The Perils of a Know-It-All President

President Donald Trump is a self-described “very stable genius” with “a very, very large, uh, brain,” and he knows more than anybody about many things, but we’ll not be looking to him for medical advice. During Thursday’s press briefing he urged the government’s top experts to explore the possibility of treating COVID-19 by injecting patients with disinfectants and shoving ultraviolet lights inside their bodies.
The remarks came after William Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told the assembled press corps how government research had found that sunlight and disinfectants can kill the coronavirus on surfaces in a little as 30 seconds. Clearly excited by the news, Trump took the podium to say “Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.” After getting a seemingly reluctant nod from Bryan, Trump went on to say “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that injection, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
The videotape clearly shows Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, with a rather inscrutable look on her face. When she took to the podium she said, in carefully chosen words, that Trump’s suggestion was not a promising avenue of research. “Not as a treatment,” she said. “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as, I have not seen heat or…” At which point Trump cut her off, saying “I think that’s a great thing to look at, I mean you know, OK?”
We’re piling on the huge heap of ridicule Trump has endured partly for the fun of it, but also because Trump’s worrisome tendency toward wishful thinking and pseudo-scientific hunches have impeded his response to the coronavirus crisis. He delayed a coordinate effort to secure and family distribute medical equipment for weeks he spent assuring the public that it would all go away with the warmth of April and one day miraculously disappear, and continues to resist calls for testing on a per-capita scale that more than 20 other countries have already achieved. On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control Trump boasted that all the doctors were in awe of his scientific knowledge of virology and epidemiology, although he also admitted he’d been surprised to recently learn that the seasonal flu can be deadly, and it does not bode well that he clearly believes he knows more than anybody about almost everything.
Trump has lately abandoned his advocacy of hydroxychloroquine as the miracle cure for COVID-19, after three recent studies from three countries indicate it is not an effective treatment and can have deadly consequences, but he’s still urging his scientists to pursue time-wasting research and resisting calls for the widespread testing that might reveal some numbers Trump does not want to hear. The daily press briefings are intended to reassure a frightened American public that the nation’s best and brightest are on the job, and on a day when the national death toll surpassed 50,000 and the unemployment rate hit Great Depression levels Thursday’s performance was counter-productive.

— Bud Norman

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