Let's tell the truth about the pandemic: Donald Trump is guilty of mass murder

Trump's lies, failures and denials during a public health crisis meet the legal standard for second-degree murder

Published October 1, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Two hundred and six thousand, six hundred and sixty-five people. That's 206,665 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents. As of this writing, that is the number of American lives lost in six months as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (The number will be larger by the time you read this.) A pandemic first described by the current United States president as a "Democrat hoax" and "like a flu" has now claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans — unnecessarily. 

We now know, thanks to the extensive interviews of Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, that Donald Trump knew of the danger and lethality of COVID-19 as early as February of this year. Time and time again, the president has publicly downplayed the scope and severity of this pandemic, while acknowledging the harsh reality in private.

Scores of mental health professionals have described President Trump as "unfit for office" in large part because of his personality pathology that plays out in his presidential decision-making and behavior. As seen this week with the New York Times exposé on the president's taxes, Trump repeatedly acts as if he is above the law. But his cruelty has been front and center in several contexts, ranging from separating children at the border and putting them in cages to the daily deaths of Americans to the coronavirus. The mounting deaths due to COVID-19 are the scariest example of this president's core sadism.

What was initially attributed to Trump's incompetence, inexperience, lack of intellectual curiosity and overall ignorance and naiveté can now be more clearly identified as something far more sinister: mass murder. 


Several of Donald Trump's actions (and inactions) provide the evidence needed to support such a chilling and startling claim, even by 2020 standards. Last week, in an ABC News town hall with George Stephanopoulos, Trump claimed that the virus would "go away without the vaccine" because people would develop "herd mentality." Trump misspoke but was clearly referring to herd immunity – a strategy that, without a vaccine working in concert, would require rampant, unfettered spread of the disease to ensure that a large enough percentage of the populace developed antibodies to the virus. This is a strategy that would also require the deaths of millions of Americans, up to 3.8 million losses.

Not surprisingly, this strategy is also rife with Trumpian contradiction. When he was informed that an unchecked virus spreading throughout the spring and summer months could result in 2.2 million deaths, he immediately latched onto that number as a "Mendoza line" below which any degree of death was "acceptable" or a "victory."

This is not a strategy as much as it is another example, albeit an exceptionally deadly one, of Trump's penchant for taking positions that require the least amount of thought and effort and that are weak and passive (e.g., "we'll see what happens"). Further, a "strategy" that allows for a massive loss of life is permissible within Trump's psychopathy and, as a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence put it, Trump's "flat-out disregard for human life." It is also consistent with the Trumpian worldview that there are "winners (those that survive)" and "losers (those who allow themselves to be killed)."

We should also note that this is not a last-ditch, Hail Mary, impassioned plea by a leader to his people that some will have to sacrifice for the good of the many. Other countries with rational and competent leaders have gotten the virus under control. Our president is a weak and malicious leader who is choosing a strategy with the largest loss of life. As a prime example of his conscious decision-making, we recently learned that a plan by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver masks en masse to millions of Americans in April was nixed by the White House.

We believe that Trump's conduct satisfies the legal elements of second-degree murder, demonstrating a conscious disregard for an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury. Taken together, Trump's ongoing lies, failure to warn of the virus' transmissibility, failure to institute a national plan for mitigation, failure to follow public health experts, and continuing to disavow mitigation practices (e.g., holding "super-spreader" events with little mask wearing and no social distancing) comprise behaviors that meet the standard for second-degree murder.  

Trump's lies and denials cannot hide the obvious truth: He is a mass murderer who does not care. At any point in the past six months, he could have changed course and followed the recommendations of public health experts. As such, nothing short of criminal culpability is acceptable. 

Whether Trump ever faces legal consequences for this massive loss of American lives or not, it is an important issue to consider as we enter the presidential debate season. This is not just an indictment of Trump's enablers and followers as complicit in a crime of historic proportions. It is a national moment of sober reflection for all Americans.

By Seth D. Norrholm

Seth D. Norrholm is an associate professor of psychiatry in the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

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By Alan D. Blotcky

Alan D. Blotcky, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Alabama, and a clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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By Glenn Kirschner

Glenn Kirschner is a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst in Washington, D.C.

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