The ‘nobody knew’ and ‘everybody believed’ phase of evading responsibility

We have been warned by the US Surgeon General that this might be the worst week of the pandemic in the US and that we should brace for it. The time-lapse graph of world wide infections shows today that the US is still on the rising part of the curve while there are hopeful signs that Italy and Spain, two hard hit countries, are starting to show signs of stabilization by veering away off the exponential growth line.

The Trump administration bears responsibility for its late, inadequate, and confused response to the pandemic but as with all things Trump, it seeks to avoid any responsibility or blame. Governments tend to duck responsibility by making sweeping claims, such as “every believed” or “nobody knew” to imply that they alone should not be held responsible. The “everybody believed” excuse was trotted out after they lied about Iraq having WMDs prior to invading that country. In fact, people knew and said at that time that the evidence produced by the US was false or faulty and should not be believed.

In this crisis, we see the “nobody knew” excuse being brought forward to excuse the lack of planning even though people had warned that the earlier actions taken by the government would harm pandemic prevention.

In recent weeks, Trump has also professed ignorance about the looming threat of a global pandemic — saying repeatedly that no one could have imagined such a terrifying possibility. In fact, the consequences of shuttering the pandemic office were clear to many observers at the time. “When the next pandemic occurs (and make no mistake, it will) and the federal government is unable to respond in a coordinated and effective fashion to protect the lives of US citizens and others, this decision by John Bolton and Donald Trump will be why,” Stephen Schwartz of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists tweeted on May 10, 2018.

In testimony to Congress in 2018, Fauci said that he and other experts had indeed imagined just such a thing. “When you have a respiratory virus that can be spread by droplets and aerosol and… there’s a degree of morbidity associated with that, you can have a catastrophe,” Fauci testified. “The one that we always talk about is the 1918 pandemic, which killed between 50 and 100 million people,” he added. “Influenza first, or something like influenza, is the one that keeps me up at night.”

Here is treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin making that same claim of widespread ignorance.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin insisted on Sunday that “nobody” predicted that the new coronavirus pandemic would quickly spread to the United States even though intelligence officials reportedly tried to get the Trump administration to pay attention to the crisis.

During an interview on Fox News Sunday, guest host John Roberts questioned Mnuchin about a recent Washington Post investigation which found that the administration ignored the intelligence officials on the spread of COVID-19.

“You know, I want to be careful talking about specific intelligence,” Mnuchin replied. “But let me be clear — and this is not just in the U.S., this is around the world. Nobody expected this to take off at the rate it did.”

“The situation has changed very quickly and the president has responded to that,” he added.

The Treasury secretary, however, declined to say if the Trump administration ignored intelligence officials on the COVID-19 outbreak.

We should not be surprised that these people lie to avoid any culpability. But the rest of should be aware that whenever a government official says that “nobody knew” or “everybody believed” about something in order to excuse their colossal blunders, they are lying. What they are really saying is that they refused to listen to and act on information that went counter to their agenda.


  1. Bruce says

    It’s not valid to use the excuses ‘nobody knew’ and ‘everybody believed’ when you’re the one who got rid of the existing experts who DID know all that.

  2. says

    Iraq was exactly what I thought when I saw the title. And they’re using it again because of how willingly complicit the media were the first time.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Nobody knew? It was a common enough topic of conversation that I would read about “It’s not if but when” comments in more or less mainstream media sources at least two or three times a year ever since SARS. The Event 201 pandemic exercise, conducted on October 18, 2019 might have been a hint.

    Of course if you are not to bright and stunningly ignorant as a lot of the US political class are media are, then I can see it being a surprise. But both are making a fast recovery, by demonizing China. Nothing like a bit of racism and xenophobia to help an administration dodge the blame.

  4. springa73 says

    Yeah, epidemiologists and other experts on diseases have been talking about this for quite a few years -- I think at least as far back as the 90s, and even more since SARS. It’s just that many people in power, at least in western countries, didn’t pay attention to them -- in some cases, still aren’t paying enough attention.

  5. mnb0 says

    “Nobody knew” and “everybody believed” are in my eyes worse, because they are admissions of incompetence. That’s what political leaders are for, to make sure to have more and better relevant information than we Joe/Jane Commons.

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