Better Not to Know

President Donald Trump made another trip to a swing state factory that manufactures face masks on Thursday, once again declining to wear a face mask, and as usual he said some interesting things to the assembled media. He continued to brag about all the coronavirus testing that’s going on, but also said that testing “might be overrated, it is overrated,” and then mused it could even be the reason the United States has so many coronavirus cases.
“And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said. “When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
Which leads us to wonder why Trump is so often exaggerating the amount of testing that’s going on. If we weren’t doing any testing at all, Trump’s reasoning suggests, we wouldn’t have any cases at all and everyone could go back to work and resume drinking in crowded bars and the economy would again be robust by Election Day
Although don’t have any more medical credentials than Trump, we think it possible that we’d still have many hundreds of thousands of coronavirus causes but not know about it. That might suit Trump’s political purposes, for now, but eventually everyone in the country will know someone in increasing pile of corpses, and in the long run he’d be better off finding to actually stop coronavirus infections.
To do that Trump will need the help of the most excellent medically credentialed people in government and academia and the private sector, but they keep saying gloomy things that don’t jibe with Trump’s upbeat rhetoric. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s most respected infectious disease expert since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told a Senate committee this week that schools might not be able to open in the fall, and Trump told the press “That is not an acceptable answer.” On Thursday Dr. Rick Bright, until recently in charge of the government’s effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, criticized Trump’s response to the coronavirus before a Senate committee, warning of the “darkest winter and quoted another official saying “We’re in deep shit,” so Trump dismissed him as somebody he never even met but heard bad things about and a “disgruntled employee” bent on revenge for a well-earned demotion.
Somehow we are not reassured that the president didn’t know the man he had in charge of finding a vaccine for America’s greatest public health problem in more than a century, or that he demoted him based on what he’d heard from some people. Bright was demoted after publicly disagreeing with Trump’s endorsement of hydrochloroquine as a cure for coronavirus, which Trump and his media allies touted until studies came in showing it does more harm than good, and hydroxychloroquine faded from the news, at one point supplanted by Trump’s suggestion that infections of household disinfectants might work on coronavirus patients, but Trump was back sticking to his claims on Thursday.
At this point, we’re inclined to stop the reading the news. If we did, perhaps our president wouldn’t be saying and doing such stupid things.

— Bud Norman

Who to Believe? The So-Called “Experts” or What Some People are Saying?

To hear the government’s top experts tell it, the coronavirus crisis is very dire and likely to get worse if states prematurely lift restrictions on businesses and public gatherings and reopen schools.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, via a video link due to his possible exposure to the coronavirus inside the White House, and warned that it might not be safe to open schools next fall. On the same day Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, made the same warnings. Dr. Rick Bright, until recently the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development in charging of finding a coronavirus vaccine, previewed his testimony on Thursday with a written statement warning that due to a lack of needed testing and tracing efforts a premature reopening could result in “the darkest winter in modern history.”
Which is why President Donald Trump and his spokespeople at Fox News and on talk radio would prefer you not listen to the experts, and instead hear their happy talk about a quick end to the epidemic and a rapid economic rebound in time for Election Day.
Trump told reporters he was surprised by Fauci’s answer to a question about reopening, and that “To me that is not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.” He went on to say that Fauci “wants to play both sides of the issue,” then predicting in the same run-on sentence that next year’s economy will be “phenomenal.” Redfield somehow escaped similar criticism, even through Trump and his spokespeople have been plenty critical of the CDC for allegedly over counting the coronavirus death toll. Bright was recently demoted from his job leading the government’s efforts to find a vaccine for coronavirus, so Trump dismissed him as a “disgruntled employee.”
None of which is quite convincing. Presidents probably shouldn’t find expert opinion unacceptable just because it’s bad news, and we have no idea what Trump means when he says Fauci “wants to play both sides of the issue.” Trump has been touting the extraordinary measures he’s taken against the epidemic but also insisting that it’s not really such a big deal and that states should defy his administration’s guidelines, while insisting he has “total authority” over the states’ restrictions but that it’s up to the governors and “I take no responsibility at all.” That’s what we call playing both sides of an issue.
The CDC can be justly criticized for a slow response to the crisis, but that might well be because its leadership was afraid of offending Trump, who was bragging that the coronavirus was contained and that cases would soon be down to zero and that the stock markets shouldn’t be spooked. Since then the Trump administration has been refusing to release more dire CDC reports, and was probably furious about the leaking of a White House task force report finding an astounding 1,000 percent — that’s right, 1,000 percent –increase in infections in the rural areas of rural states where Trump still enjoys political support. Bright was demoted after he publicly demoted after he disagreed with Trump’s endorsement of hydrochloroquine as a miracle, and subsequent studies have vindicated his judgment, so we can’t blame him for being a disgruntled employee, and don’t worry that he’s lying before Congress to exact his revenge.
These guys all have excellent academic credentials, and have been rewarded for good work by steady promotions to the top of their profession during decades of Republican and Democratic administrations alike, with Fauci’s distinguished career going all the way back to the good old days of President Ronald Reagan, and they seem unlikely conspirators in a conspiracy to prevent America from being great again. Trump’s scientific credentials are an uncle who was a professor of physics at the Massachussets Institute of Technology and as a genetic result he has “a very big, uh, brain” and how he wowed all the doctors at the CDC were by how much he knew about virology and epidemiology, and what some people say about his very stable genius, but he also went on live television and urged the government’s scientists to investigate the possibility of injecting household disinfectants into the human body.
So far all the public opinion polls show that a vast majority of the public is more inclined to believe the so-called experts than Trump, but that the Republican portion of the populace is increasingly siding with Trump. We attribute this partly to the normal human aversion to bad news, but also a populist resentment of pointy-headed government officials telling thrm what to do, and mostly to the average Republican’s blind faith in whatever narrative is most helpful to Trump’s political fortunes. No matter what happens during Trump’s time in office, even in the bleakest scenarios, they’ll always have someone else to blame.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but we expect to be hunkering down for at least a few more months of the unbearable status quo, and aren’t counting on it all magically going away in time for school and Trump’s reelection. Our many Republicans friends are entitled to differ, and to act accordingly, but we’d advise them not to be over-confident.

