The Pandemic and the Presidency

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• Topics: USA & World, Health & Home,

In early January 2018, Bill Clinton’s science adviser Neal F. Lane and I published a New York Times opinion column titled, “The President’s Disdain for Science,” which began, “Since World War II, no American president has shown greater disdain for science — or more lack of awareness of its likely costs.” That statement has proved prophetic. But we had little idea then of the horrendous human consequences of that disdain: the thousands of American lives lost and millions of livelihoods shattered.

Now the number of confirmed coronavirus cases exceeds seven million, or over 2 percent of the U.S. population. Deaths in the United States have passed 200,000, and total federal outlays — not including state and local costs — exceed $3 trillion. Over 14 million remain out of work despite a booming stock market. A large percentage of those dreadful numbers should be laid at this president’s feet.

The May 2018 dissolution of the National Security Council’s global health security team left the administration rudderless in confronting the coronavirus outbreak. And the flailing, chaotic U.S. response that has occurred since January has shown little respect for scientific expertise. In spite of including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci on it, politicians have dominated the White House Coronavirus Task Force from the outset. The consequences have been predictable.

As he has done at other U.S. agencies, the president has tried to gut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with budget cuts and a hiring freeze that left hundreds of positions vacant — many of which affected public health and infectious disease research. Exasperated scientists retired or departed for more rewarding work in academia and industry.

It is no wonder, then, that “the rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs [became] a fiasco because it contained a faulty reagent,” according to Science magazine. That unconscionable testing lapse, which took over a month to diagnose and rectify, cost thousands of American lives. And the once-vaunted U.S. public-health system has been playing catch-up ever since, while community spread of the new coronavirus became rampant in many locales.

Since March, when it sought scientific analyses of airborne coronavirus transmission, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been ominously silent — or perhaps silenced. From what I have learned, its director (and nominally the president’s science adviser) Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier has not been much of a factor in pandemic-response deliberations. The coronavirus task force, which included him only in early March, has been scrambling erratically about like a beheaded chicken, frantically seeking stopgap remedies.

“The FDA’s objectivity has been severely threatened.”

One idea the president touted, use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention and treatment, received emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), only to be withdrawn weeks later as countervailing scientific evidence mounted. Fortunately, the FDA declined to approve ingesting common disinfectants like bleach. More recently, the president has been trying to corrupt that agency’s science-based approval process for COVID-19 treatments and coronavirus vaccines. The FDA’s objectivity has been severely threatened.

But the most terrible impact of Trump’s gross mismanagement of the pandemic came this spring and summer, when he urged governors to reopen their states prematurely from their March lockdowns, in desperate hopes of restarting the U.S. economy and refloating his plunging re-election prospects. In what can only be called foolhardy, he at first tweeted that this could occur by Easter, April 12. And he ridiculed the wearing of masks in states that reopened early.

Despite almost unanimous warnings from epidemiologists and public-health officials against reopening prematurely, Republican governors of Arizona, Florida, Texas and other southern and western states followed the president’s ill-considered urgings in late April and early May, with disastrous results. Within weeks, COVID-19 cases surged back with a vengeance, followed by the inevitable summer surge (which we can call the “Trump Surge,” see graph) in hospitalizations and tens of thousands of additional, needless deaths.

Daily C-19 Cases.
Daily COVID-19 Cases for selected nations. Note US ‘Trump Surge’ in late July. Click to enlarge.

Comparisons of the U.S. pandemic performance with that of Germany are revealing. Led by Chancellor Angela Merkel — a quantum chemist by training — that nation has a robust public-health system with extensive testing and contact tracing, and nearly universal medical care. By mid-January it had developed and begun distributing one of the first novel coronavirus tests in the world.

Consequently, Germany has so far experienced just 113 deaths per million citizens, compared to more than five times that many in the United States. Had we had a similar death rate, we would have experienced just over 37,000 COVID-19 deaths instead of an official count over 201,000. The resulting 164,000 difference can be attributed to this administration’s omissions and failures.

