescue package in response to the coronavirus pandemic that we still don’t have totally under control, in addition to confronting widespread anger across the country and in government stemming from the pandemic. That anger helped fuel the January 6 Capitol riots — which, again, will make Biden’s early days in office monumentally more difficult than they otherwise might be.

Part of Biden’s response is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks — the third wave of direct payments to the American people, in fact, since March of 2020.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.