Blogs > Steve Hochstadt > The Trump Virus

Apr 29, 2020

The Trump Virus

tags: Donald Trump,COVID-19

We are living in crisis. The coronavirus is causing the crisis of the century, like no other for the past hundred years: over 200,000 deaths worldwide, 59,000 in the US, nearly all within the past one month. That’s many more American deaths than in the Korean War, and soon will be more than in the Vietnam War. That’s more deaths than in any influenza season, except for 2017-2018 (approx. 61,000), and we’ll soon pass that number. The monthly death toll of automobile accidents is just over 3000, as is the number of people who die from guns.

Since April 7, we have averaged about 2000 deaths per day, making the virus the leading cause of death in the US. Covid-19 is causing almost one-third of daily deaths in the US at this moment.

All of those numbers are underestimates. Official totals of deaths due to the pandemic include deaths in hospitals, not usually people who died at home and not people who died of other causes, because they could not get to a hospital. Comparing “normal” deaths per month with actual deaths in March and April across the world shows tens of thousands of additional virus deaths. In Paris, more than twice as many people are dying each day as is usual, and New York City has four times the usual number of deaths.

There have been lots of comparisons between the total deaths from coronavirus and other causes, mostly in service to arguments that are designed to diminish anxiety about the virus. “Dr.” Phil McGraw said to Laura Ingraham on FOX News, “We have 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don't shut the country down for that. But yet we're doing it for this? And the fall out is going to last for years because people's lives are being destroyed.” He criticized the current lockdown measures, claiming they may cause “more deaths across time than the actual virus will itself.” Actually there are fewer than 4000 deaths from drowning each year, and none of the causes he mentions are contagious. Phil McGraw holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, but he is not licensed to practice. His expertise is getting famous for giving general relationship advice, like Dear Abby.

Instead of paying any attention to people like Phil McGraw, celebrities with political axes to grind, listen to COVID disease experts, like the real Dr. Peter Tippett, an emergency room MD with a PhD in biochemistry. “I have also spent much of my professional life in the high-tech world helping people understand how risk, infection, and the growth of infection behaves.” He offers clear common-sense rules for protecting ourselves – why, when and where to wear masks. “Your nose reduces the risk of viral particles getting to your throat. A mask reduces the risk of the viral particles getting to your nose, and social distancing reduces the risk of them getting to your mask. Together, these countermeasures work very well.”

Crises are the most important test of a leader, because in these moments leadership can directly affect our lives. They bring out in much stronger relief the central beliefs and values, the skills, and the intelligence of the leader. Our President has been a colossal failure on each of these counts. 

The hypocrisy of his public enablers was demonstrated most clearly by the reaction to his serious public suggestion that ultraviolet light or disinfectants might protect against coronavirus if somehow they could get inside the body. If you watch him say these things, you can see that he was not joking in any way. That was just stupid, from the man who repeatedly calls himself a genius. So stupid, that he had to deny he said it. Immediately people across the country characterized those comments as ridiculous and dangerous. The next morning White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that the media, the enemy, had taken Trump’s words “out of context”. Trump gave a different excuse to reporters: “I was asking a sarcastic — and a very sarcastic question — to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside.” He denied that he was asking his medical experts to look into it: “No, no, no, no.” Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, dismissed the importance of Trump’s remarks, saying only two days later that it bothered her that the media kept bringing them up.

Ordinary people who believe anything Trump says, but wanted to take the precaution of checking what sounded like crazy advice, called state hotlines and poison control centers to ask whether this was safe. Yesterday, Trump said he takes no responsibility if people injured themselves by following his medical advice.

These facts have been reported across the country, but it’s worth thinking about what they reveal. Not that Trump says stupid things and then denies it – that we already knew many times over. But the interplay between Trump and his base was on display. Who would call up a poison control center to ask whether drinking Lysol is a good idea besides some benighted members of Trump’s “base”? Taking Trump seriously is dangerous for his most ardent fans. Yet he takes no responsibility for them not recognizing that he was being “sarcastic”. He has never cared if his actions imperil the people who wear MAGA hats. And they don’t seem to mind.

Mistrusting Trump is part of acting safely. Leonard Pitts just wrote that he will ignore the advice of Dr. Phil and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, and Trump: “I will not die of stupid.” The trouble is that the stupidity of others might kill us.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

April 28, 2020

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