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Home/Daniel Larison/Trump Betrays the Public with Coronavirus Misinformation

Trump Betrays the Public with Coronavirus Misinformation

Rod Dreher is appropriately appalled by Trump’s recklessness in spreading misinformation about coronavirus on national television:

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.

The president’s willful ignorance and incompetence are not news, but his terrible handling of the coronavirus outbreak has thrown his dangerous unfitness for office into stark relief. Responding effectively to an outbreak like this requires leaders that are transparent, honest, and willing to respect and follow the advice of trained experts, and Trump is none of those things. Worse, he insists on a culture of toadyism and flattery from everyone that works for him, and that creates incentives for his subordinates to put a positive, Trump-pleasing spin on everything they say no matter what the facts are. Trump spreads misinformation about the virus to offer people a false sense of security because he fears the effect that the outbreak will have on his political fortunes. Even when there is a public health crisis, the president remains concerned primarily about what it means for him. Perversely, by trying to minimize the seriousness of the outbreak, the president makes it more likely that it will be worse than it had to be. When he encourages the people that trust him to behave irresponsibly and put themselves and others at risk, he is betraying them, and he sabotages the efforts of his own officials to limit the spread of the virus.

Dreher talks about why he’s worried for his mother:

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.

When Trump says that he thinks the fatality rate from coronavirus is “way under one percent,” he is either stubbornly resistant to what experts have been telling him or he is lying because a lower fatality rate is less alarming and therefore more politically convenient. The fatality rate from the virus definitely isn’t “way under one percent.” Justin Fox discusses this in an article today:

The Covid-19 rate is obviously a moving target, so I’ve included both the 3.4% worldwide mortality rate reported this week by the World Health Organization and the 1% estimate from a study released Feb. 10 by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London that factored in probable unreported cases. The authors of that study also said that, given the information available at the time, they were 95% confident the correct fatality rate was somewhere between 0.5% and 4%. Gates used the 1% estimate in his article, and when I ran it by Caroline Buckee, an actual professional epidemiologist who is a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, she termed it “reasonable.”

In a context that includes Ebola and MERS, the Covid-19 death rates are much closer to those of the flu, and it’s understandable why people find the comparison reassuring. Compare Covid-19 with just the flu, though, and it becomes clear how different they are [bold mine-DL].

The 61,099 flu-related deaths in the U.S. during the severe flu season of 2017-2018 amounted to 0.14% of the estimated 44.8 million cases of influenza-like illness. There were also an estimated flu-related 808,129 hospitalizations, for a rate of 1.8%. Assume a Covid-19 outbreak of similar size in the U.S., multiply the death and hospitalization estimates by five or 10, and you get some really scary numbers: 300,000 to 600,000 deaths, and 4 million to 8 million hospitalizations in a country that has 924,107 staffed hospital beds. Multiply by 40 and, well, forget about it.

The president is evidently incapable of putting the public interest ahead of his own narrow, personal interests, and the coronavirus outbreak is showing us just how dangerous it can be to have such a reckless and self-serving president. The slow, inadequate government response to the outbreak has already allowed the virus to spread undetected for many weeks, and that poor response is being made worse by the president’s irresponsible attempts to downplay the seriousness of the situation. Americans should have a president more concerned with protecting our health and safety than he is with burnishing his own image, and right now we don’t have that.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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