It has become a familiar and relentless pattern: the news cycle gobbles up the news of the day and by the time the next day dawns, no matter how important something seemed, it becomes yesterday’s news. Which means, overtaken, if not completely forgotten. But as a longtime journalist himself, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes in this Boomer Opinion piece that today, with so much at stake, we shouldn’t let the news cycle make those decisions for us.
If you read the words of Donald Trump from just one day… just one day… you’d tell yourself that someone must have made them up. Not only because they’re dimwitted and dishonest, but because they’re dangerous. You’d figure, no president would talk like this. Can you imagine old warriors like Ford, or Carter, or Reagan, or the first George Bush talking like Trump? Or Clinton, Bush II, or Obama, the three baby boomers who served in sequence just before Trump? No you can’t, because while each brought failings, sometimes major failings, to the White House, each president also, in one way or another, brought dignity, and decency.
But this one doesn’t. In a single day— Tuesday May 19th— Trump once again embarrassed the nation, and himself (if he were capable of embarrassment). I know, I know, in the warp speed world of this warped White House, what happened only days ago is already obsolete, replaced by yet another outrage of an equally limited lifespan. So forgive me for dwelling on what’s stale. But even if, as some believe, it is just another Trump tactic to distract attention from the disaster all around him, it is just too idiotic, and too injurious, to ignore.
We begin with hydroxychloroquine, the drug designed to fight malaria, which the president recklessly and fecklessly declared a “game-changer” in the battle against coronavirus. That prompted the Food and Drug Administration— in other words, Trump’s own government— to warn last month that the drug “can have negative effects on the heart” if taken to combat coronavirus, and “can be life-threatening.”
With those alarm bells, we thought that this particular presidential obsession had run its course. Silly us.
On May 19th, following his rash shock-announcement the day before that he himself had started taking hydroxychloroquine, Trump defiantly disregarded the study that helped lead to the FDA’s life-and-death admonition. Evidently it wasn’t up to the standards of our self-declared “stable genius,” even though it had been overseen by several universities and funded by the National Institutes of Health (again, Trump’s own government). But no one’s smarter than Trump, which is why he could shamelessly diss it, saying, “If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old. Almost dead.”
Well, they weren’t. The subjects in the “survey” were veterans, of various ages, all suffering from the coronavirus but not, to repeat the president’s tasteless words, “almost dead.” In a sample of nearly 400 vets, some were given hydroxychloroquine, some weren’t. And guess what: there were more deaths among those who got the drug than among those who didn’t.
For what it’s worth, two other studies, both published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (now “BMJ”), came to the same conclusion.
But that takes me to the president’s second incognizant assertion on that very same day: “What has been determined is, it doesn’t harm you. Very powerful drug, I guess, but it doesn’t harm you.” Evidently he has been too busy popping his pills to read the report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which has gotten twice as many calls as normal since Trump started touting hydroxychloroquine. As it turns out, it does harm you. Callers’ symptoms included abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and vomiting.
But that’s not all. Not even close.
Still, on the same day, May 19th, Trump went on to call the aforementioned National Institutes of Health study an “enemy statement,” which is pretty consistent with his paranoid perception of anything that contradicts his own conclusions, no matter how unsound, no matter how unsafe, (and no matter how unfair to a non-partisan agency charged with overseeing the nation’s health). Calling the study an “enemy statement” conjures up the vile vision of Josef Stalin, whose own “enemies” disappeared in the ghastly graves of his Gulag Archipelago. (Remember, Trump previously labeled journalists an “enemy of the people.”)
And it perpetuates his persistent persecution of anyone he doesn’t like. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned Trump’s heedless use of hydroxychloroquine, he went on in the course of that same day, May 19th, to call her a “sick woman” and, as if that wasn’t enough, one who has “a lot of mental problems.”
Even if he’s right, there are plenty more going around. Mr. President, we’re looking at you.
Whether you like Joe Biden or not, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee correctly characterized the conundrum with the claptrap that flows from Donald Trump’s mouth: “The words of the president matter.”
Just as there is no perfect unifying strategy to cope with the coronavirus, there are no perfect words to deal with it. Even the most responsible politicians’ utterances are imperfect. But, there is a big difference between imperfect, and imbecilic.
With an election coming up in just over five months, it is more important than ever to think about that. Because the job description for working in the White House should not include words like dimwitted, dishonest, or dangerous.