A closer-to-home comparison, both culturally and geographically, is to Canada, which has so far experienced 246 COVID-19 deaths per million. Applied to the United States, that ratio translates to about 81,000 deaths, or 120,000 fewer than have perished here.

Cumulative C-19 deaths
Cumulative COVID-19 deaths for selected nations. Click to enlarge.

This is what should be called “American carnage.” Over a thousand of our fellow citizens per day were tragically dying from COVID-19 this summer — versus three to seven per day in Canada and Germany. “They are dying, that’s true,” Trump admitted in an August 3 Axios interview. “It is what it is.”

This is the callous response of a self-absorbed “leader” who cannot understand cause and effect — especially not when he is the principal cause. Instead, he wages an unending war on objective truth, trying to drown the U.S. public in confusion, as in a recent harsh attack on CDC Director Robert Redfield.

Through his actions and inactions, our self-exalted president can thus be legitimately deemed responsible for well over half of all U.S. coronavirus deaths. With just over 4 percent of the global population, the United States leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases and has suffered by far the most deaths due to the disease, more than 21 percent of the world’s total. For such an advanced, technologically sophisticated country, this dismal performance is a disgrace.

“It’s time to proclaim that our evidence-averse, wannabe emperor has no clothes.”

This is not just mismanagement; it is gross malfeasance. And after Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump recognized COVID-19’s severity in February, some would call it criminal negligence. The CEO of a publicly traded corporation performing so abominably would have been dispatched long ago. But nearly all Republican senators refused to do that when given the chance early this year.

So it is high time to proclaim that our evidence-averse, wannabe emperor has no clothes. His administration is undoubtedly responsible for over a hundred thousand U.S. deaths — more than occurred in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.

Our grieving nation desperately needs an intelligent, compassionate president and an administration that shows “fidelity to facts and logic” (to quote Barack Obama), in which science returns to its former place at the policymaking table. Until that happens, and we banish the current White House occupants, the nation will continue to suffer the appalling consequences of atrocious leadership.

References Cited

Neal F. Lane and Michael Riordan, “The President’s Disdain for Science,” New York Times (5 January 2018), p A27. Published online 4 January 2018.

Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker, “Coronavirus Pushes Trump to Rely on Experts He Has Long Maligned,” Washington Post (27 February 2020).

Jon Cohen, “The United States Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing — But Things May Soon Improve,” Science (28 February 2020).

Sheri Fink and Mike Baker, “Coronavirus May Have Spread in U.S. for Weeks, Gene Sequencing Suggests,” New York Times (1 March 2020).

Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2018).

The Editorial Board, “Politicizing Medical Science Will Cost American Lives,” New York Times (24 August 2020).

Michael D. Shear, et al., “Inside Trump’s Failure: The Rush to Abandon Leadership Role on the Virus,” New York Times (18 July 2020).

Mattathias Schwartz, “The Axios Interview Showed Us an Important Threshold for the President,” The New York Times Magazine (19 August 2020).

Other Good References

James Fallows, “The Three Weeks That Changed Everything,” The Atlantic (29 June 2018).

Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker, “The Real Threat to National Security: Deadly Disease,” New York Times (24 March 2017).

Ed Yong, “The Big Story: How the Virus Won,” The Atlantic (13 August 2020).

About Michael Riordan

Posting Citizen Journalist • Eastsound, WA • Member since Nov 25, 2016

Michael Riordan writes about science, technology and public policy from Orcas Island, where he lives and kayaks. He holds a PhD degree in physics from MIT, having worked on the [...]

Comments by Readers

John Servais

Sep 26, 2020

After sending out the email blast to our 500 free subscribers last night, this morning I start getting the private emails.  Ah yes, telling me how the article should not have been posted or what is wrong with it.  Happens often after posting articles.  Somehow they think I will be impressed with being told an article is “fake news” or that the writer left out some favorite trivia that makes the article bogus.  I’m not.  

