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Trump: Public Health Menace

The president in his meeting this week with his coronavirus task force (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This is a thing that just happened:

You just shake your head in disbelief at the utter idiocy of this man, and his reckless irresponsibility. The President of the United States going on national television to jaw about this pandemic that has brought China and its economy to its knees, and now threatens the entire world, talking like he’s Cliff Claven at the bar in Cheers!

Where do you even start with what Trump said tonight? All the good work that the people in the executive branch below him are doing to fight this pandemic is completely overshadowed by this nitwit going on Hannity to say things that are not only untrue, but dangerously untrue. Listen to the clip — a simple recap can’t do it justice. The man just opens his mouth and foolishness falls out.

I agree with TAC’s Peter Van Buren that the media have not done well in their coverage, and have in some cases allowed anti-Trump bias to undermine their credibility. But the op-ed columnists at The New York Times did not make Donald Trump go on Hannity and say these stupid things.

It is the case that around 97 percent people recover from coronavirus, though a significant percentage of those will be very, very sick. And, as far as we know, most people have only mild symptoms. But this thing is so virulent contagious that tremendous numbers of people are getting infected. Even a one percent death rate, as Trump’s “hunch” claims, would make coronavirus many times more deadly than the seasonal flu. According to the Washington Post, the WHO number is 3.4 percent, based on Chinese numbers, but a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says it’s more like 1.4 percent. Even if the lower number is more accurate, that’s still vastly more deadly than the seasonal flu, the death rate of which is 0.1 percent.

This is one reason why the president is way off the mark saying coronavirus is about the like the regular flu. Here’s another:

And a Chinese scientific paper based on autopsies of coronavirus victims indicates that the disease can cause permanent scarring of the lungs, leaving even survivors with a lifetime of breathing difficulties.

I tell you a particular reason why this makes me so angry. My widowed mother is 76 years old, and has the kind of breathing difficulties you would expect from someone who has spent a lifetime smoking heavily. I’ve been trying my very best these last few days to get her to take the medical warnings seriously, to stock up on medicines and supplies, and to stop going out of the house unnecessarily, based on the CDC’s warnings to seniors. She’s trying to be a good soldier, but it’s all such an abstract threat to her, because the coronavirus hasn’t yet been officially found here in Louisiana. She said don’t worry, if she gets sick, she’ll just stay in bed and take ibuprofen. I’ve had to patiently explain that the coronavirus mortality rate for people in her age group is eight percent, and that given her age and diminished lung capacity, she would have a hell of a time fighting it (and she certainly wouldn’t do it alone; I would go up there and move in to care for her). There is no guarantee that if she needed the hospital, that there would be a bed available for her if she gets sick. Don’t risk going out, I’ve begged her. It’s just not worth it. Let me or a neighbor bring you anything you need, until the threat goes away.

Here’s the thing: she’s an avid Fox News watcher, and Trump supporter. When the President of the United States, a man she believes in, appearing on a Fox program, minimizes the seriousness of the threat, at best this is going to confuse her, and at worst it’s going to undo all the work I’ve been trying to do to protect her health. This is personal to me. I’m not all that worried about what happens to me if I get it. I’m not elderly, though I’m not young either, and I do have a somewhat compromised immune system, the legacy of a three-year battle with the Epstein-Barr virus. I’m worried about my mom, and my uncle, an aging shut-in with diabetes, which makes him more vulnerable to it. I worry about the older people at my church. They’re all the ones who are at much greater risk of dying from this thing. They’re the main reasons we all have to take this much more seriously than our president does.

Trump ought to shut his gob and let the scientists and competent public health authorities work. He’s making this worse. It is our curse to be led by such a fool in this crisis. My great fear about Trump was that he would face a war, and wouldn’t know how to handle it. I never imagined that his leadership would be tested by a global pandemic. Who could have guessed that as the crisis broke on our shores, the President of the United States would call in a Fox primetime show and start riffing on how scientists are saying one thing, but his “hunch” tells him that it’s not as bad as they say? Did you watch the HBO series Chernobyl? If it gets bad enough, this crisis could be Trump’s Chernobyl.  Look:

I urge you to read this incredible Wall Street Journal story about the courage and dedication of Chinese doctors, on the front line of this thing. What they have been going through, and are still going through, we are also going to have to deal with in some capacity. We hope and pray it won’t be as bad as it has been in China, but we just do not yet know what’s coming. This is the kind of heroism that will be expected of doctors, nurses, and health workers in this country and around the world now. Excerpts:

Around the world, doctors are being stretched to the limit. Short on supplies and sleep, they’re being asked to stop a global pandemic that no one fully understands. Adding to that strain, they’re risking their own health while they diagnose cases and attend to sick patients—along with the health of their spouses, children and other close family members.