— Bud Norman

Hunkering Down for the Long Haul

As if an Easter spent alone wasn’t depressing enough, the weather around here was awful. A bitter cold wind was shaking all the trees, the sky was a gloomy gray, and for a short while there was even snow. No one is more eager than we are end the shutdown of public life, but we hope it doesn’t so soon that it causes more deaths.
President Donald Trump had expressed a hope that the churches would be packed on Easter and the country would be “raring to go” by today, but of course that didn’t happen. Now Trump is hoping to reopen the country on May Day, but the same experts who talked him out of the Easter reopening are warning that date might also be premature. The shutdown has slowed the spread of the coronavirus, but it hasn’t yet stopped it, and that might well take a frustrating amount of time.
The impulse to hurry the reopening of the country is understandable, given the catastrophic damage the shutdown has done to the economy and the psychological toll it is taking on many Americans. Trump is eager to win reelection, and he’s right to note that voters are more likely to know one of the 17 million Americans who have lost their jobs than one of the more than 22,000 Americans who have died of coronavirus or even the half-million who have been sickened by it.
Many of Trump’s most outspoken supporters have taken to criticizing the medical experts who are urging caution, especially Dr. Anthony Fauci, but recent polling suggests the public has more faith in experts in general and Fauci in particular than it does in Trump. Fauci has recently become more outspoken about his differences of opinion with Trump, which will no doubt escalate the attacks on him, but Trump will likely have to put up with it for a while, as firing Fauci would be disastrous to his reelection chances.
The country is eager to get back to business, but it seems a majority don’t want that to happen until it be done without getting someone they killed. If Trump can get more people tested and hospitals better equipped to deal with the current crisis the happy day that’s clear might come sooner rather than later, but until then most Americans will endure hardships rather than sacrifice their own lives or those of their fellow citizens.
As hard as it is, which is damned hard, that’s where we’re at.

— Bud Norman

Saving Dr. Fauci

In one of the many depressing stories about the coronavirus, we read that Dr. Anthony Fauci now requires an enhanced security detail due to several death threats against him. As the government’s top expert on infectious is perhaps America’s most essential worker at the moment, but his willingness to present hard facts and occasionally contradict President Donald Trump’s statements seems to have some provoked a murderous rage in some deranged individuals.
They’ve been encouraged by some of the Trump-friendly media, who believe that the measures Fauci has advocated to fight the coronavirus outbreak cause harm to the economy that outweighs the number of lives they might save. They also believe that Fauci isn’t helping to get Trump reelected, and that also outweighs the number of lives that might saved.
The cache of e-mails that were hacked from the Democratic National Committee and leaked to the public during the last election included a missive from Fauci praising Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and although Fauci has served every administration since President Ronald Reagan brought him on board that was enough for internet publications such as Gateway Pundit and American Thinker to tar him as a Hillary-loving partisan. His long and distinguished career as a public servant are considered suspect in certain circles, as it suggests he part of the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump and everything good. When Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department” during a press briefing Fauci could be seen slapping his forehead, and that was proof of his complicity to a number of viewers.
The Trump-friendly made a general distrust of scientific experts, as well, as they’re seen as pointy-headed know-it-all “elites” undermining democracy. As recently as last week radio-talker Rush Limbaugh was advising his listeners that “the ‘deep state’ extends very deeply, we did not elect a bunch of health experts that we don’t know. We didn’t elect a president to defer to a bunch of health experts that we don’t know.”
Trump has lately begun striking the same somber tone and citing the same grim projections as Fauci, though, and seems to be taking Fauci’s advice more seriously than he does Limbaugh’s. We hope the Trump-friendly media will lighten up, and that Fauci survives not only the coronavirus but also the result craziness.

— Bud Norman