The whole purpose of this site is to foster public dialog with writers and commenters using their own real names and all posts staying online and searchable.  Don’t write me - write to your fellow communkity members and citizens.  Share your harsh opinions with the public under your name.  I do.  

Draw up the courage to exercise your freedom of speech.  Say it in public.  It is so routine for me to get emails and private comments from folks in public - even phone calls - and not a single comment to an article.  Comon readers, Americans, citizens, you who are concerned about our country’s direction or our local governmental mismanagement - speak out.  Express your thoughts for all to know.  

 

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Michael Riordan

Sep 26, 2020

Sounds like the usual trolls I encounter on other sites, including the august Seattle Times. They crawl out from under their bridges and make ridiculous comments under assumed or fake names, not wanting to be identified with the content. One great attribute of Northwest Citizen is that you have to comment under your own name and take credit or blame for what you say, which tends to make comments and commenters more reasonable, based on logic and evidence rather than anger.

And speaking of evidence, I left out one important piece of data in my article. Duing the summer season, from June 1 to September 7, the United States experienced about 85,000 Covid-19 deaths versus 14,895 for the European Union, which has a population of 445 million—35% larger than the US. That’s a difference of about 70,000, despite our smaller population.

This is the Trump Surge. No other major industrialized country shows a similar summer surge in cases and deaths.

I rest my case. Reasonable comments invited.

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Elisabeth Britt

Sep 27, 2020

From the PEW Research Center: 

Pew Research link to an article about the % of Americans who see COVID-19 as a major threat to the health of the US Public. According to the enclosed data, Democrats are far more likely to see COVID-19 as a major health threat than Republicans.  

While this poll is just a snap shot in time, it appears that D’s see Covid-19 as a larger threat to public health than R’s. Regardless of your personal position on this issue, the truth is, only time will tell who is right and who is wrong. That said, certain states did experience an early summer surge in outbreaks, with very negative consequences and an accelerated loss of life.

I agree with John and Michael, the pursuit of transparent public discourse requires us to be brave enough to share our thoughts publicly with others. Sending private emails to the editor circumvents that process. Take the time to post your thoughts. Good public policy often begins with grassroots conversations. 

https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/ft_2020.07.22_covidthreat_01.png?w=620

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Michael Riordan

Sep 29, 2020

Recent polls have also shown that Democrats are much more likely to wear masks than Republicans, and to regard them as perhaps the best way to prevent spread of the coronavirus—along with physical distancing and washing hands, as the CDC has long been recommending. The effectiveness of wearing masks can be witnessed here in deep blue San Juan County where I live, which has a testing positivity rating (positive tests/total tests) of less than 1 percent, among the best in the state and nation. And despite a highly vulnerable population with a third of us (including Yours Truly) over age 65, we have had absolutely no deaths. This is a minor miracle! See my recent article in The Orcasonian:

https://theorcasonian.com/guest-opinion-we-dodged-a-big-bullet/

This suggests an important contributing factor to the tremendous Trump Surge seen in the first graph above: what I call the “toxic individualism” of a significant fraction of the US populace, perhaps over 40 percent and concentrated in Red States. Our wannabe emperor at first played to this audience in his pronouncements, urging his subjects to ignore the CDC’s masking recommendations, with obvious results including the steeply rising number of COVID-19 cases in June—many in Arizona, Texas and Florida. The curve began coming down later in the summer after their chastened Republican governors (such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott) relented, closed bars and restaurants, and urged citizens to wear masks.

Emperor Trump thus gives new meaning to the phrase “bully pulpit,” which used to imply that the US president generally enjoys the respect of a broad swath of the American public and can use that admiration to recommend behaviors and policies that might not otherwide be very popular. Most presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama did so with with good results.

