Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. “A Blessing from God”
For another politician, contracting COVID-19 might be a humbling moment, a prompt to take the disease more seriously, show gratitude for having survived it, and maybe show a little empathy for those who have suffered worse than he has.
For Donald Trump, it merely spiraled him up into a more extravagant display of megalomania.
He apparently had a mild case, which only kept him in the hospital for a few days, and since then he has been pumped up with a therapeutic steroid whose side effects include a sense of manic euphoria that makes you feel invincible. So naturally Trump concluded that defeating the virus shows how incredibly awesome he is, and he felt the need to announce this to the world: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You can beat it…. Don’t let it dominate—don’t let it take over your lives.”
The reason this is so fantastically off-putting is that it implies that the 210,000 people who died from this illness were weak-willed and “let” coronavirus “dominate” them. What a bunch of losers.
In fact, Trump did not survive this because he was strong-willed and dominant. He survived it because he was lucky, and also because the odds were generally in his favor. This is not the bubonic plague; the majority of people who get coronavirus survive, and you have to be a bit older and sicklier than Trump for the odds to really start shifting against you.
I need to stress, because there has been a concerted attempt to confuse the issue, that this does not mean the disease is not serious. Yes, the mortality rate has been at about one half of one percent and is trending downward over time as physicians figure out more effective therapies. But if you multiply a half of a percent by 330 million Americans, you get a very large number of deaths.
What I also noticed was a peculiar verbal tic that explains a lot about Trump’s second-handed thought process. Here’s how he explained why he felt the need, in the middle of his hospital stay, to take a car ride to display himself to the public: “I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did.” This put me in mind of Margaret Thatcher’s quip: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” The same goes for being a leader
But the phrasing that is distinctive to Trump is when he says “nobody that’s a leader would not do” something. He does not look out at the world, as an actual leader does, and ask, “What is the right thing to do right now?” He looks at some internal model he has in his head of what a “leader” looks and acts like—it seems to involve a lot of squinting like Clint Eastwood—and then mimicking that.
If this message was too subtle, Trump expanded on it with a second video in which he touted his treatments and proclaimed them to be a “cure” for coronavirus.
These, I view these—you know, they call them therapeutic, but to me, it wasn’t therapeutic, it just made me better, OK, I call that a cure
Not only that, but this is a cure for which he can claim credit.
But we did it, nobody else—nobody else would have been able to do it…. No president’s ever pushed them [the FDA] like I pushed them.
Better yet, he implied that his own personal experience with beating coronavirus was the breakthrough that showed the way for a miracle cure.
I think it was a blessing from God that I caught it…. I caught it, I heard about this drug, I said let me take it—it was my suggestion—I said let me take it, and it was incredible the way it worked, incredible. And I think if we didn’t catch it, we would be looking at that like a number of other drugs. But it really did a fantastic job. I want to get for you what I got.
Moreover, it is only the machinations of Trump’s political enemies that are preventing the immediate availability of a COVID vaccine.
We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly. I think we should have it before the election, but frankly, the politics gets involved…. They want to play their games.
As for all of the people who have died from coronavirus—well, “This was China’s fault. And just remember that.”
You can see why Donald Trump would want to believe all of these statements. He got COVID and didn’t die, so therefore the disease is cured and it’s all because of him.
When we enter Trump’s brain, we enter a maelstrom of half-understood and never-understood facts, so let me take all of these claims one by one.
There is an important technical difference between a “therapy” or “treatment” and a “cure.” A therapy mitigates the effect of a disease, but partially and not in all cases, often varying depending on the individual and the particulars of his case. That has been true so far for most treatments for COVID-19: They improve outcomes by some measurable percentage, but not completely and in all cases, which is what the word “cure” implies.
Then there is Trump’s fascination with the idea that since one particular drug made him feel so much better, it will work on everybody. The scientific method, however, does not act by collecting personal anecdotes. It acts by measuring the results of a therapy on many different people, recognizing that one person’s experience may not reflect a universal pattern.
(Update: Trump was back again today hawking his miracle cure to seniors. Bear in mind that thousands more people, probably tens of thousands, are still going to die after all this talk of a “cure.”)
As for vaccines being held back by politics, they are actually being held back by the need for clinical trials to determine their safety and effectiveness, a process that unavoidably takes time and cannot be rushed. Why is this important? A vaccine that proves ineffective will give people a false sense of security, leading them to expose themselves to the virus, while a vaccine with a serious side effect could cause as much damage as the disease it is intended to prevent.
That leads us to his claim about pushing the FDA. In fact, it is the Trump administration that just backed down and accepted the FDA’s rules for authorizing vaccines, after trying to undermine them. And it was Trump who was playing political games with those rules by sniping on Twitter against the FDA commissioner that he appointed.
Finally, China is certainly responsible for covering up the severity of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. But every country has had to deal with the disease since then, and many of them have done a much better job of it. South Korea set the example for the world, recording its first case on the same day as the United States, but limiting its cases to fewer than 25,000 total and fewer than 450 deaths. South Korea is about one-sixth the size of the US, so even adjusting for population, their coronavirus outbreak is a tiny fraction of the size of ours.
In fact, some have noted that the White House alone has just experienced a larger coronavirus outbreak than many other countries.
2. The Republican Party Decapitates Itself
The White House outbreak has so far affected not just the president and his wife, but his campaign manager (Bill Stepien), his press secretary (Kayleigh McEnany), two of his top advisors (including Stephen Miller, the man widely suspected of crafting most of Trump’s actual policies), the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (Ronna McDaniel), at least two of the people who assisted in his debate preparation (Kellyanne Conway and Chris Christie), and three Republican senators, one of whom is currently up for re-election, with control over the Senate in the balance.
The total number of infections tied to a White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is tallied at 34. It is a classic superspreader event.
With a month left in the election, the Republican Party has effectively decapitated itself, knocking a whole set of top-level political figures temporarily out of commission as they enter the final stretch. And it was all predictable.
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