The Trump Top 10: 1 — Mass Deaths of American People, Institutions & Minds
As of January 16, 2021, 387,255 human lives have been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic within the United States over the past 10 months, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Data scientists project that more than half a million American people may have died from COVID-19 by February 6.
More than one in every 1,000 people in the United States has died from COVID-19 since March 2020.
By comparison to World War II, World War I, Vietnam War, Korean War and September 11, 2001 casualties, only the first killed more Americans than the COVID-19 pandemic did — and the pandemic likely will have killed more within a month’s time.
This is not the worst of Trump’s legacy simply because of the deaths, though. The pandemic has given Trump a unique opportunity to showcase his most insidious qualities.
We Live in Mortal Fear
For those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. area and recall the paranoid atmosphere created by the ‘D.C. sniper’ who terrorized the region by shooting people to death at random from his car one year after September 11, 2001, the atmosphere of leaving our homes for any public space is similar: any exposure can be deadly.
Throughout the country, people may feel something like Bambi, terrified to go into the open field for sustenance after witnessing the brutal killing of his mother.
We Live in Mortal Fear Mostly Because of Our Leadership
At least tens of thousands of lives have been lost needlessly.
The death rate in the United States (1.7%) is not the worst in the world per capita; it is, in fact, worse in 15 countries ranging from Mexico (8.6%) to Ukraine (1.8%), according to Johns Hopkins University.
So why “credit” American deaths and American anxieties to the Trump administration?
For one thing, the vast majority of American deaths were preventable, according to experts. Harvard’s Isaac Sebenius and James K. Sebenius performed an analysis in June demonstrating that “…the U.S. could have prevented 70% to 99% of its COVID-19 deaths. This has been a needless tragedy.”
More recently, in October, Washington Post columnist Philip Bump, asserted that “tens of thousands of those deaths [as of October 2020], at least, were preventable,” and that “tens of thousands of more deaths will occur, many of them preventable.”
Public health agencies have been neutered and made to self-undermine by political warfare.
A longstanding tenet of Republicanism and conservatism has been “the less government, the better.”
Among these, those who identify as libertarian tend to be the most critical of government, generally arguing that private industry and market forces should determine outcomes, not governmental regulations.
But among the few exceptions libertarians allow for are public-health crises.
In April, Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute told National Public Radio’s Michel Martin:
“…the role of government when there isn’t a health crisis…is to protect us from people who would do us harm. And when there is a deadly contagious disease that is spreading throughout the public, there can be a role for government to take additional steps that it wouldn’t take during ordinary times in order to prevent people from harming each other with that deadly virus. Now, what those steps are is a different question, a very complicated one. But most libertarians do agree that there is a role for government to play in a pandemic.”
The Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been historically chaotic not only because of Donald Trump’s unfounded hyping of the drug hydrochloroquine/hydroxycholoroquine as a “miracle cure” (directly resulting in at least one death).
Not only because of his truly bizarre suggestions that ultraviolet radiation or chemical sanitizers might be “injected” into the human body as cures (directly resulting in a 200% spike in poison-control hotline calls that month).
But also because of the way government health agencies were made to respond.
In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services is divided into individual component parts, among which are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health, further subdivided into separate institutes dedicated to various health conditions.
The CDC’s mission is “to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.”
NIH’s mission is “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”
In other words, CDC is charged with protecting public health by intervening to stop the spread of deadly contagious diseases, among other charges, and NIH is charged with conducting and supporting scientific research.
In Trump’s America, the CDC has had little voice and hardly any public presence in the White House’s pandemic response. Instead, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the research institute the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became the national figurehead for the U.S. pandemic response. Fauci is an expert, to be sure, but under most circumstances, the CDC would lead the national response and advise the public with health and safety guidelines. CDC Director Robert Refield has been seen onstage alongside Trump, Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, but rarely has been given any opportunity to speak. In October — notably, seven months into the pandemic — more than 1,000 current and former CDC officers, including two former CDC directors, wrote an open letter criticizing the Trump administration and recommending that the CDC play a more significant role.