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David A. Swanson

Oct 02, 2020

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono 

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Michael Riordan

Oct 05, 2020

Drump’s disdain for science and his flouting of mask wearing have now led directly to at least ten confirmed Covid-19 cases, in what some are beginning to call the White House Superspreader Event of Friday, 25 September 2020. That group includes himself and Melania, as well as Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Thom Thillis (R-NC), former NJ Governor Chris Christie, Kelly-Anne Conway, and Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, who were present that day at a Rose Garden Ceremony and White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett. It also likely includes Drump’s close adviser Hope Hicks and his campaign manager Bill Stepien. All these people tested positive for the virus last week, and three of them began to show symptoms. Despite extensive testing, albeit with an Abbot Laboratories rapid-testing system known for its inaccuracies, a contagious person obviously got into the ceremonies and infected at least seven people present—and probably many more we don’t know about. The number of Covid-19 cases that can be linked to this event now totals 14 and counting.

What’s more, given the coronavirus incubation period, it seems almost certain that Drump was contagious and spewing virons four days later at the first presidential debate on Tuesday evening, September 29, just two days before he began showing Covid-19 symptoms (or at least admitted to showing them). About ten feet away from his loud-mouthed adversary, a maskless Vice President Joe Biden was directly in the line of fire, as was debate moderator Chris Wallace. Drump even pulled a mask out of his pocket and mocked Biden for repeatedly wearing masks in public, an action that demonstrates that Biden follows the CDC recommendations that Drump ignores. And, in an egregious display of their disdain for science, Drump family members and friends present took off their masks after sitting down—in ostentious violation of the debate organizer’s strict audience rules.

In what might be called “poetic justice,” Drump has been languishing in Walter Reed Army Hospital since Friday afternoon, October 2, with a severe case of Covid-19, and his doctors have been throwing a “kitchen sink” of possible remedies at it. As of Sunday evening, October 4, Biden had been tested twice for the coronavirus, fortunately with negative results both times, and remains on the campaign trail, judiciously keeping his distance and wearing a mask.

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Ryan Knowlton

Oct 05, 2020

Want the simple truth about Covid-19 that no one wants to hear? It can’t be stopped minus a vaccine. It’s simply too contagious. Yes Trump was an idiot for not wearing a mask and touting the virus as a scam, but I distinctly remember Trump trying to shutter all incoming flights from China in late Februry and being called “Xenophobe and racist”, while Pelosi was saying “Chinatown is open, come on down”, and Cuomo was saying “come ride the subway” in NY. 

Social media posts leaked from China stated that they were forced to stay in their homes in lockdown “or else”. One family ate dogfood for 1-1/2 weeks until the government finally started setting up time slots for them to allow them out for 15 minutes a week to go get food rations. In a country of an authoritarian gov’t that owns and controls everything, it’s simple AND CHEAP to shut everything down, provide the people their bag of rice, and tell them to “stay home or else”. Is that how we all want to live until we have a vaccine? Here in the US, our freedom’s that make our country what it is are also our weaknesses when it comes to a pandemic. We can’t just shut everything down. No need to go further into the details and differences here. 

There is unprecidented finger pointing within our DIVIDED country regarding who has or hasn’t done what in response to Covid-19. Businesses have been ordered to close and ultimately failed, while others deemed “essential” have been the source of spread for the virus. When you ask those that have lost their financial livelihood, most would have rather taken their 3/1000 chance of dying from Covid-19 than being jobless and homeless. Those pointing fingers are merely fighting over the helm of the titanic while ignoring the iceberg right ahead. The blame for this rests on China, which I suspect purposely created and released the virus. Why? China has enjoyed bloating its wealth to the tune of $400-$700 BILLION EACH YEAR in trade surplus with the USA, and Trump’s policies aimed to put a huge dent in that. Similar to King Edwards call for his archers to fire on the men of both armies fighting in “Braveheart”, it’s plausible that China purposely released Covid-19. The intent? To financially cripple much of the world, at the mere cost of a few months of shutdown, rationing of a bare minimum of food stuffs, and the loss of some of their own citizens (of which Covid claims the lives mostly of those older and/or already health compromised which are seen as a negligible loss by the Chinese). And the perfect part, they can simply go “oops it came from a dirty meat market and was an accident, sorry”.  