With the virus now growing more quickly outside China than inside, it’s a problem other countries will increasingly face.

In China, more than 3,000 doctors have been infected, according to official data, and at least 22 have died. Some medical professionals believe the numbers are even higher, adding uncertainty for doctors elsewhere confronting the virus. Untold numbers of family members have fallen ill.

Chinese doctors are working shifts of 10 hours or more. Many stay in the same hazmat suits the entire time, without food, water or bathroom breaks. Disrobing to eat or go to the bathroom could risk exposure. Medical workers are requesting psychological help to try to deal with the stress.

The story of Dr. Zhang Xiaochun is one of the most stirring accounts of grace under pressure that I’ve read in ages. More:

One night, Dr. Zhang returned to her hotel carrying half a dozen lunch boxes for her colleagues. She says her back felt like it would split in two, and she had developed a persistent cough.

A hotel security guard checked Dr. Zhang’s temperature and asked her to log what time she entered the building. She had completely lost track of time.

“I’m fine,” she said, as the guard raised a thermometer to her forehead. It was normal.

“If we fail, what happens to you all?” she said, walking away.

Unless he manages to get control of himself, the American president’s contemptible, irresponsible behavior in this unfolding crisis will be held against him in November — and by history. If this pandemic hits us hard enough, even diehard religious conservatives like me who aren’t Trump fans, but who deeply fear what a Democratic president will mean for the judiciary, abortion and religious liberty, will find it impossible to support an administration led by such a spectacularly incompetent man. Sooner or later, even the most ardent supporters of the president will learn that coronavirus is a far greater threat, politically and otherwise, than Trump Derangement Syndrome. When Trump actually behaves like a deranged person — he went on national TV tonight and said that the global pandemic that has forced China to shut its economy down, and has caused Italy to shutter all schools, universities, and sports matches, is not such a big deal, and that Americans shouldn’t really worry about it — what do you call it then?

UPDATE:Piers Morgan writes:

‘Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,’ Trump tweeted last week, the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the spread of the virus was inevitable.

The CDC’s prediction sent the media into overdrive, which prompted Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, to say it was overreacting about coronavirus because ‘they think this is going to be what brings down the president’.

But ironically, it will be UNDER-reaction to coronavirus by the Trump administration that could bring down the president.

There’s a very fine line between cool, calm confidence in such situations and complacency – and right now, I fear President Trump is falling into a trap of his own making by underestimating the scale of what is going to come very soon.

More:

He’s consistently playing down the danger, boasting about how well he’s dealing with it, and even quibbling with his top medical experts over how long it will take to get a coronavirus vaccine – even as all the scientific evidence suggests America’s about to be engulfed with infections.

For now, U.S. authorities are playing a ‘wait-and-see’ game with the virus and avoiding taking any of the draconian action taken by the Chinese which included complete lockdowns of whole cities like Wuhan.

But that draconian action seems to have worked: China, and we shouldn’t necessarily take their word for this given how misleading they’ve been in the past about such viruses, is now saying that rates of infection in the country are falling.

If so, what is America waiting for?

And:

The consequences of inaction, and it’s hard not to suspect this is down to Trump not wanting to panic his beloved financial markets into utter meltdown, might end up being far more costly than the consequences of tough action.

If tens of thousands of Americans start dying from coronavirus, as seems more likely than not, and the economy continues to tank, then Trump will be blamed for not taking it seriously enough and that could prove to be a far greater threat to his chances of re-election than anything the Democrats, and their likely nominee Joe ‘Lazarus’ Biden, can throw at him over the next eight months.

Read it all. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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