Instead, Mike Pence — who, graced with the title Coronavirus Czar, was empowered to further fail the public — in most cases took a backseat to Donald Trump’s harmful and chaotic public messaging, alongside controversial Birx, whose long career dedicated to public health crisis response, including federal response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, saw her career’s legacy sacrificed to the madness of becoming enmeshed with the Trump administration and being viewed by many as a Trump loyalist at the cost of countless human lives.
As a result, nearly 400,000 American people are dead, the CDC has been rendered all but obsolete, the role of NIH likely is confused by most people as synonymous with or even beyond that of the CDC’s in emergency public-health response, and nearly a year later, rather than recovering from the pandemic’s damage, more Americans than ever are dying from it.
This slow-moving avalanche has taken down not only the lives in its way, but federal institutions whose missions are clearly defined.
It is impossible to imagine that any other leader or any other administration would even think to deploy a public-health disaster like COVID-19 as a weapon by which to tear down institutions established to protect human lives.
The deaths and the other destruction associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are the direct and exclusive result of the Trump administration. Donald Trump enjoys boasting that “no one but me” could accomplish what he does, and in this case, he’s right.
The American public has been factionalized into science believers and a paranoid cult of conspiracy theorists — at the president’s urging.
If it is impossible to imagine that any other leader or administration would weaponize a pandemic against lives and institutions, it’s somehow — despite being impossible — more impossible than impossible to imagine the president of the United States of America weaponizing fantastical conspiracy theories against the public’s minds. Yet we know it’s not impossible because it has happened.
Donald Trump’s COVID-19 response has been surreal in ways that should be examined by historians, psychiatrists, sociologists and anthropologists for a century or longer.
Since I am not being paid to write a book, I’ll offer only a few highlights:
- Trump has made unfounded claims since February that the pandemic “will go away like a miracle” at a point in the future that he keeps changing. This has fueled conspiracy theorists to believe that the pandemic has been orchestrated by the government itself.
- Trump has made unfounded claims, as discussed above, about “miracle cures” ranging from the drug hydroxychloroquine to injecting poisons. His followers have confirmed suggestions that they are members of a cult that blindly follows Trump as their guru by heeding his advice.
- The most familiar aspect of Trump’s rejection of simple science at this time is his refusal to wear a mask to prevent the spread of viral contagion, which “went viral” with Republican adherents, not only increasing spread of the deadly disease but also dividing the U.S. population into firmly anti-science and pro-science camps. The damage caused by this has ranged from “superspreader” events, including at the White House itself, to violent outbreaks throughout the country among people who refuse to wear masks in public, following Trump’s lead in rejecting public health regulations and guidelines.
- Trump’s bold and confident assertions of fantastical miracle cures and the uselessness of masks has driven his followers to seek “alternative facts” online. A Facebook commenter told me several months ago, for example, that masks reduce oxygen to the brain, causing brain damage and that they are being encouraged by governments globally to reduce intelligence and to make populations “zombies” who will mindlessly follow governmental orders. When I asked her how surgeons can serve entire careers — requiring strong aptitudes, concentration and intelligence — wearing masks for hours at a time during surgery, she insisted to me that surgical masks are worn only to “catch drool,” that they are ineffective at serving as a protective barrier, and that viral, bacterial and fungal infections are not spread through respiratory droplets but instead are “planted by the government.” The germ theory of disease was commonly accepted during the 19th century. The disinformation created by Donald Trump and faithfully spread by those in his orbit has undone elementary-level understanding of the material world.
I would argue that this has been his greatest “accomplishment,” given how significant this undoing has been to his ability to cause other damages, such as the tragic, historic insurrection that he inspired in his final days as president of the United States.
This Trump Top 10 series is dedicated to Ivanka Trump.