Much of the media is under control of multinational corporations that have benefitted greatly from globalization and continue to push their narratives. Mexico’s richest man owns the majority of the NYT, for example. China also has HUGE monetary gains and liabilities to protect and is/will use their wealth anyway possible to keep it that way. Allowing those billions in trade surplus to continue, while quelling any mention or notion of reparations to the countries devastated by THEIR virus is priority #1. You know that if such a virus originated here in the US, we would have a line of foreign countries around the world with their hands out for trillions of dollars until our banks were empty and our printing presses overheated and broke. Yet, China seems to simply get a “pass” on this…...  

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Michael Riordan

Oct 06, 2020

As the horrific coronavirus pandemic grinds relentlessly onward, with US deaths now exceeding 210,000 according to the Johns Hopkins database, the GOP is emerging as what long-time Republican strategist Edward J. Rollins dubbed “the stupid party.” He was recently quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “There was a panic before this [pandemic] started, but now we’re sort of the stupid party.”

July NWC columns by David Swanson and Eric Tyberg make a revealing point, focusing on the numbers of coronavirus cases in Republican versus Democratic counties and states—for example, in their  “Is ‘Being a Republican’ a Risk to One’s Health and the Health of Others?” As I mentioned in my article above, it was Red States led by Republican governors like Arizona, Florida and Texas that cravenly followed Drump’s reckless urgings to reopen prematurely (without a corresponding mandate to wear masks) that led the way into the devastating Trump Surge of summertime cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And now it’s Red States across the northern Great Plains—for example, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota—that are experiencing the worst surges as we head into the fall.

The September 25 Rose Garden Ceremony announcing Drump’s nomination of Amy Comey Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg provides another glaring example. Over 200 enthusiastic, influential Republicans attended this event, intended to celebrate their impending dominance of the Court, but only a few of them were wearing masks in the photos. No doubt they had been lulled by the negative results of coronavirus tests done with the rapid-testing systems in use at the White House. But these tests are notoriously inaccurate, with substantial false positives and false negatives. Someone contagious obviously slipped through the flimsy net and probably infected at least 11 others present, including the president and two GOP senators (and likely many others). Another dozen or so cases can now be linked to this outbreak, which some have begun to call the White House Superspreader Event.

And who knows how many others will evenutally be infected? The White House has insisted on doing its own contact-tracing, rejecting help from the far-more capable and experienced CDC, while narrowing the pool of possible suspects to those who came in contact with Drump (and other infecteds like Hope Hicks) two days or fewer before he tested positive on Thursday evening, October 1. That dramatically limits the pool and ensures that many virus carriers will be overlooked, allowing them to carry it back into far-flung communities across America.

As can be seen in the first graph above, we are now headed into another, fall surge like that occuring in the European Union. Republicans will probably again dominate the growing numbers of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Maybe a perverse version of natural selection is subtly at work here.

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David A. Swanson

Oct 06, 2020

Nice summary in the preceding comment. What goes around, comes around.

To paraphrase my earlier comment,  “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, ” the life of our land, may indeed, finally be preserved through righousness, rather than the social, moral and political blasphemy of Donald Trump and his republican enablers.

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Larry Horowitz

Oct 06, 2020

 

 

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Larry Horowitz

Oct 08, 2020

Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, a German attorney also licensed in California, has formed a Corona Investigative Committee with three other attorneys and is pursuing a class-action lawsuit against those who used inappropriate testing to engineer a fraudulent pandemic and establish damaging lockdowns.

Dr. Fuellmich’s 49-minute eye-opening Crimes Against Humanity video is not suitable for those with short attention spans, but interesting nonetheless. Within the video, Dr. Fuellmich refers to Dr. Michael Yeadon’s 9/20/20 article Lies, Damned Lies and Health Statistics - the Deadly Danger of False Positives, which addresses the problems with the COVID-19 PCR test. Dr. Yeadon is a retired Pfizer exec.

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