Opinion

From the Coronavirus to the Climate Crisis: The Triumph of Spin over Science

By March 17, 2020 No Comments
Donald Trump Pittsburgh

Donald Trump (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

By: Larry Schweiger

As schools close, sporting and civic events cancel, and large gatherings are now banned, it is hard to be sanguine about prospects of halting the spread of COVID-19 with a President who once famously bragged, “I alone can fix it.” Millions of Trumpsters still believe he can.

We are dealing with a pandemic amplified by the Trump effect. By calling the coronavirus a “Democratic hoax” in a recent rally, Trump issued one of his many dangerous lies. Many Americans feeding on fake news are still making dangerous decisions that threaten to increase the spread. Jerry Falwell Jr. for example, is defying the Virginia Governor’s recommendation to close Liberty University, and suggested, “the hype in the press surrounding the coronavirus pandemic could be a politically motivated attack against President Donald Trump.” https://www.newsadvance.com/news/local/falwell-liberty-university-will-resume-in-person-classes-after-spring/article_5bc5eed6-8c50-5973-bd09-4b2fb90a94b5.html Liberty students are now circulating a petition to have Falwell reverse his decision.

America has been flying blind since mid-January with a massive testing failure that should never have happened. The lack of testing has created confusion, and doubt on a grand scale that allowed the virus to spread mostly undetected. Trump’s nationalism in a globalized world is out of step with reality. On January 11th, Chinese scientists did the right thing when they posted the genome of the Covid-19 virus. Within a week, German virologists produced the first diagnostic test, and others soon followed. By the end of February, the World Health Organization had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries. Still, the Trump administration inexplicably rejected this generous offer. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/06/coronavirus-testing-failure-123166

In a tweet, Trump blamed Obama and CDC for these failures. Trump had three years to do the right thing. Instead, he cut CDC’s budget, shut down the international pandemic response team, fractured relationships with our allies, and he froze CDC’s hiring. Unbelievably, Trump is still asking Congress to cut the CDC’s budget in his pending budget proposal. The Attorney General’s office is in court attempting to kill the Affordable Health Care Act, stripping vital insurance from millions and ending protections against preexisting conditions, etc. Donald Verrilli, a lawyer for the Democratic-led House, is challenging Trump’s efforts. He said in a filing before the Supreme Court that the Affordable Care Act is a “fixture of the American health-care system.” He urged the justices to review the “remarkable” lower court decision that “threatens profound destabilization of the health care system.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/03/politics/texas-republicans-trump-obamacare-supreme-court/index.html

While he attacks, ignores, and profoundly contradicts Federal scientists, Trump fires those who dare to speak the truth, and he suppresses verifiable facts from critical agencies. Trump has long denied the science of climate change. He has been systematically hollowing out critical Federal agencies and functions, including at EPA, the Bureau of Land Management, and the CDC, that provide sound science and hard evidence that contradicts his narcissistic prism and bad decisions. Heck, on his first day on the job, he played the “who are you going to believe your President, or your lying eyes?” with his inauguration crowd size. While this lie was not dangerous, it was a clear warning of Trump’s alternative universe.

  • When the National Institute of Food and Agriculture scientists and economists warned of growing climate impacts on our food production, Trump retaliated by transferring them from Washington DC to Kansas City, driving out about 70 percent of the employees who refused to move.  Rebecca Boehm speaking for the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Moving these researchers out of Washington puts them out of earshot from policymakers. A lot of the research that scientists and economists do has policy implications, and members of Congress need this information and need to have face-to-face meetings with these researchers.” https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/453193-scientists-flee-usda-as-research-agencies-move-to-kansas-city-area

Unlike Truman’s “The buck stops here” desk reminder, on the COVID-19 testing failure, Trump claimed, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Consider just a few of a sobering string of Trump’s misstatements and falsehoods.

From January 22 to date, here are only a few of his claims in chronological order, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine,” In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine. The 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. We’re going very substantially down, not up. One day, it’s like a miracle; it will disappear.”

“If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better.” A day later, “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work.”

“Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. And the tests are beautiful; the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good.”

“I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

“I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus.”

“This blindsided the world. “It goes away; it’s going away. We want it to go away with very, very few deaths.” “Biggest stock market rise in history yesterday.”

Trump’s bewildering word salad of lies counter the sound messages that health professionals have been offering. He and Pence have both been anti-science, and we are learning the hard way that we need to rely on science more than ever. Long before Trump’s presidency, far too many conservatives were challenging science over the teaching of evolution and they embraced the disinformation about climate change.

Perhaps this debacle will be a potent reminder of why we must once again embrace science over politics. According to Dr. Julie Snow, Professor, Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment at Slippery Rock University, “During a time of uncertainty, leaders and advisors need to make decisions based on science. The scientific process was developed to produce accurate results with a known range of outcomes; it provides the best possible information to produce the best possible decisions. Trusting other sources of information impedes decision making and sends leaders and advisors down potentially dangerous roads.”

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