Opinion: ‘We have it under control’; Trump’s disastrous disdain for science
To grasp how fully this administration and its sycophants have abandoned basic science, look no further than the coronavirus crisis engulfing the country. Exhibit 1 is the president, who has rejected scientific facts, renounced medical reality, rebuffed his own experts and tried to sell America the goods that all is well. In a crisis, the most effective weapon is credibility. Without credible leadership, a contagion of disease becomes a contagion of fear.
Fairyland. In early January, the president dismissed U.S. intelligence agencies warnings about a coronavirus epidemic emerging from China. Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler and Dianne Feinstein listened, then dumped millions of dollars of stocks ahead of the market swoon.
The first U.S. coronavirus case surfaced on Jan. 22. The president, still withholding the intelligence warnings from the American people, pronounced, “We have it under control.” Then, on Feb. 19 and 25, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better … we have contained this.” Two days later, on Feb. 27, the viral explosion occurred. Nevertheless, our pretender-in-chief bragged, “We have it so well under control. We’re going substantially down, not up … close to zero.” As recently as March 15, with cases soaring across the U.S., he continued trivializing the scientific epidemiology of a life-and-death pandemic for personal ego and political gain: The virus was under “tremendous control.”
Singing behind the president is his chorus of toadies on Fox News downplaying the science and severity of COVID-19: “This is yet another attempt to impeach the president” –Fox Business host Trish Regan, March 9; “All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly [than the flu] doesn’t reflect reality”– Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, March 7; and “Oh, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax” — Sean Hannity, March 9. A hoax? Plotted by hundreds of thousands of infected people? When slavish political fawning mutates to malicious propaganda, it puts the nation at risk.
Vaccine. On Jan., 24, the president declared, “Johnson & Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine,” and on Feb. 29, “a vaccine will be available very rapidly.” Wrong. It will take a year or more to develop and test a safe vaccine according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of the administration’s coronavirus task force. It is he, not the president, who faces the cameras every day with science, credence and candor.
That was evident again on March 19 and 20, when the president repeatedly heralded that the FDA had approved a possible cure for the coronavirus, chloroquine. No, it didn’t. Fact is, as Fauci was compelled to correct, chloroquine is an old antimalarial drug used since 1934 — with potentially serious side effects. Its touting as a coronavirus curative is purely anecdotal — it may deplete the virus in a test tube. So do many other chemicals. Memo to the president: Anecdote is not science; a test tube is not a human body. A vaccine will require stringent FDA testing and approval to treat COVID-19. Worse than false information are false hopes.
Test kits. In January and February, the World Health Organization was shipping hundreds of thousands of German-based COVID-19 test kits to 60 countries, but not to the U.S. Why? The administration opted to produce our own, thereby losing eight critical weeks to get ahead of the testing, infection and containment curve. Congress asked for an explanation. No answer yet. On Mar. 6, the president boasted, “anybody that wants a test can get one.” Another bald face Pinocchio. Then and now, very few people are able to get a test. Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, warned that we don’t know what we don’t know: “Without testing, we’re flying blind. How can you know whether someone is a confirmed case without a test?” As Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) put it, “Right now in America, it’s easier to get an AR-15 than a test kit for COVID-19.”
This administration’s defunding of science now reaps its bitter harvest. In 2018, it dumped–and never replaced–the CDC’s and the National Security Agency’s pandemic response teams. Undaunted by his own apathy and antipathy toward science, the president touted his coronaviral expertise during a March 6 visit to the CDC: “I like this stuff. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”
— Leonard Krishtalka is a University of Kansas professor and director of KU’s Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum.