Ignorance and Disinformation
(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)
As long as he’s been president political observers have wondered how Trump would function in a crisis situation. There were some opportunities to observe him in international conflicts, but he fell in love with Kim Jong-un and backed away from a military confrontation with Iran, with the latter making more sense than the former. Now there is the corona-virus crisis, and the nation has a front row seat to watch the president rise to the occasion. Initially Trump called COVID-19 ‘a new hoax,’ of which the purpose was to bring the president down, and spoke of the ‘great job’ his government had done preparing for all eventualities. It soon turned out, however, that that job had consisted of cutting 80% of the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for a global disease outbreak and shutting down the global health security unit of the National Security Council. Then Trump suggested that the virus might ‘miraculously’ disappear, but just in case it wouldn’t he put vice president Pence in charge of managing the government’s response. Pence immediately told the CDC to stop issuing statements and pulled Dr. Anthony Fauci, its utmost expert, off the Sunday morning shows.
The message Pence sent to the CDC was essentially ‘stop informing the public,’ but because of the world-wide spreading of the virus the White House could not remain silent, and since neither Trump nor Pence had anything sensible to say about the threat to the health of the US population it was inevitable that Fauci would re-emerge as a spokesperson. What followed were bizarre moments, for instance when Fauci, flanked by the president and his VP, used the word ‘pandemic,’ and you could see Trump think ‘there goes the stock market’ while his face turned from orange to red and he was clearly enraged. At another occasion Trump, again more concerned about the markets than anything else, tried to assure the American people that there would be a vaccine ‘relatively soon,’ followed by Fauci’s explaining the process of developing a vaccine and estimating that it would take a year to a year and a half before a vaccine would be available. That was after a meeting with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry where the president first made clear that he didn’t know what a vaccine is and then asked if the flu vaccine would work in this case.
Trump preferably surrounds himself with staffers like his new National Security Advisor who don’t know much about the area they’re responsible for, which allows him to ramble without being contradicted, and he is therefore very uncomfortable in meetings with people who actually know what they’re talking about. True to form he shared with representatives of the airline industry his optimistic view that Americans would fly less and stay in the country more to go shopping here and not elsewhere, probably making his audience worry about their own stock options.
The biggest blunder made so far was the administration’s initial inability to produce a diagnostic test kit for the virus, which put the US far behind other countries. The CDC botched its first attempt to produce a reliable kit, and today it was announced that the deadline for its production would not be met. According to Trump a decision by Barack Obama had delayed the approval of tests by the Food & Drug Administration, but health experts have no idea what that decision might have been.
Meanwhile the president’s attempts to misinform the public continue. Last night on ‘Hannity’ he said that he ‘had a hunch’ that most COVID-19 patients have very mild or no symptoms and that some of them even go to work, and that therefore the World Health Organization’s fatality rate of 3.4% is too high. The suggestion that patients could go to work is about the most dangerous message that can be sent right now.
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