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