That was President Trump’s contribution on Thursday to the portfolio of misinformation, quackery and jaw-dropping ignorance he has shared with the American people during the coronavirus pandemic.
But there was more. “I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way you can apply light and heat to cure. You know? If you could,” Trump said to Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator. “And maybe you can, maybe you can’t . . . I’m not a doctor.” Birx, blinking so nervously one would have thought she was transmitting Morse code (“Get me out of here!”), looked like she wanted to disappear into the folds of her silk scarf. She managed to say with a straight face that, no, that would not be a treatment. Medical doctors were compelled to warn people not to ingest poisonous chemicals; the makers of Lysol felt obliged to say “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”
We can laugh (uproariously) about Trump’s ignorance and inanity, but like his hawking of hydroxychloroquine — which induced hoarding of medication needed by patients with other diseases (and perhaps others to harm themselves) — this is one more instance in which concern for public safety should spur news networks to discontinue live coverage of the daily briefings. Like a con man peddling patent medicine, Trump dispenses false hope and crackpot remedies, thereby promoting disdain for scientific inquiry and valid research. Once more, one is compelled not only to shudder that such an intellectually unfit man could be president but that legions of right-wing hucksters and sycophants could regularly contort themselves not merely to defend his blabbering but also to lionize him.
It is little wonder that only 23 percent of Americans, according to the latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, have a high level of trust in what Trump says. (Some of us find it disturbing the number is that high, although the poll was taken before his latest quackery.) Sixty percent of the country thinks Trump does not listen enough to medical experts. (A poll of his medical experts surely would show unanimity on that point.)
In case you wondered whether Trump’s soft spot for crank potions and cures matters, Rick Bright, the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who was removed from his post this week, is filing a whistleblower claim. The Post reports on Bright’s lawyers’ statement: “In our filing, we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only — because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly.”
In other words, a respected scientist performing valuable duties in the interest of public safety was removed because he refused to go along with Trump’s unapproved and potentially dangerous prescription. That not only deprives the American people of a skilled scientist at a time they need the best minds working on the coronavirus; it also inhibits truth-telling and promotes dangerous sycophancy. Less remarked upon but also preposterous, Trump falsely insisted we are close to a vaccine — only to contradict himself seconds later — and then publicly disagree (absent any basis in fact) with Anthony S. Fauci’s assessment that we are not as far ahead on testing as we should be.
Instead of amplifying Trump’s disinformation and misinforming the public about a life-threatening pandemic, the media should report only after the briefings on any actual news and on the list of untruths Trump uttered. Frankly, by not showing these fiascoes live, the media would be doing the science-addled president a favor. They surely would be performing a public safety function.